Books by or about women

It’s still February, the month of women’s heart health. Take care!

Loved and Missed, by Susie Boyt 

The aching bond of motherhood is the subject of this beautifully told novel. Ruth is a schoolteacher of teenage girls and mother of drug-addict Eleanor, who has just given birth to Lily. At the baby’s christening — a tragicomic scene that should be studied — Ruth stands in for the passed out godmother, then gives Eleanor and her man 4,000 pounds (about $5,000). That’s not the moment Ruth takes Lily, though she ought to. Ruth gives the couple a chance to parent. When Ruth brings a meal to their apartment, there’s baby food in the cupboard and plenty of nappies. There’s also a dead person under a pile of clothes. That’s the turning point. There’s no custody agreement or court appearance. As Ruth raises Lily, Eleanor drifts in and out of their lives, sometimes stealing things. Without Lily’s joy and wonder, this would be an unbearable read. Instead, this is a clear-eyed, unfussy read about motherhood of all kinds. Funny and heartbreaking.

We All Want Impossible Things, by Catherine Newman

A best friend’s slow death, from ovarian cancer, is hardly the stuff of comedy, and yet, here we are in the cold Northeast, laughing as we’re crying. Ash is separated from her sweet husband, mother to teenage girls, lifelong friend to Edi, who is in hospice. Ash is hooking up with Edi’s doctor and Edi’s brother, which makes sense given the tragedy. How much heartache can we stand? The guitar player from hospice moves in and takes up with one of the daughters; Ash gets a baker to recreate Edi’s favorite cake. A balloon in Edi’s room reads, “Good luck!” Good luck dying? We should all be so fortunate to have an Ash, and an Edi, in our lives. This is a fierce, sweet read. 

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of Life Interrupted, by Suleika Jaouad

Working in Paris, recent college graduate Jaouad becomes unfathomably itchy and tired. Too much partying? Too much fun with a new boyfriend? The doctor who examines her says, “If you were my daughter, I’d want you to be home.” So begins the author’s harrowing treatment for acute myeloid leukemia. Will she survive? It seems unlikely, but here we are: she has written this memoir, which started as a blog, which blossomed into a New York Times column, Life Interrupted. Don’t be put off by the subject. Her story is a thoughtful exploration of suffering and rebirth. I hung on every word.

The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins

If you’ve never read this classic, buckle up. It’s a ghost story, a marriage plot, a detective story, the first “sensation novel.” It was told serially in the time of Dickens, who published it. What makes this book, written in 1860, so modern? Women have power — a voice. We first meet the woman in white fleeing an asylum. Is the young woman crazy, or wrongly held by a man whose secret she holds? The traveler who helps her escape to London continues on to a manor, where he is to teach art. There, his pupil, the beautiful heiress Laura Fairlie, looks exactly like the woman in white! Artist and student fall in love. Enter the cruel Lord Percival, who is promised to Laura. Compounding the plot, there’s the enormously fat Italian Count Fosco, who conspires with Percival to steal Laura’s inheritance. Knaves! Skulduggery! Body doubles! Yes, this book is padded and a bit a of a slog, but there are twists and turns and reversals of fortune. Worth a read. 

Based on Nick Hornby’s Funny Girl novel, the PBS mini series Funny Woman is worth watching. London in the ’60s, a provincial beauty queen, early live tv. Every episode is a smart bon bon.

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