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Books: Recent reads

Most recently I read and enjoyed Ian McEwan’s Nutshell, a modern Hamlet narrated by a full-term fetus. Trudy, the pregnant mother, has dismissed her poet husband John from his childhood home, a imagescrumbling mansion in a fashionable part of London. Taking his place? His brother Claude. Together, Trudy and Claude conspire to murder John Cairncross, inherit the house, sell it to developers, abandon the baby. Say what? asks our charming narrator. Life in the projects?

This is a tale well told from a unique vantage. (Bravo, Ian McEwan.) The fetus has opinions on wines, poetry, his parents, world affairs, his dumb uncle, the lovers’ treacherous plan. Funny and wise. Fluid.

My one gripe, and it’s a big one: none of the characters are likable. I felt nothing when John met his poisoned end, nothing when the gig is up for Trudy and Claude.

No complaints on this next read: Tim Murphy’s Christodora is my favorite of the year. I had terrible book grief when I finished: what will I read now? How will anything other book be so pleasing?

images-1It’s a sprawl of a read — my favorite kind — set in lower Manhattan, in and around the Christodora apartment building, from the 1970’s to the near future. It’s about AIDS, class, subzero winters, art and artists, drug addiction. The drug parts are hard to read.

We follow several lives: artists Milly and Jared, from their young love to their understandable mid-life hate; Hector, an AIDS activist turned junkie; Issy, who becomes an AIDS activist as she dies from the disease; Mateo, her child and eventually a junkie, adopted and raised by Milly and Jared.

It takes a little while to figure out who’s who and how they relate, but once hooked there was no putting this book down. Dark and moving. No false notes.

I’ll read anything by Dave Eggers and his latest, Heroes of the Frontier, is another misanthropic pleaser. It’s the story of a woman escaping her life, for seemingly good reasons, with her small children in tow.

9780451493804Josie, a dentist in Ohio, takes off to Alaska with kind, beautiful son Paul and small daughter Anna, who is a terror. There she rents a mobile home, and off they go! Are they ever going home? Why are the other kids going to school? This is a road-trip story, and the stops along the way are frightening and heartening, often at the same time. I liked watching Josie learn things about herself and the marriage she left behind.

This isn’t a page turner (as I’d been told); rather, it’s a deeply engaging meditation on work, family, America, adventure.

 

Also in the blog

I had three days in New York and did what I always do in a great world city: eat well and see art. First stop: John’s Pizzeria (278 Bleeker St.) Baked in a coal-fired brick oven, it really is the world’s best thin crust. John’s is two small rooms; a line trails down Bleeker Street

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It’s so satisfying to be in the hands of a seasoned storyteller. In a row, I read three newly published novels written by authors who have been winning prizes and selling boatloads of books for decades. What sets their work apart? The art of storytelling: what to show, what to hold back. Dialogue, description, pace.

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Black lives matter. These are among my favorite reads — novels, plays, poetry, nonfiction — about Black lives in America and overseas. Each is illuminating, infuriating, heartbreaking.  Native Son, by Richard Wrignt (1940) Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison (1952) The Street, by Ann Petry (1946)   Random Family, by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (2003)  A Raisin

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