Reams, volumes, encyclopedia — maybe even libraries — will be written about the unique coronavirus, Covid-19, and its impact on the world and our lives in 2020. You will be gratified to know that I will not be among those writing about that subject.
I, dear reader, as always, am writing about books. The virus has given me a surfeit of excess time in which to read. (Remind me that I owe you book club blueprints for each one. ) But since the only book clubs I’m attending these days are via zoom and everyone must supply his/her own food/wine/musical backdrop, I’m just going to give you here a quick review and a thumbs up or down for several of these corona reads.
Oona Out of Order, by Margarita Montimore.
On her 19th birthday, Oona wishes that she didn’t have to decide whether to go to Europe with her best friend or take a year off and travel with her boyfriend’s band. Next thing she knows, she wakes up and she’s 54 on the outside, 19 on the inside, and stupid rich from being able to jump back in time and invest knowing what will happen in the future. I’m a sucker for time travel and this was fun, if confusing. I found myself waking up the night after I read it asking how and why she was trying to destroy a note to an earlier version if she’d already lived that year and what effect it would have if . . . You understand. The cover reminds me of Where’d You Go, Bernadette.
The House at the Edge of Night, by Catherine Banner.
Published in 2016, this book came to my notice as a recommendation for those who love the book Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. Four generations living on a rocky Mediterranean island between about 1920 to about 1985. The House at the Edge of Night is a rickety dwelling at the center of the island’s town where a doctor marries a school teacher and opens a bar and has children. The bar and family become central to the life of the island and those who dwell there. (Does anyone remember The Edge of Night soap opera??? I think my mom watched it. All I remember is very dramatic organ music!) This was pretty good, but if you haven’t read Beautiful Ruins, read it.
A Witch in Time by Constance Sayers.
Another time-travel — are we sensing a theme? In A Witch in Time, Juliet has a doomed affair with a married Parisian painter in Belle-Epoque France. Juliet’s mother, an amateur witch, calls upon a demon to stop the affair. Because Juliet’s mother is rather incompetent, the spell curses Juliet to repeat the same painful affair over the course of multiple lives, watched over by a caretaker demon (different demon, same Juliet) who has fallen in love with Juliet. Kinda silly, kinda fun.
The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott
So I really enjoyed this 1960s, Cold War-era peek into the CIA’s effort to publish Doctor Zhivago and distribute it in the Soviet Union as a means of social upheaval. There’s Washington, D.C. and Russian countryside; there’s betrayal and enduring love; there’s multiple viewpoints and an inside look at Boris Pasternak’s writing process. And fashion. I recommend this.
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
This buzzy #metoo book contemplates an adult looking back on her years teen-age student seduced by her high school teacher. This novel turns the #metoo experience on its head; victim Vanessa is an apologist for her abuser for years, refusing to admit he has taken advantage of her, insisting the affair she engaged in at the age of 15 was something she wanted, and not his fault. There are frequent references to Nabokov’s Lolita. As frustrated as I got by Vanessa, I have to say it was a really good read. Maybe the upside-down attitude even allowed the author to explore this all-too-familiar subject from a unique perspective.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood’s answer to the readers who clamored for a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale for years. Frankly, I wish she hadn’t written it. In and of itself, it’s a good read. The part that bothered me is the effect it has on the original story. Without giving away anything, there are three women and their stories in focus. Aunt Lydia is one of three. My take on the whole Aunt Lydia thing, by the way, is that Aunt Lydia though a presence in The Handmaid’s Tale, has become a cultural force from the televised adaptation of it. Without the series, the focus on Aunt Lydia wouldn’t make sense. Perhaps the best approach is to divorce the two novels and read The Testaments as if there is no Handmaid’s Tale.
Writers & Lovers by Lily King
Casey is a 31-year-old restaurant server who longs to live a creative life as a writer. She embarks on a summer writing program and relationships with two different men while she’s trying to determine in which direction her future path lies. Euphoria by Lily King is one of my top reads of the last ten years; Writers & Lovers has been broadly praised and I enjoyed it. But not as much as Euphoria.
Finally, a reminder that my debut novel, After the Race, is available. Here’s what Jacinda Townsend, author of Saint Monkey, said about After the Race. “Readers will fall in love with Alexandra Alt, an Indiana University senior whose mother has instilled in her the values of what she calls First Lady First: Jane Ann Alt, in her bid to make her daughter the next Jacqueline Kennedy, exhorts her to learn how to ride horses, write thank you notes, win votes, and otherwise be the perfect political wife. Against the early eighties backdrop of Ronald Reagan, the AIDS crisis, and a bygone innocence, Alexandra is faced, during an internship in Washington, D.C., with choosing between Jake Banwell, who comes from a troubled, impoverished family in rural Indiana, and Bill Beck, who comes from the perfect political family and aspires to be president.”
Available at rabbithousepress.com, Amazon, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, The Book Corner in Bloomington, Indiana, MacIntosh Books and Paper in Sanibel Island, Florida.
Happy Reading! Stay safe and well.