Saints of the Household, by Ari Tison. Brothers Jay and Max live in a home charged with the constant worry and fear that their abusive father will again unleash his violence on their mother and them. Their own unspoken, buried rage at their father erupts one day when they beat up their cousin Nicole’s threatening boyfriend. That single act of violence propels the boys into both enforced counseling and a first-ever pulling away from each other. Max turns his pain into art in the form of paintings, while Jay’s awareness of his own frustrated sorrow begins to inform his plans for the future, his close friendship with Nicole, and his understanding of his place within his family. Alternating chapters in the voice of each brother interweave stories and wisdom from their Bri Bri and Anishinaabe ancestors, and the physical presence of their gentle Bri Bri grandfather lends depth and insight to their struggles. A beautiful, heartfelt book.
Away, by Amy Bloom. Damn, this writer can tell a story. Fearless, funny, written in times and places far from ours but so rich in detail that you feel as if you’re living her people’s lives right along with them, Away is the story of Lillian, who survived the massacre of her family and village back in Russia and escaped to the Lower East Side. When you’ve lost everything, you’ll do whatever it takes to thrive, and Lillian does. But the news that her daughter survived death sets her on a quest across America and into Alaska. Bloom never, not once, loses sight of the joy and humor that can be found in the darkest of circumstances. This novel propels its way forward, shimmering with light and life and laughter and love.
This Costly Season, by John Okrent. It usually takes me a while to read a book of poetry –poems I love being to me tiny emotion bombs—but not this one. A collection of free-form sonnets written by a family physician in the Pacific Northwest over several months in the beginning of the pandemic, This Costly Season is almost hallucinogenic in its evocation of those early days. The fear. The inability to help. The lack of knowledge or cure. The title of each poem is the day’s date, and each ending line is woven into the first line of the next poem. Time marches on, the pandemic deepens, questions remain unanswered but for the fact that all answers, for the living, still and always remain the same: to love our people and our world and hold them close, because time, time is always short.
The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro. I’ve been a writer my entire life, something that influences the way I relate to structure, point of view, storytelling. Most of the time, I instinctively understand the decisions a writer made, no matter the form, because the process of writing is so familiar to me – I’ve been there and done that (this is not a negative). But with writers who are my personal giants, I am rarely able to anticipate from which deep well their books emerged or how they managed to pull them off. These writers are few. Ishiguro is one of them. I space out his books because I know each one will in a small, profound way transform me – but the transformation will not come without cost. Few writers break my heart the way Ishiguro does. Set in post-Arthurian England, The Buried Giant is odd, dreamlike, unlike anything else I’ve ever read by the man, and, like everything he writes, mesmerizing.
The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri. To pick up a Lahiri novel or collection of stories is to commit yourself to a journey: through time, eras, over continents, in and out of the minds and hearts of the people who populate these deeply internal worlds. I seem to be in a heartbreaking-book streak and The Lowland is not an exception. Set in post-partition Calcutta and Rhode Island and spanning half a century, this novel, despite a plot that in one particular way occasionally strained my credulity (possibly because one of my own plots strains my credulity in the exact same way?) kept me up late. Two brothers, alike and unlike, one enigmatic woman, political divides, and the weight and painful beauty of parenthood. Carefully wrought and utterly absorbing.
Notorious Nineteen, by Janet Evanovich. Years ago my parents, believing I should read more books that make me laugh, turned me on to the Stephanie Plum novels, about a Jersey bond enforcement girl. After reading the first in the series I realized my parents were correct, so I bought the first twenty-two off eBay in one big cheap used batch. I dole them out to myself when in need. These books exist in a slightly parallel world that looks like ours but is funnier, and where everyone has a gun but the guns aren’t actually dangerous. By the end of each book Stephanie will have ordered from Cluck in a Bucket at least twice, had great sex with Joe Morelli and contemplated even greater sex with Ranger, been covered with paint, garbage, or something else icky, witnessed her car go up in a ball of fire, done something mildly illegal with her friend Lula, and rescued her grandmother from making yet another scene at yet another funeral viewing. There’s a reason people read Evanovich novels. If you know you know.
Yes, I know! I’m reading “Horse” by Geraldine Brooks. Look her up please.