Monthly Archives: October 2018

*** Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

Clock Dance is the smoothly-told story of a woman, Willa, who grows up with a disturbed mother, marries young, loses her husband young, and then, inexplicably, gets drawn into helping her son’s ex girlfriend and her daughter (who is not, crucially, her granddaughter) when the girlfriend lands in the hospital.  The author gently highlights Willa’s skill at taking care of people, her need to do so, even, and how she often loses herself in that effort. It’s beautifully observed.

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Filed under New fiction

* OK, Mr. Field by Katharine Kilalea

In OK, Mr. Field, Mr. Field, a concert pianist, destroys his wrist in an accident and moves to South Africa to live in a beautiful house with his wife, who promptly leaves him for no apparent reason. So he stays, ruminating about his life and not doing much.

A terrible choice of a book for someone as action-oriented as I am.

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*** Baby’s First Felony by John Straley

Cecil Younger, the hero of Baby’s First Felony, has a problem. He has a suitcase full of cash that belongs to one of his clients (and whose origin is, to say the least. tainted), and more important, his rebellious teenage daughter is missing and is being held by a drug trafficker who wants him to forget about him in exchange for his daughter’s life. Fortunately his felon clients all turn up to help him catch the fiend, with much collateral damage including a blown-up apartment building and a few deaths. The whole story is written, hilariously, as a trial testimonial. It’s dark and funny and perfect.

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** My Brother Moochie by Isaac Bailey

My Brother Moochie: Regaining Dignity in the Midst of Crime, Poverty, and Racism in the American South is a messy book, perhaps proving that, much like physicians should not treat family members, journalists should not write about their families. But the story is stunning, even if the exposition is convoluted.

The author’s brother went to prison for a senseless act of murder, and several other family members did time as well, whereas he did well for himself. Many reviews of the book present it as a story of racism, which it is, but it’s much deeper than that. The most interesting character in it may be the mother (of the author and the disgraced brother), who cares for all her many children (and many non-children to boot), regardless of their position in the world. I feel for her most.

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Filed under True story

* Elephants Can Remember by Agatha Christie

Much of Elephants Can Remember is forgettable, and what’s not forgettable is so outlandish (featuring that old, tired device of twins, coupled with various lovers and mistaken identities) as to make the story a pastiche of mysteries. But there is one redeeming character, that of the mystery writer who, together with Hercule Poirot, untangles the mysteries of the family in which the murder-suicide happened, years ago. She hates going to literary lunches. She has lots of godchildren. And she may well be Ms. Christie herself. That said, the rest of the book is way too unlikely to be satisfying.

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*** Still Waters by Curt Sager

Before I read Still Waters: The Secret World of Lakes, I had not thought about lakes very much. Sure, they are beautiful and fun to swim in, but I had not really considered the creatures that live in them, or how they may be affected by pesticides and other events outside of them.

The author specializes in lake ecology and takes us to mundane ones, near the university where he teaches in New York State, as well as famous ones including Lake Baikal and Lake Victoria (along with he Sea of Galilee and others “seas” that are really lakes), gently describing ecological risks but also rebirth. It’s a very relaxing book.

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Filed under Non fiction

** The Impostor by Javier Cercas

The Impostor is biography of Enric Marco, a Barcelona man who claimed for years that he was a Holocaust survivor but was unmasked by a persistent historian who showed that he had never been detained in a Nazi concentration camp — and had so many other lies and embellishments embedded in his life story that additional wives, children, jobs, and political adventures seem to surface in every chapter.

The author very literally takes us along in his quest for the truth, which is sometimes charming, as when he relates his then teenage son’s reaction to the lies, but also makes for a drawn out and discursive story — as if the many lies weren’t enough to delay the conclusion. The most interesting parts of the book, to me, were the ability of the character to subtly change any story into one that was more heroic, more remarkable, and just credible enough to pass muster with the general public, and the wonderful assistance he got of the end of the Franco era, during which many records were lost, and many Spaniards decided that they would invent a more glorious resistance to the dictator. The book shows how important the work of historians can be.

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