Category Archives: New fiction

*** Miss Jane by Brad Watson

Miss Jane reminded me of Someone, another apparently simple story of a woman who is born, lives, and dies, in one place. In this case, a woman born with a urogenital defect, inoperable at the time, grows up slightly apart, although at first it’s mostly her parents, not her, who struggle with her disability. The supporting characters are wonderful. Besides her parents, there is a wonderful figure of an enlightened country doctor (he’s not perfect, he copes with cocaine and alcohol), the young man who falls in love with her, and her wild sister. But Miss Jane is the star, along with her quiet way of life.

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** The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness opens with a transgender woman living in a cemetery — and renting out “rooms” there, which is to say that the cast of characters is unusually diverse and offbeat. It is, however, centered on the Kashmir conflict and the shadowy role of a few militants and their families — and guerrilla war can make for pretty tedious storytelling. Fortunately the characters are, indeed, idiosyncratic and complicated and the strands of the story are artfully woven so I enjoyed the book, mostly, but don’t do looking for a fast-paced plot.

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** The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

 

Want a little melancholy with your summer? Try The Other Side of the World, in which an overwhelmed mother follows her husband from England to Perth, Australia — where she finds that she is just as overwhelmed and frustrated by not being able to find time for her art. Her husband, meanwhile, finds that racism (he is part Indian) may be fiercer than back home. The story perfectly the feeling of utter exhaustion of raising small children along with the isolation of emigration, and is full of well-observed details about little kids.

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*** Inheritance From Mother by Minae Mizumura

Inheritance From Mother opens with two middle-aged sisters rejoicing on the death of their mother — not because their mother was in great pain, and not because of the inheritance of the title, but because their mother was a difficult woman who treated them badly, especially the younger one, and they are finally free of her demands and manipulations. The story, first published in installments in a newspaper, unspools in a steady rhythm, focused on the younger sister who finds herself quitting her job and divorcing her philandering husband at the same time. It’s both an engrossing portrait of a woman who reflects on her life and a universal story of duty versus individual choice. A wonderful book, and not as melancholic as one would think from the subject matter.

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** Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar

Did you like The Martian? (I loved it, and I am puzzled that I never bothered to write a proper review for it.) Then you will also like Spaceman of Bohemia, which contains no geeky science and no superhuman feats of survival, but the same kind of lonely astronaut fighting for survival. In Jakub’s case, there is a complicated family story in post-Velvet Revolution Czech Republic,  as a failing marriage to worry about. The narrative gets snarled here and there but there is plenty of humor and humanity to make it a completely enjoyable story.

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** The Dhow House by Jean McNeil

The Dhow House has many strengths: a wonderfully tropical island setting off the coast of Tanzania, a shadowy group of Islamist terrorists, a forgotten extended family, carefully researched birds, and spies! But I found the story unexpectedly slow-moving and focused on the minute feelings of the heroine, for whom I could not get to fully care, whether to love her or to hate her. A more patient and introspective reader may like this book more than I did.

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** Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

Overwhelmed Southern Californian woman hires young live-in-nanny to take care of her young son so she can write about the travails of raising her older one (whom she conveniently forgets to mention during the hiring process — but she also forgets to check references and other details one might think are important). Add a couple of strange mothers (the nanny’s and her employer’s), hidden agendas for everyone, and messiness ensues. There are enough deeper moments to enjoy the story, but it’s not much more than a book-length satire of upper-middle class Angelenos.

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