Category Archives: New fiction

*** The Party by Elizabeth Day

The Party is the story of a long, complicated, dark friendship that unravels brutally on the night of a lavish party. The author dribbles out the story as one of the friend is interviewed by the police while his wife recuperates at a rehab center. The plot is quite ordinary, stemming from the vast class differences between the friends; what makes the book is the slow deployment of it. Delicious!

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** The Mothers by Brit Bennett

The Mothers tells a not-so-original story, of a teenager getting unexpectedly pregnant, and indeed the best part of the book, story-wise, comes at the beginning, when she is trying to find her way after her mother’s suicide and her father’s complete shutdown. But what makes the story interesting is the counterpoint, Greek chorus style, of the mothers of the title, her church’s older women, who keep the church together and also know, or think they know, everything. The book is full of their comments and asides, some just seriously funny and others deep.

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* Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne

A homicidal migrant. A spoiled adult daughter who can’t quite figure out that she is not owed anything by her parents. A rich couple who seems very bored and very angry with each other. An underpaid maid who will gladly be bribed, no questions asked. Would you like to meet any of those hollow characters? Then pick up Beautiful Animals.

 

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** The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott

The Ninth Hour tells the life of a woman born in Brooklyn in the early 20th Century after her father committed suicide and her mother came to work at a convent, on charity and under the protection of a formidable nun.

I found that the story sometimes veered towards awkwardly anachronistic feminism, and sometimes the other way, extolling the never-failing sanctity of the nuns, but the ending is certainly unexpected (a murder!) and it’s useful to remember how nuns served as social workers and nurses at a time when other help just was not available.

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** The Leavers by Lisa Ko

The Leavers tells the interleaved stories of a Chinese-American boy who is apparently abandoned by this mother, then adopted by a white couple, and of his mother, who was brutally deported in a raid of the beauty salon where she worked, undocumented.

Parts of the story are wonderful, capturing everyday moments in the boy’s life as he struggles in school, devours junk food with his cousin, or spies on his adoptive parents, and showing his distress as he is brutally yanked from one world to another. But some parts, especially dialog, seem lifted from a cheap self-help book — and the overall logic of the story is somewhat flawed. If you can get past the stilted bits, it’s an interesting look at both adoption and immigration.

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*** Moonglow by Michael Chabon

Moonglow is a novel that reads like a family history, of a grandfather finally sharing his secrets with his grandson on his deathbed. The stories are  brilliantly tangled, as could well be the case of real death bed conversations. There are some wonderfully entertaining moments, as when the women of the synagogue try to set up the lovely refugee from France with the rabbit, only to have his rakish brother (the grandfather) win out, starting a predictably difficult marriage marred by mental illness and, oops, a murder. As the book progresses, the stories become more and more unlikely and grandiose, perhaps as would befit a dying man with a life of adventure behind him.

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* Born on Third Base by Chuck Collins

I found Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good to be a very strange book. Its author was born with a trust fund but gave it all away as a young man. The first part of the book, in which he describes the many hidden advantages of wealth, from connections to financial capital, and how government programs protect the wealthy through tax advantages for mortgages and especially charitable contribution, is excellent. He also makes a wonderful appeal to the wealthy to interact on a personal level with the 99%.

After that, the book lost me. He somehow wants to include climate change, sustainable agriculture, and small businesses in the equation,  and the connections don’t quite work. I suppose you could start reading mid-way through.

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