On Division stars a 57-year old Hassidic grandmother who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant with twins, and she is so surprised, and dismayed, that she simply cannot bring herself to mention it to her husband. Over the course of her pregnancy, she reflects on the warmth and strictures of her community, as she nurtures her children and grandchildren, mourns her dead son, and finds a new occupation and dedication as a patient advocate and translator.
I loved this story, and how the author deftly balanced the joys and the painful limitations of living in a tight-knit community.
In The Gone Dead, Billie James’s black father died in suspicious circumstances, years go, in Mississippi, and his daughter, who grew up with her white mother in Philadelphia goes back “home” to investigate. She will face a hostile set of neighbors and family members who just don’t want to revisit the past, let alone share it with her. Some characters, and notably an ambitious academic who is writing a biography of her dad, a poet, are aptly drawn, but the story itself is elongated to the point of ennui. Too bad because the plot is compelling and complex.
Do we need another novel about rich New Yorkers and their troubled children? Probably not, but Fleishman Is In Trouble is awfully entertaining, as we follow Dr. Fleishman’s struggling with his children following his soon-to-be ex-wife’s sudden disappearance while caring for high-profile patients. And we learn that he was, in fact, the almost house husband to his financially successful talent agent wife, so their marriage was a little more complicated than we thought. And, in fact, she has her own tale to tell. So don’t dismiss the story too soon or too easily as a standard beach read.
Say Say Say stars a young woman who could be an artist but is working as a caregiver to a woman with dementia, whose sweet husband can no longer cope. She feels she could do more, but does not, has a complicated relationship with the husband, and occasionally ponders her future with her girlfriend. I thought the story brought to life the intricate relationships between domestic helpers and families that are often treated solely as business transactions.
When the stranger of Goodnight Stranger lands on the island, he seems to know too much about the adult twins he befriends, so much that they wonder whether he could be their long-dead brother (why? no one really explains–and it bothered me). He insinuates himself into their lives, until the sister finally goes to seek the truth. In the process, we learn about their parents and family history. It’s all nicely mysterious and nicely told. Too bad I could never get into the delusion of the lost brother.
The hero of A Philosophy of Ruin has a dead mother, a father who is deeply in debt, and he discovers that a one-night stand is not only a student of his, but also a drug dealer. From a meek philosophy professor, he turns into a drug runner to solve of his problems at once. It will not end well–and the adventure is mostly fun, if improbable.
The Altruists follows a family of academics whose grown-up children seem lost after unexpectedly inheriting a fortune from their mother. The father is lost too, losing his teaching job and about to lose his house, with a tenuous relationship with a much younger woman. They try to figure things out, with the story flashing back from the present to their parents’ courtship. The most remarkable part of the story may be the youth of his author. I did not think that the characters, with the exception of the mother, who is dead and cannot contribute too much, were particularly appealing.