Writers and Lovers follows a struggling writer who is in her sixth year of writing a novel, earns her (modest) keep by waitressing in a fancy restaurant, and judges, harshly, her college friends who betrayed the cause of writing and went to law school or found other more financially stable careers. She valiantly muddles through and falls in love with both an established writer and a student of the same, prompting much internal confusion at the same time the famous novel is, finally, sent to a publisher. Most of the book is about her inner thoughts, perfectly rendered in a mix of practical details (the allocation of tables at the restaurant, the tactics of student loan companies) and artistic considerations about her book and others.
The ending is abrupt and, to me, not satisfying, but the rest of the story was delightfully observed.
The central character In the Garden of the Fugitives is a man who uses his fortune to buy women, under the guise of scholarships and fellowships to pursue their creative endeavors. Through correspondence, years later, with one of his almost-caught victim and beneficiary we hear about his story, his wife’s, and that of the beneficiary. There are many interesting tidbits in the book, including about archeological practices in Pompeii and white guilt in South Africa, but I found the story plodding and curiously cliche-bound, even if, or perhaps because of its globe-trotting, travelogue feel.
The Parking Lot Attendant is a charismatic hustler who, for now, runs various illegal schemes from a Boston parking lot, within and outside the Ethiopian immigrant community there, but has bigger ambitions. The girl-narrator describes how she falls under his initial benign, even kind influence, but slowly becomes an accomplice. I thought the description of her relationship with the parking lot “attendant” was mesmerizing — but the ending in the island commune seemed way too improbable.
Let’s start with what’s great in Chaos (it will be brief): the forensic details supplied by the heroine, a medical examiner. For the rest, we are treated with a lengthy description of the Harvard Faculty Club to start, apparently to impress upon us the wonderfulness of dining in a hallowed setting where the heroine and her husband are well known and choose fancy wines (so sorry they won’t be able to enjoy any of it since duty calls!) The obsession with status and exclusivity is quite silly and brings little to the plot. And I could not help but notice that the bad guy is an MIT professor, a fired professor but still. Is this a Cambridge versus Cambridge thing?
There is, perhaps obviously, a psychopath in the story, but it is very strange that (1) the heroine does not have more protection since clear threats have been made and (2) the last plot twist at the very end, which I will not reveal since you may want to read this marvelous story based on my glowing review, does not make sense at all. Said psychopath could choose much better methods to inflict mayhem.
Much of the plot revolves, ponderously, around conflicts between the FBI and the local police (so subtle since the heroine’s husband is a FBI man), which seems to require wasting heaps of taxpayer money to assuage the jealousy of the participants. And this is without mentioning the heroine’s stay in a luxury hotel when she last visited Interpol in Lyon France, a hotel with 12 rooms (I checked!) which functions more as an appendage to a luxury restaurant. Seriously? This continues the I-want-to-impress-with-my-knowledge-of-the-finer-things theme I mentioned earlier and which I enjoyed so much.
There is a corpse, or two, and the villains are properly caught and punished so standard fare and nothing particularly creative.
In case it was not clear, I do not recommend this book. (Don’t despair, I did read a good mystery this week; watch this space on Friday.)
The author of Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter quit her unsatisfying job as a journalist and went to work as a novice carpenter — really nothing more than a carpenter’s helper at first. She describes her apprenticeship, her satisfaction at making tangible things, her mistakes, and her pride when her dad asks her to build bookshelves for his new house. And she makes it clear that it is a tough job, with long winter furloughs (she lives in Boston) and unpredictable workloads.
The book occasionally meanders into less interesting (to me) digressions into non-carpentry considerations, but it renders beautifully the rewards of building.
Two Across, starting with its title, is full of crossword reference, as its stars a scheming crossword creator and his spelling-bee co-winner, trying and failing to live together in some kind of harmony. I thought it was cleverly designed, with interesting back stories, especially of the mothers of the two heroes, but it seemed just a little too clever to really get into.