Tag Archives: New England

*** My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley

Looking for light summer fare? My Ex-Life could be just the ticket. Meandering between real estate and college application drama, it is full of insightful asides, from the travails of Airbnb owners to how well ex-spouses know each other, to the secret lives of teenagers (especially those with distracted parents). It’s funny and poignant at times. So you won’t be too disappointed that the ending is a little flat.

 

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Filed under New fiction

** The Last Lobster by Christopher White

 

The reproductive cycle of the lobster depends, a lot, on the temperature of the water, which is why there are no more lobsters off New York City but the Maine fisheries are booming, or at least they were, as Canadian waters warm up, too.  The Last Lobster: Boom or Bust for Maine’s Greatest Fishery? goes fishing with the Maine lobstermen (the rare women doing that job call themselves lobstermen, too), explains the rather long supply chain from them to our plates, and desserts about climate change. I most enjoyed the visits with the lobstermen. It’s pretty rough sailing, tough and dangerous work, and it also starts ungodly early.

It’s also clear that placing reasonable limits on fishing would help everyone, and some cities have tried to implement local regulations that work surprisingly well, at least if the water temperature would stay constant. And lobstermen have done well expanding their reach into the supply chain, which requires ingenuity and very different skills than those required on the boat.

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** How It Happened by Michael Koryta

What happens when a drug-addicted loser confesses to her part to a heinous crime and fingers a small-town successful businessman as the main actor?  How It Happened tries to untangle how true confessions can sink their author and the FBI agent that elicited them. It all gets darker and darker until an unlikely dramatic ending. The figure of the embattled FBI agent is the best part of the story.

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Filed under Mystery

*** Barkskins by Annie Proulx

 

Barkskins is the ambitious saga of two families, descended from two French emigrants to what was now New France, aka Canada, in the 17th century. The story follows the families into the present and travels to China, New Zealand, and Europe as the descendants seem to be very eager to explore new lands (and poor enough that sometimes they ave no other choices. At 700 pages, this is not for the faint of heart but the massive historical research behind the book and the variety of characters kept my interest. There is too much preaching about clearcutting to my taste when the story itself could tell the tale, and although I always love strong women the presence of so many in centuries where opportunities for women were limited is a little suspect — but still a massive achievement.

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* Perfectly Miserable by Sarah Payne Stuart


The author of Perfectly Miserable: Guilt, God and Real Estate in a Small Town grew up in Concord, Massachusetts, fled hurriedly after high school, leaving behind its boredom and conventionality, and flocked back to it, kids in tow, to raise them in the boring, conventional town that seemed to her to be the perfect place to raise a family.

Minus the heroic early American history, this sounds like the town where I live, deserted by anyone between the ages of 18 and 35, taken over by mansions replacing humbler abodes, and ruled by a coterie of stay-home moms who have given up high-powered jobs to push their progeny into prestigious colleges. It’s half interesting to see the same pattern described in this book, but it really isn’t that interesting, nor are the author’s travails with her credit card balances as she overspends on her house(s), or the descriptions of the various writers who made Concord famous. What is interesting is the description of her 70s childhood and (somewhat) that of her children’s upbringing. Not enough to make the book worth reading, for me at least.

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Filed under True story

* The Arsonist by Sue Miller


One of the reasons why I keep this blog is to have a record of  what I have read, and in this instance I should have checked my reviews of the author’s past books. Having failed to appreciate The Senator’s Wife, Lost in the Forest, and The Lake Shore Limited would have been clues that picking up  The Arsonist may not be a successful move. Indeed, this story set my teeth on edge, from the parochial, entitled group of rich people who “summer” in an unnamed New England village to the studied burned-out aid worker whose story seems to be taken straight from, well, books about aid workers in Africa, all cliches included. Add an aging patriarch with Alzheimer’s and a series of house fires and let the platitudes rip. I could not even muster the energy to wish the former aid-worker heroine good luck with her town romance.

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** The Why of Things by Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop

In The Why of Things, a family arrives at their summer home in a New England seaside resort to find that a man has apparently dived to his death in their backyard. Since the family is mourning the death of its oldest daughter, also to suicide, all kinds of emotions bubble up from the parents and both remaining daughters. The story is told from the points of views of the family members, who seem to be spending their time leading mostly parallel lives (and doing a great job of never talking about their feelings!), and told with exquisite details and with great care. But there are some unexplained circumstances, chief of which is how a middle-class family can spend weeks on vacation without any job pressures of any kind (maybe if one has to ask, one does not understand how the rich live, but they don’t seem that rich…)  And how could the oldest daughter have kept a boyfriend at the summer house?

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