After the Eclipse – Sarah Perry

Wow. This is a powerful book.

In 1994, Sarah Perry’s mother, Crystal, was murdered in their home while Sarah was only a room away. It was a brutality I can’t even fathom. 12-year-old Sarah was thrust into a world of fear, abandonment, and unspeakable grief.

More than a recountaftertheeclipseing of events, Sarah gives the reader the complete atmosphere of growing up in rural Maine, and the people of the small town of Bridgton that made up her world.  She delves into the person her mother was, and what made her who she was. This memoir is an attempt to know her mother, from the perspective of a grown woman cognizant of her mother’s life choices, her anguish over on-again, off-again relationships, and her love for her daughter.  This story is also Sarah’s journey to discover herself, as she was as a 12-year-old girl enduring unbelievable tragedy, and now as an adult understanding the whole picture of Crystal Perry as a person.

So many adults in Sarah’s life tried to help her cope with this horrible “thing that happened,” but many were misguided in their kindness, or too blind with grief to offer anything of value. The fear that still resides in Sarah is palpable. It’s easy, as a reader, to think “this is an event that happened, once, a long time ago,” but for Sarah, it’s every day of her life, and she brings that idea to the forefront. Her memoir is courageous, it’s honest, and never indulges in self-pity.

I appreciated Sarah’s candor. She acknowledges her faults, the mistakes all of us make as adolescents. She allows herself room to ask questions, to wonder about her mother’s motivations, the relationships she maintained with men and with her friends. She wonders about the fallacy of memory and about the unreliability of what you think you know about those close to you. The research is impeccable. Sarah refers to police transcripts, interviews, and personal remembrances, but this never reads like a sterile report; it’s like sitting with your best friend and listening to her tell you her story.

I dropped everything else I was reading when I started reading After the Eclipse. It was compelling and at the same time humbling. Sarah’s foray into her past took unbelievable courage, and this memoir is a testament to her strength. The kind of strength, I’m sure, she got from her mother.

After the Eclipse is available for pre-order and will be released on September 26, 2017.

Many thanks to Sarah Perry for the advance copy.

 

Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders

I’ve been waiting for almost a year to get my hands on this book. Ever since Liberty Hardy reviewed it on Litsy, I’ve been excited about it. It was finally released on February 14th. I saw it at the library while I was checking out other books and screamed, “Waitlincoln!” while I dove to the “current releases” shelf to grab my copy.

The premise is fascinating: Abraham Lincoln grieving for his son, Willy, who died from typhoid during the same night as a lavish party at the White House. Saunders explores Lincoln’s unbearable grief and his suffering knowing so many other fathers were also mourning their sons killed in the war he was responsible for.

It seems many readers either love or hate this book. I’m of the first camp, but I can see why it wouldn’t appeal to everyone. The format is unusual, but if you’re willing to surrender to Saunders’ delivery, it’s rewarding beyond measure. Lincoln in the Bardo is presented at first as excerpts from historical sources. Saunders lists various eyewitness accounts of the extravagant party at the White House, Lincoln’s reaction to Willy’s death, even the appearance of the moon on that fateful evening, showing the reader the fallibility of memory and how one event can merit several interpretations.

Saunders then introduces our main characters, the ghosts who inhabit the cemetery in Georgetown where little Willy is laid in a borrowed crypt. These souls have not passed on, not realizing, in fact, that they have died. Their adventures and catharses while rescuing Willy from purgatory are remarkable. Lincoln’s grief is palpable, as is Willy’s confusion and reluctance to leave his father. The ghosts themselves have difficulties of their own, with their passing on and with their inability to accept their faults during their mortal lives.

The book mostly reads like a stage play with multiple characters speaking brief lines of dialogue. Saunders’ approach helped me absorb the relationships among the characters through their conversations. It was an unusual and enlightening way to tell this story. This book is sad, at times hilarious, complex, and illuminating. If you find it confusing at first, don’t give up. You’ll grow to love the denizens of the bardo.

This book is a masterpiece. I highly recommend it. It was definitely worth waiting for.

 

Practical Jean – Trevor Cole

When middle-aged Jean was a little girl, her mother told her she didn’t have a practical gene in her body. Jean took this to mean a “practical Jean,” and now that she’s grown and has found her purpose, she’ll show her mom just how practical she really is.

Jean has jjeanust endured a few months caring for her mom during her illness and eventual death, and is reeling at just how unfair old age can be. No one should suffer as her mom did, and everyone should go out with joy, before the indignities of age and the suffering of disease ruins them. Ever practical, Jean decides to give the best gift she can give to all those whom she loves: one final happy moment and a quick death.

Jean has many different types of friends: the blunt, forthright one who always tells her like it is; the old reliable college friend; the fun, wild friend whose circumstances have tamed her . . . and don’t we all have friends like this? Jean has all types of relationships that she’s collected during her life, some that have fallen by the wayside and others that have fallen completely apart.

I took comfort in how the author addressed how difficult it is for women to find and keep friends in middle age. The author concedes a point that men don’t usually form close friendships at this age, and don’t need them or seek them out (is this true?). There are so many things that hinder older women from forming friendships: different socioeconomic statuses, different stages of life, different relationships with spouses. When you’re in elementary school, all it takes is “hey, we’re on the playground at the same time, now we’re best friends,” but as women age, the baggage, the insecurities, and the life demands smother many potential friendships.

Practical Jean is an unusual book. Even though she bumped off her friends, it was done out of love, and I found myself still pulling for Jean in the end. (What does that say about me?) The women in this book are hilarious, but at the same time very sad. It’s a dark comedy, a relationship study, a heartwarming tale of love . . . and murder.

 

 

 

Kinda, Sort Of – Rachel Rozet

My niece wrote a book, y’all!

rachel'sbook
Buy it here on Amazon!

My niece, Rachel Rozet, and her co-author, Kate Luke, have published their first novel through The Polyethnic. It’s available on Amazon and through the publisher’s Web site, thepolyethnic.com.

 

Kinda, Sort Of is the story of Camryn and Jason, best friends since kindergarten, who face a romantic challenge now that they are in high school and their peers can’t accept that their relationship is strictly platonic. In order to stop the incessant teasing, Camryn and Jason decide to fake a romance so that they can break it off in front of everyone and end the badgering.

Alternating between the perspectives of the two main characters, the story is well-organized with steady pacing. The characters are charming, but not without their faults, which affords a more in-depth story. I was gobsmacked that this novel was written by two teenagers. The quality of the plotting, dialogue, and character development speaks volumes for their talent and is of the caliber I’ve seen in accomplished, professional writers. This is the type of story to appeal to a young audience, as well as an older audience who remembers the idealism of young love.

 

I really enjoyed reading about Camry and Jason. If you like an engaging story, I encourage you to check out Kinda, Sort Of. This one will make you smile.

 

His Bloody Project – Graeme Macrae Burnet

project

Wow.

I loved this book.

When I first learned of its publication, I thought that it was a non-fiction account of a murder trial in Scotland in the 1860s. His Bloody Project is actually a novel, written as though it’s non-fiction, which makes the story all that more believable and engrossing. It was short-listed for the Man Booker prize in 2016.

I’m not normally drawn to thriller/mysteries, as that’s what this book is categorized as, but in my opinion it should not be categorized as either of those. This is a novel of psychology, of endurance, of the questions of what is moral and what is immoral. This is not a whodunit, but a whydunit.

The book is broken up into parts, the first part being a memoir of events written by the accused, Roddy Macrae, while he’s in prison awaiting trial for murder. The subsequent sections are medical reports, psychological assessments, and accounts of the trial. Roddy’s first-account narrative lends sympathy for his circumstances. The reader follows Roddy’s thoughts and emotional turmoil, forming a bond with the murderer; but later, others’ interpretations of the events, during the lawyers’ investigations and at the trial, cause the seeds of doubt to be sown, and nothing is certain.

This is an expert writing full of nuances and subtleties. I’m going to be thinking about this book for a long time. His Bloody Project will definitely make you ponder; it would be great for book clubs. I’m planning on stopping at Applecross while visiting Scotland this summer, just to walk around the same village as Roddy Macrae. I have to keep reminding myself that this book is fictional.

No Man’s Land – Simon Tolkien

nomanslandI was excited to be given a chance to review this Advance Reader Copy. I’m fascinated by WWI, especially first-hand accounts of trench warfare. A novel written by JRR Tolkien’s grandson about his experiences at the Somme in WWI, what more could you ask for?

A lot, apparently.

My feelings about this book formed a slightly imperfect parabola: disappointment in a lackluster beginning, then amazing apex, then slowly dwindling back down into jejune story. I think Tolkien is riding his grandfather’s coattails a wee bit. I’ve discovered from previous books that often the descendants of famous authors try to distance themselves from their predecessor’s success in order to stand on their own two feet, but that was not the case here.

The first 47% on my Kindle read like a poor man’s Jeffrey Archer.

A rushed, “tell” not “show” sentimental story of a young boy with a heart of gold just aching to do the right thing. The writing was lacking. There were so many instances where I read “he could feel”, “he could see,” “he could hear,” that I was taken aback. This usage of present perfect – if that’s the tense it is – takes the reader a step away from the events at hand. Bottom line, it’s just poor writing. The first half of the book was overly sentimental with dialog that was stilted and pedantic. The plot was interesting enough to keep me going, but the amateurish writing overrode any enjoyment of the story. About a third of the way into the book, I almost bailed. The story was so full of tired tropes and one-dimensional stereotypes that I wasn’t sure I could keep going. But I’m really glad I did.

At the halfway mark, the reader finally reaches the Somme, the bludgeoning horror of WWI, and the story takes off. The shocking atrocities and grueling fatigue, the appalling brutality of trench warfare, these were things I had read about before but never with such depth. I loved this part of the book, and it was worth the slog to get to this point. I tore through the middle, my eyes blazing across the sentences. The account of the war had the impact I wanted. It was emotional reading without becoming saccharine, and I was captivated. I’m wondering if Tolkien’s real desire was to write this middle section, but to get there he had to write the insipid initial story line.

The necessary last third of the book was essentially an epilogue of what happens to the remaining characters, and I was invested enough now to want to know what happened in the end, even though I knew that everything would be tidied, the wrongs would be righted, that good would prevail. (And sometimes, it’s best if everything doesn’t work out perfectly. Just a thought, S. Tolkien. It makes the story more real.)

So, would I recommend this? Maybe. I would most certainly recommend a heavy-handed editor. The middle of the book about WWI is amazing reading, so if you’re willing to endure the beginning to get there, then I encourage it.

Thanks to Netgalley, Doubleday Books, and Simon Tolkien for the advance copy in exchange for my honest review.

 

Tirra Lirra by the River – Jessica Anderson

tirra-lirra-by-the-river-225x300Jessica Anderson’s Tirra Lirra by the River should be brought up from the depths of its obscurity  and celebrated for its timeless relevance. The story follows Nora Proteus, a 70-ish divorcee convalescing in her childhood home, reflecting on her life. Nora has finally returned to the place of her youth, a place she thought would bring her the peace she seeks, only to find that no matter her surroundings, her quest for her purpose goes unfulfilled.

What I really appreciated about this semi-autobiographical novel is how Nora and her close friends  handle their disregard. The men in their lives want them to do their duty, serve their families, and have no voice. For some women, being ignored slowly wears them down, often with brutal results, and for others, like Nora, the freedom to pursue a purpose overcomes them.

Tirra Lirra reminded me of Madame Bovary and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. The subtlety of women enduring their lack of empowerment is what makes these books so important. Winner of the Miles Franklin award when it was published in 1978, Tirra Lirra is especially relevant today, when women are still undervalued and considered less-than. Even those misguided women angrily chanting “not my march” on social media can thank all the brave women who marched before them for the opportunity to have their say.

Books like Jessica Anderson’s reflect how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go.