by Julie HaleJuly, 2001
Best bets for book clubs
The month of July offers several great choices for reading groups. BookPage's selections, all newly published in paperback, are listed below. We hope these titles will inspire lively discussion in your book club.
The Binding Chair By Kathryn Harrison
The story of beautiful, seductive May, a young Chinese woman subjected to the brutal tradition of foot binding, The Binding Chair is set at the turn of the 19th century. The novel follows May from rural China to a Shanghai brothel and eventually to Australia, where she meets and marries Arthur Cohen, a Jewish man who is a member of the Foot Emancipation Society. In Australia, May grows close to Arthur's niece, the rebellious Alice, and their unusual alliance turns the family upside-down. This finely detailed, well-researched book has a broad geographical span. Through sensuous, rich writing, Harrison examines history, femininity and the meaning of family. Ask your local bookseller for a reading group guide.
In the Fall By Jeffrey Lent
Lent's critically acclaimed debut novel begins at the end of the Civil War. Norman Pelham, a young Union soldier, returns to his father's Vermont farm with his bride Leah, a former slave. Enduring the contempt of their neighbors, the couple creates a life for themselves that transcends the issue of race. But Leah, who fled North Carolina to escape the abuse she faced as a slave, fears repercussions from the past. When she leaves Norman and their three children in order to face her fate, the family falls apart. The novel follows the Pelham clan through three generations, coming full circle with Foster, Norman's grandson, the one person who is able to put together the pieces of the family's history including the truth about Leah's mysterious past. A reading group guide is available online at www.vintagebooks.com/read. For a printed version, ask your local bookseller.
Fiona Range By Mary McGarry Morris
Morris, whose Songs in Ordinary Time was a 1995 Oprah book club pick, has created a strong, smart heroine in 30-year-old Fiona. Raised by well-to-do relatives outside Boston, Fiona whose mother abandoned her when she was a baby has a wild streak that has earned her a reputation and brought grief to her family. Anxious to change her life, she tries to connect with Patrick Grady, the volatile Vietnam veteran who may be her father. She also embarks on a series of romantic relationships with the wrong men (her cousin's ex-boyfriend, for instance), entanglements that lead to trouble. This story of a wayward woman's attempt to find love and identity is Morris at her best. A reading group guide is included in the book.
The Lost Legends of New Jersey By Frederick Reiken
Set in the suburbs of Livingston, New Jersey, Reiken's second novel is a chronicle of the dysfunctional Rubin clan. At the center of the story is teenaged Anthony, whose mother has deserted the family for a new life in Florida. To make matters worse, Rubin pere has had an affair with Anthony's best friend's mother. In the midst of this familial unraveling, Anthony turns to street-wise Juliette, and the two begin a romance that is infused by Reiken with the power of myth. Taking his cue from the stories of famous lovers (Lancelot and Guenevere, Romeo and Juliet), the author weaves legend into the fabric of his narrative. The match between Anthony and Juliette is made on earth, not in heaven, but through it, Reiken reveals the magic that laces mundane life. A reading group guide is included in the book.
Gertrude and Claudius By John Updike
This ingenious, detailed take on Shakespeare's Hamlet may be viewed as a preface to the play itself. The spotlight here is not on the moody Dane, but on his mother and stepfather, whose stories are given new dimension by Updike. Fabricating pasts for the pair, he portrays Gertrude in her pre-queen days as a young girl given unhappily in marriage to a man she doesn't love. Her father, the king of Denmark, insists on the match, and Gertrude eventually gives birth to Hamlet. Yet she never settles in to life as a wife and ultimately becomes involved with Claudius, her husband's brother. The results are, of course, the stuff of Shakespeare. A clever prequel, Updike's story stops where the bard's starts, lending new richness to two of literature's most familiar characters.