by Julie HaleOctober 2011
Best paperbacks for reading groups
LOVE & MARRIAGE
In Must You Go?: My Life with Harold Pinter, Antonia Fraser draws on her diaries to create an intimate portrait of her 33-year union with one of the world’s most celebrated playwrights. Fraser and Pinter were both married with children when they connected at a party in the 1970s (they talked until 6 o’clock in the morning), and their coming together caused a sensation. Fraser’s husband, conservative MP Hugh Fraser, was Pinter’s antithesis—straitlaced, quiet and reserved. With the volatile playwright, Fraser experienced passion for the first time, and together they formed a formidable couple. Three years after Pinter won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, he succumbed to cancer. Even as Fraser comes to grips with her grief, she is delightful company. The book is a mix of moods—humorous and wistful and meditative—but Fraser’s story is ultimately uplifting, as her love for Pinter clearly endures. This is an intriguing look at a match made in literary heaven.
SEARCHING FOR HOME
Ethiopian writer Dinaw Mengestu’s second novel, How to Read the Air, provides an unforgettable look at an immigrant family adapting to life in America. Jonas, a high school teacher, is at loose ends thanks to his dying marriage. The son of Ethiopian parents Yosef and Mariam—anotstraither unhappily married pair—Jonas grew up in a tension-filled household in Peoria, Illinois. Trying to achieve some resolution with his past, Jonas retraces a road trip his parents took (from Peoria to Nashville) on their honeymoon. Through flashbacks that offer searing scenes from Jonas’ childhood, revealing an abusive Yosef and a miserable Mariam, the novel skillfully spans two generations. How Jonas learns to live with his legacy of displacement and disillusionment makes for a richly rewarding narrative. Mengestu, whose debut novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2007), also won critical acclaim, offers a beautifully constructed family drama that draws on timeless themes of identity and alienation.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
Jonathan Franzen’s much-anticipated follow-up to The Corrections doesn’t disappoint. Set in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, this well-crafted novel focuses on middle-class couple Walter and Patty Berglund, who, after years of acceptance by their neighbors, become outsiders in their own community. Patty despises the conservative family next door, while eco-minded Walter—a lawyer—causes controversy when he becomes involved with a coal company. Flashing back to recount the story of how the Berglunds got where they are, the novel follows Patty from her well-to-do beginnings in New York through her failed college basketball career and her romance with Walter. The contrast of past and present makes for some provocative juxtapositions, as Walter and Patty watch their old dreams go down the drain. Among their disappointments: teenage son Joey, who moves in with the despised right-wingers next door. This perceptive portrayal of contemporary family life is Franzen’s best fiction yet.