by Julie HaleJune, 2009
June paperbacks for reading groups
The Art of Racing in the Rain
By Garth Stein
Stein’s heartwarming third novel has a unique twist: its narrator is none other than a remarkably articulate, timelessly wise lab-terrier mix named Enzo. That’s right—this tale is delivered from a dog’s point of view, a trick the author executes with exceptional believability. The dog’s owner, Denny Swift—a down-on-his-luck race car driver—is trying to create a career for himself on the professional circuit. The two cross paths for the first time on a farm on the outskirts of Seattle and become inseparable. Smart, loyal and long suffering—all the things a good dog should be—Enzo bears witness to the milestones in Denny’s life, including his marriage to Eve, and the birth of their daughter, Zoë. When Denny invests his savings in an attempt to launch his racing career, Enzo takes to watching videotapes of his old races and longs for the power of speech so he can advise his master. Indeed, Denny needs all the help he can get as he hazards his life on the racetrack. Providing humorous and sympathetic commentary on his owner’s misadventures, Enzo is an unforgettable narrator. This is a spirited story of friendship and love—a book with heart. A reading group guide is available.
Dear American Airlines
By Jonathan Miles
Miles, who writes about books for Men’s Journal and serves as cocktail columnist for the New York Times, offers a funny, poignant first novel about reaching middle age. Benjamin Ford is a struggling poet and translator who hopes to reconcile with his alienated daughter by flying to Los Angeles from New York for her wedding. When his flight is cancelled, Bennie finds himself stranded in O’Hare International Airport with hundreds of other disgruntled travelers. As he comes to the realization that he’ll miss his daughter’s wedding, Bennie composes a complaint letter to the airline—a missive that turns out to be far more than a simple plea for a refund. With irony, intelligence and humor, Bennie writes about his own life in the letter, detailing regrets, mistakes, wasted time—the works. His failures as a writer and the damage wrought by his alcoholism are all recounted with a sense of melancholy and hard-won maturity. Bennie also writes about his troubled parents—a suicidal mother and a father who was a prisoner of the Nazis—both of whom left their mark on his life. As it turns out, Bennie’s letter writing is a cathartic project. When airline flights finally recommence, he has come to grips with his personal history and actually feels a sense of hope. Miles, a sharp, stylish author, has created a complex novel from a simple premise. This is a compassionate, often hilarious book about laying the past to rest and moving forward into the future. A reading group guide is available.
The Girl Who Stopped Swimming
By Joshilyn Jackson
Set in Florida, this modern-day Southern Gothic drama features a picture-perfect middle-class family whose lives are turned upside down by the appearance of a ghost. Laurel, a successful quilt artist, discovers the specter in her room one night. It’s the ghost of a young girl—her neighbor, Molly—and it leads her to the family’s swimming pool, where the body of Molly herself is floating. For Laurel, a return to normal life with her husband, David, a designer of video games, and their teenage daughter, Shelby, is unthinkable after this discovery. Although the police are convinced Molly’s death was an accidental drowning, Shelby becomes implicated in the tragedy, along with her friend Bet. To make matters worse, Laurel’s free-spirited sister, an actress named Thalia, comes for visit. New tensions arise as the two sisters—different as night and day—clash. Thalia has some unpleasant family secrets to share with Laurel, who has become convinced that David is cheating on her. With Thalia’s help, though, Laurel is able to find out the facts about the drowning—facts more shocking than she ever imagined. Jackson, an actress and a Southerner, develops and controls multiple plotlines with great skill. This is a wonderfully nuanced portrait of a Southern family whose idyllic existence is shattered overnight. A reading group guide is included in the book and available online.