Day for Night by Frederick Reiken
Reagan Arthur Books, April 26, 2010
It is often said that successful novels need at least two out of three things: good writing, good characters or a good story. That may be true. But in the best novels, like Frederick Reiken's Day for Night, you get all three.
Just a handful of pages later, we leave Beverly to fly to Utah with Tim and the lead singer in his band, Dee. A few pages after that, we're reading a deposition from a federal agent who's been tracking a suspected terrorist for the last 20 years. All of these threads, and more, come together in surprising, compelling ways. Poetic and moving, Day for Night is a novel to remember.
This excerpt is from the second section, told from Tim's perspective.
We have a song, which Dee wrote—she's written all of our songs—called "Close You Are," and unlike "Down in the Sea of Me," it isn't cryptic and it isn't about Dee's history of childhood trauma. What it's about is the idea that we're much closer than we think to the random people we see on any given day, that everyone in this world carves out a little groove and that although you may think your world is large you rarely venture far outside that groove. That there are other people in these grooves with you, that grooving, at least in this song, means to be dancing with the people in your groove. The chorus of the song—Close you are, grooving!—might sound dumb just to say (especially since people hear it as "groovy" and not "grooving"), but it sounds good when you hear Dee sing it. She jumps around a lot when she sings this song and it's fun to watch her. It's like she's two different people singing, one who sings Close you are and another who chimes in grooving! She seems so happy and clear, unlike in "Down in the Sea of Me." When she sings that song, you get scared because it's like she's turned into this big black hole and you're sucked right in. Her face turns mean and you would think a person with a face like that could kill you. A face like that you will keep on seeing in your mind and you'll feel relief when you drive home and know that face is just a memory. The problem is that when you're far enough away you'll want to see it again, this face that is cruel and luscious and arousing. You think you really might be willing to go down into that sea.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
Random House, June 29, 2010
Count me among the obsessed. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is an amazing historical novel that has it all—mystery, romance, adventure, betrayal and scenes with so much intensity, complexity and historical detail that you'll wonder if Mitchell was reincarnated from an earlier life.
The novel opens in 1799 in Japan, where the Dutch East Indies Company has a trading post at Nagasaki. The young Dutch clerk de Zoet arrives at the post with high hopes of making his fortune and impressing the family of his beloved fiancee, Anna. But soon after his arrival he is drawn to Aibagawa, a Japanese woman whose beauty shines through the disfiguring burns on her face. As he settles down to sleep one hot summer night with his servant Hanzaburo nearby, Jacob can't keep his mind off the alluring and mysterious Aibagawa:
Night insects trill, tick, bore, ring; drill, prick, saw, sting.
Hanzaburo snores in the cubby-hole outside Jacob's door.
Jacob lies awake clad in a sheet, under a tent of netting.
Ai, mouth opens; ba, lips meet; ga, tongue's root; wa, lips.
Involuntarily he re-enacts today's scene over and over.
He cringes at the boorish figure he cut, and vainly edits the script.
He opens the fan she left in Warehouse Doorn. He fans himself.
The paper is white. The handle and struts are made of paulownia wood.
A watchman smacks his wooden clappers to mark the Japanese hour.
The yeasty moon is caged in his half-Japanese half-Dutch window . . . Glass panes melt the moonlight; paper panes filter it, to chalk dust.
Day break must be near. 1796's ledgers are waiting in Warehouse Doorn.
It is dear Anna whom I love, Jacob recites, and I whom Anna loves.
Beneath his glaze of swat he sweats. His bed linen is sodden.
Miss Aibagawa is untouchable, he thinks, as a woman in a picture . . .
All you Mitchell fans: we know you can't wait for this one. But how about the rest of our readers? Does anyone plan to join me as a first-time Mitchell reader and dive into The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet?
Between Friends by Kristy Kiernan
Berkley, April 2010
Kristy Kiernan's third novel follows a contemporary family through some major turmoil. Sixteen years ago, Cora donated an egg to help Ali and Benny conceive a daughter, Letty. Now Ali wants to have a second child—but Benny isn't so sure. And neither is Cora, who has a secret she's not sharing with her very best friend. Kiernan is an insightful writer with a gift for dialogue—especially teen dialogue—that lifts Between Friends above the rest of the crowded women's fiction field.
"I'm not going to discuss having another baby when we can't control the one we already have!"
"She's not a baby!" I yelled back, matching his volume, tired of being on the receiving end. "They grow up, Benny, they grow up and they lie and they test you and they do things that make you crazy. That's what they do. That's not a reason to turn into a dictator, and it's not a reason not to have another one."
"Well, I think it is." He clenched his hands, looking for something to do with them, his face red and mottled.
I should have been terrified for him. He looked like someone about to have a heart attack, or a stroke. But instead, I was terrified of him.
"I'm not going to stay here when you're this angry, and I'm not going to expose Letty to it, either." I said, my voice trembling.
"If you walk out that door, Ali, don't be so sure that it's going to be open when you come back."
I shook all the way to Cora's.
(In the interest of full disclosure: Kristy Kiernan is among the authors who have occasionally written reviews for BookPage.)
The Swimming Pool by Holly LeCraw
Doubleday, April 6, 2010
I’m pleased to say The Swimming Pool has lived up to its own hype—and then some. It’s the tangled story of two families linked forever by a love affair and a shocking murder. Marcella Atkinson fell in love with her summer neighbor, Cecil McClatchey, but before their relationship could even get off the ground, his wife was murdered. Seven years later, Marcella’s daughter is hired to nanny for Cecil’s daughter; Cecil is now dead, but his grown children are spending the summer at the family’s Cape house. And then his handsome son, Jed, finds an old swimsuit in his father’s closet, and begins to connect the dots between his father’s affair, his mother’s death and this mysterious older woman, Marcella.
At the bottom of the closet, among the dust bunnies, was a half-crushed shirt box. It felt light, and he opened it expecting to find nothing, or, at most, some old, ill-considered birthday gift. But instead, neatly folded, there was a woman’s bathing suit.
He felt he was seeing it not only with his eyes but with his whole body. A one-piece, plunging neckline, dark blue with vertical white stripes. Almost clownish—but then he lifted it out of the box and held it up by the straps. Yes. He remembered.
How old had be been?—that afternoon by the pool, their pool, when Marcella Atkinson had been stretched out in a lounge chair, alone at the corner of their patio? She had seemed separated from the rest of them, from the party that was going on, not only by a few feet that the chair was pulled but also by her stillness and, Jed had sensed, her sadness. And her beauty. Her perfect legs and olive skin and dark upswept hair had not seemed to belong with the cheerful Yankees in their madras shorts and flowered dresses, grilling fat American burgers and drinking gin and tonics.
Faithful Place by Tana French
Viking, July 13, 2010
"Howyis," I said, in the doorway.
A ripple of mugs going down, heads turning. My ma's snappy black eyes and five bright-blue pairs exactly like mine, all staring at me.
"Hide the heroin," Shay said. He was leaning against the window with his hands in his pockets; he'd watched me coming down the road. "It's the pigs." . . .
"Francis," Ma said. She eased back into the sofa, folded her arms where her waist would have been and eyed me up and down. "Could you not be bothered putting on a decent shirt, even?"
I said, "Howya, Ma."
"Mammy, not Ma. The state of you. The neighbors'll think I raised a homeless."
Somewhere along the way I'd swapped the army parka for a brown leather jacket, but apart from that I still have much the same fashion sense I left home with. If I'd worn a suit, she would have given me hassle for having notions of myself. With my ma you don't expect to win.
Roses by Leila Meacham
Grand Central, January 2010
At 600 pages, Roses is the kind of story that you’ll read under your desk, at the dinner table and through the middle of the night until you get to the end. We learn in the opening scene that cotton plantation matriarch Mary Toliver has unexpectedly changed her will at the end of her life. Meacham hooks us by offering no real explanation for this drastic move, and then shifts to the beginning of the 20th century, when Mary first inherits the plantation. The entire saga—filled with heartbreak, betrayal, power struggles and love—spans nearly 70 years. Looking for a good old-fashioned page-turner to gobble up this weekend? Roses fits the bill.
What are you reading today?
He gaped at her, truly shocked. “But, Mary, why?” You’ve had a marvelous life—a life that I thought you wished to bequeath to Rachel to perpetuate your family’s heritage. This codicil is so...” he swept the back of his hand over the document, “adverse to everything I thought you’d hoped for her—that you led her to believe you wanted for her.”
She slackened in her chair, a proud schooner with the wind suddenly sucked from her sails. She laid the cane across her lap. “Oh, Amos, it’s such a long story, far too long to go into here. Percy will have to explain it all to you someday.”
“Explain what, Mary? What’s there to explain?” And why someday, and why Percy? He would not be put off by a stab of concern for her. The lines about her eyes and mouth had deepened, and her flawless complexion had paled beneath its olive skin tone. Insistently, he leaned father over the desk. “What story don’t I know, Mary? I’ve read everything ever printed about the Tolivers and Warwicks and DuMonts, not to mention having lived among you for forty years. I’ve been privy to everything affecting each of you since I came to Howbutker. Whatever secrets you may have harbored would have come out. I know you.”
She lowered her lids briefly, fatigue clearly evident in their sepia-tinged folds. When she raised them again, her gaze was soft with affection. “Amos, dear, you came into our lives when our stories were done. You have known us at our best, when all our sad and tragic deeds were behind us and we were living with their consequences. Well, I want to spare Rachel from making the same mistakes I made and suffering the same, inevitable consequences. I don’t intend to leave her under the Toliver curse.”
Husband and Wife by Leah Stewart
Harper, May 2010
Sarah and Nathan are just your average American couple: still in love after more than 10 years together, they have a toddler daughter and an infant son; Nathan is a novelist poised for commercial success with the release of his new book, Infidelity. But when Sarah learns that the book isn't all drawn from Nathan's imagination, what they thought they knew about their relationship is called into question.
Leah Stewart (Body of a Girl, The Myth of You & Me) is an acute social observer, and her take on this oldest of stories is worth reading. Told from Sarah's perspective, the novel puts readers in her place and asks them to consider the temptations and trials of a longterm relationship.
"Do you still love me?" I asked, as though I was just now following up on what he'd said as we got in the car. Two hours ago it wouldn't have crossed my mind to ask this question. Now I heard how tremulous my voice sounded when I did. I stared at his profile. The corners of his mouth turned down, as in a child's drawing of a sad face.
"Of course I do," he said, but this time he didn't sound sure, and I said so. "It's just . . ." He shot a look at me, gripped the wheel with both hands. "Sometimes, part of me wishes I didn't."
"What do you mean?"
"I wish I could say I didn't love you, or we were unhappy, or I was in love with her. At least then I'd have a reason for doing what I did."
"Yes," I said. "That would be much better." "You're gazing at me adoringly!" I used to cry, when I caught him looking at me, and he'd deny it, and then I'd insist that he was, that he was freaking me out, and I'd pretend to flee his presence, and he'd chase me and tickle me and fix me with wide eyes, a goofy smile, and say, "I love you, I love you, I love you, you can't get away."
"Let me go!" I'd shriek, laughing and squirming. "Let me go!"
"I'm sorry," he said now. "I don't know what I'm saying. I don't really mean any of that. I love you. I just feel so bad."
I said nothing, though what I wanted to say was, Yes, you love me, you do, and how could you ever for one moment wish that away?
Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
Harper, April 27, 2010
So far (I’m about two-thirds finished), the major event in the novel has been the Haitian slave rebellion led by Toussaint Louverture at the turn of the 18th century. The narrative is alternately told from a third-person point of view and from the perspective of Zarité, known as Tété, a mulatto girl who works as a house slave on a sugarcane plantation. Tété wants nothing more than to be free with her children and with Gambo, a slave-turned-rebel. After a rebel mob burns the plantation and takes over Le Cap, the remarkable Tété saves her master and her children’s lives and flees with them to Cuba, then New Orleans.
You’ll have to read the book for yourself to learn why Tété—brave and dignified in the face of cruelty—saves her insufferable master. And as I continue reading, I can only hope that she escapes from slavery and finds her lover.
Music is a wind that blows away the years, memories, and fear, that crouching animal I carry inside me. With the drums the everyday Zarité disappears, and I am again the little girl who danced when she barely knew how to walk. I strike the ground with the soles of my feet and life rises up my legs, spreads up my skeleton, takes possession of me, drives away distress and sweetens my memory. The world trembles. Rhythm is born on the island beneath the sea; it shakes the earth, it cuts through me like a lightning bolt and rises toward the sky, carrying with it my sorrows so that Papa Bondye can chew them, swallow them, and leave me clean and happy. The drums conquer fear. The drums are the heritage of my mother, the strength of Guinea that is in my blood. No one can harm me when I am with the drums, I become as overpowering as Erzulie, loa of love, and swifter than the bullwhip. The shells on my wrists and ankles click in time, the gourds ask questions, the djembe drums answer in the voice of the jungle and the timbales, with their tin tones. The djun djuns that know how to speak make the invitation, and the big maman roars when they beat her to summon the loas. The drums are sacred, the loas speak through them.
What are you reading today?
The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano
Viking, March 18, 2010
Prime numbers are divisible only by 1 and by themselves. They hold their place in the infinite series of natural numbers, squashed, like all numbers, between two others, but one step further than the rest. They are suspicious, solitary numbers, which is why Mattia thought they were wonderful. Sometimes he thought that they had ended up in that sequence by mistake, that they’d been trapped, like pearls strung on a necklace. Other times he suspected that they too would have preferred to be like all the others, just ordinary numbers, but for some reason they couldn’t do it. This second thought struck him mostly at night, in the chaotic interweaving of images that comes before sleep, when the mind is too weak to tell itself lies.
In his first year at university, Mattia had learned that, among prime numbers, there are some that are even more special. Mathematicians call them twin primes: pairs of prime numbers that are close to each other, almost neighbors, but between them there is always an even number that prevents them from truly touching. Numbers like 11 and 13, like 17 and 19, 41 and 43. . .
Mattia thought that he and Alice were like that, twin primes, alone and lost, close but not close enough to really touch each other. He had never told her that.
The Magician's Book by Laura Miller
December 2008, Little, Brown
The Magician's Book, which details Miller's reconciliation with Narnia, is a thoughtful and heartfelt book, and her exploration of the Chronicles resonates with me as much as the books themselves once did. She discovers that Narnia is big enough to contain not just the adventures she loved as a child, and not just the Christian themes that now appear obvious, but a whole world full of stories and wildness, bravery and treachery, ancient myths and Santa Claus; that loving Narnia allowed her to love all the stories it contained, referenced or built upon, and thus opened up untold worlds.
To me, the best children's books gave their child characters (and by extension, myself) the chance to be taken seriously. In Narnia, the boundary between childhood and adulthood—a vast tundra of tedious years—could be elided. The Pevensies not only get to topple the White Witch, fight in battles, participate in an earthshaking mystical event, and be crowned kings and queens; they do it all without having to grow up. Yet they become more than children, too. Above all, their decisions have moral gravity. In contrast to how most children experience their role in an adult world, what the child characters in these stories do, for better or for worse, really matters, and nowhere more so than in Edmund's betrayal.
. . . To the adult skeptic, the evident Christianity of the Chronicles makes their morality seem pat, the all-too-familiar stuff of tiresome, didactic tales. . . . But that's an illusion, fostered by an adult's resistance to what appears to be religious proselytizing. True, Lewis does populate Narnia with semiallegorical figures who represent eternal aspects of human nature in addition to more realistic characters like the Pevensies. The White Witch is bad through and through, almost as uncomplicated as a fairy-tale villain. But she's not the moral ground on which the story's moral battle is fought. Edmund is.
What are you reading today?