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?
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
With a movie adaptation set to hit theaters in just a month, now felt like the right time to finally read Dennis Lehane's best-selling suspense novel, Shutter Island. Nothing creeps me out more than something set in a mental institution, and this novel was no exception. It's 1954, and Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner have been sent to an island insane asylum to find a missing patient. But when a storm sets in and the doctors start acting suspicious, Teddy begins to question his mission—and his sanity.
"Beyond the wall, that way"—he pointed past Ward B—"is the original commander's quarters. You probably saw it on the walk up. Cost a fortune to build at the time, and the commander was relieved of his duties when Uncle Sam got the bill. You should see the place."
"Who lives there now?" Teddy said.
"Dr. Cawley," McPherson said. "None of this would exist if it weren't for Dr. Cawley. And the warden. They created something really unique here."
They'd looped around the back of the compound, met more manacled gardeners and orderlies, many hoeing a dark loam against the rear wall. One of the gardeners, a middle-aged woman with wispy wheat hair gone almost bald on top, stared at Teddy as he passed, and then raised a single finger to her lips. Teddy noticed a dark red scar, thick as licorice, that ran across her throat.
Related in BookPage: our interview with Lehane for The Given Day.
After the jump, you can watch the trailer for Martin Scorcese's adaptation Shutter Island—like the novel, it's guaranteed to give you the creeps!
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
July 2002, Little, Brown
These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections—sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent—that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it. The events that my death wrought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous body had been my life
The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
Reagan Arthur / Little Brown, on sale January 18
Three years after a debut that dazzled the literary world (Then We Came to the End) Joshua Ferris returns with a second novel that is both difficult to describe and hard to forget. In The Unnamed, successful corporate lawyer Tim Farnsworth succumbs to a mysterious compulsion—he can't stop walking. At times, the urge strikes so suddenly that Tim darts out of his Manhattan office or his suburban home and pounds the pavement until his feet are bloody and his body collapses in an exhausted heap. As his marathon walks continue, the blinding urge has a devastating effect on Tim's career, his family and his health. The Unnamed challenges readers with its unlikely premise and lures them with writing that is intense, compelling and relentless in its narrative power.
He walked past neighbors' houses, he walked barefoot down Route 22. He walked past the supermarket: empty parking lot and an eerie glow. He walked past the Korean Baptist church and the Saks-anchored mall into the dreams of the late-night drivers who took home the image of some addled derelict in a cotton robe menacing the soft shoulder. He looked down at his legs. It was like watching footage of legs walking from the point of view of the walker. That was the helplessness, this was the terror: the brakes are gone, the steering wheel has locked, I am at the mercy of this wayward machine. It circled him around to the south entrance of the forest preserve. Five, six miles on foot after a fourteen-hour day, he came to a clearing and crashed. The sleep went as quickly as a cut in a film. Now he was standing again, in the cricket racket, forehead moist with sweat, knees rickety, feet cramped, legs aching with lactic acid. And how do you walk home in a robe with any dignity?
Watch for a Meet the Author Q&A with Ferris in the February issue of BookPage and read an interview with Ferris from 2007.
As 2010 rolls around, I know many of you will be making picks for a book club you’ve been a part of for years, or you’ll be joining a new group. (Or, maybe you’ve got your picks lined up months in advance. If so, please share the titles in the comments!)
My mom recently joined a book club in Arkansas, and I know she’s excited about January and February: Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo and Alice Munro’s Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage are on the docket.
If you’re just starting a club, BookPage has many resources: We have a book club column in the print edition of BookPage (click here for December’s highlighted books); and we’ve got an entire page dedicated to all things book club on BookPage.com, where you can learn about new books out in paperback, write a profile about your club or review books your group enjoyed.
What books will your club be reading in 2010?
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
September 2009, Riverhead
Juliet, Naked follows the intertwining stories of Duncan, a college professor in a small English town whose one passion is for the music of Tucker Crowe; Duncan's girlfriend Annie, who is beginning to realize how angry she is that she's just spent 15 years with a man who loves Tucker Crowe more than her; and Tucker Crowe himself, who has been in near-seclusion in rural Pennsylvania since shortly after the release of his greatest album, Juliet, in 1986. Hornby has a gift for illuminating the inner lives of his characters, from their moments of petty jealousy to the recognition of their scariest or most humbling needs. I especially appreciate his insight into the kind of fannish obsession that Duncan has for Tucker Crowe, which both embarrasses and sustains him. I always love Hornby's characters, and this book is no exception; I'm almost excited that I have another flight tomorrow, so I can have an excuse to plow through the rest of Juliet, Naked and find out how it ends!
What really frightened him was how spectacularly his transgression had paid off. All these years, he'd done nothing more than read and listen and think, and though he'd been stimulated by these activities, what had he uncovered, really? And yet by behaving like a teenage hooligan with a screw loose, he had made a major breakthrough. He was the only Crowologist in the world who knew about that picture, and he could never tell anyone about it, unless he wished to own up to being mentally unbalanced. Every other year spent on his chosen subject had been barren compared to the last couple of hours. But that couldn't be the way forward, surely? He didn't want to be the kind of man who plunged his arms into trash cans in the hope of finding a letter, or a piece of bacon rind that Crowe might have chewed. By the time he got back to the hotel, he had convinced himself he was finished with Tucker Crowe.
What are you reading today?
This is pretty oddball, but I’m giving a copy of Comic Con: 40 Years of Artists, Writers, Fans, And Friends (Chronicle) to my teenage son who loves comic books and hopes to attend Comic Con himself one day. The book is a large-format, illustrated look at the history of the show.
My dad is a huge fan of literary fiction, so I’m giving him John Irving’s Last Night in Twisted River (Random House) and E.L. Doctorow’s Homer & Langely (Random House). Irving and Doctorow are two of his favorite writers and I know he is excited about their new books
—Abby, Fiction Editor
I'm giving The Lacuna (HarperCollins) to my mom, who loves both Mexico and art history, and The Education of a British-Protected Child (Knopf Doubleday) by Chinua Achebe to my dad, who loves both postcolonial writers and childhood memoirs.
—Kate, Nonfiction Editor
I'm giving City of Thieves (Penguin) by David Benioff to my grandfather. This book has been a hit with everyone I've recommended it to, including my brother, who hadn't read a book in years before I loaned him my copy. My grandfather loves novels about World War II and has visited St. Petersburg, where the novel is set, so I think he'll enjoy this one.
—Trisha, Web Editor
My 18-year-old sister just started college in New York (1,300 miles away from home!), so I’m giving her a copy of Ann Packer's The Dive from Clausen's Pier (Random House). I think my sis will appreciate the story of a young woman’s search for independence—plus, Packer does great descriptions of NYC.
—Eliza, Assistant Web Editor