Fabienne and Agnes are best friends who live in a small, poor, rural town in France. Fabienne is the dominant one in the relationship. One day she decides she will dictate a creative work of fiction to Agnes, and Agnes will take full credit as the author. The retired postman who lives in their village edits it and then sends it on to a publisher in Paris. It is printed and Agnes becomes famous when she is fourteen years old.
I have read several of Yiyun Li’s books, and although she is a fine writer, there is always an element of discomfort in them. The Book of Goose is mainly a book about friendship, but there are also themes of death, poverty and deception.
Elizabeth Strout’s newest work focuses on Lucy Barton, her ex husband, William, and the pandemic. It is March of 2020 and William, because he is a scientist, knows before most that the world will be turned upside down very soon. He finds a house in rural Maine and strongly urges Lucy to leave her New York City apartment and move with him. Lucy by the Sea describes Lucy’s experiences, thoughts, insights and flashbacks during this traumatic time.
I know that Elizabeth Strout’s writing style and characters are not for everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed most of her novels. For me, reading Lucy by the Sea felt like chatting with a good friend. Like a good friend, Lucy Barton is caring, thoughtful and honest.
Lessons is the story of Roland Baines – from his childhood in Africa to his time in an English boarding school to his life in London when he is in his 70’s. During these years he is seduced by his piano teacher, marries a German woman who deserts him leaving him to care for their young son, and eventually happily remarries. His life is nothing special, he never worked at anything with a passion, but in some ways he is satisfied. Roland Baines is an ordinary man living an ordinary life.
Ian McEwan’s most recent novel is one of his best. Perhaps because the main character is my age, has lived through many of the historical events that I have, and reacted to friends and family as I probably would, I identified with him Lessons is a fine story about a multi-dimensional man. It is my favorite book so far this year.
Lucrezia di Cosimo de Medici was born in Florence to Italian nobility in 1545. When she was fifteen she married an Italian duke, a man she had only seen once when he was engaged to her late sister. Lucrezia was a bright, stubborn, talented girl who was an expert at making herself almost invisible and listening in on conversations. After being married for almost a year and not producing an heir, her husband takes Lucrezia to a remote fortress-like country estate where she believes he will murder her.
This is an interesting well-written book of historical fiction, but not O’Farrell’s best work,. I found The Marriage Portrait overly descriptive, sacrificing plot for ornate, unnecessary details. Also, it is a novel that jumps around in time and settings and can get a bit confusing.
Agnes and Polly have been friends forever. Both are Quakers in their early 80’s who spend their winters in Philadelphia and summers on Fellowship Point in Maine. Agnes is single, head strong, independent and earns a living as an author. Polly is married to a domineering husband, the mother of three sons and tries her hardest to get along with everyone. When money hungry relatives want to develop Fellowship Point, Polly and Agnes work together to try to stop them.
Alice Elliott Dark’s work of fiction is a great read. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Agnes and Polly (it’s about time someone wrote a novel about friendships among the elderly). Fellowship Point is well-written, yet an easy read. After finishing it, I wanted to go to rural Maine, take a look at the beautiful scenery and meet the wonderful cast of characters.
Maria Lagana is an Italian immigrant working for one of the owners of Mercury Pictures during the 1940’s. She arrived in Hollywood with her mother and her three eccentric aunts. For a while she receives censored letters from her father who is still in Italy, but eventually she hears nothing from him. When Pearl Harbor is bombed, Mercury Pictures must change the type of movies it produces, and Maria and a group working for the company are forced to adapt.
There’s a lot going on in Mercury Pictures Presents. Marra introduces many characters, several subplots and a variety of settings. However, if you are willing to take your time, concentrate and read it through to the end, it is definitely worth the effort.
Tang Yitian is a college professor at a prestigious university in America. He was brought up in a rural Chinese village. One day he receives a call from his mother who he hasn’t seen in seven years. His elderly father has disappeared, and his mother needs Yitian’s help finding him. His return to China brings back memories of his father, his deceased brother and the girl he loved who helped him get to America.
Tang’s debut novel is a winner. She clearly describes the China of the 1970’s compared to the country in 1990. Her characters a well-drawn, and although the novel goes back and forth in time, it is never confusing.
Keefe’s latest work of nonfiction is a selection of articles from “The New Yorker” magazine. Some of his subjects are well known, such as El Chapo and Anthony Bourdain. Others are less famous but just as fascinating, like Astrid Hollendeer. Astrid informed the Dutch police about her brother who was the most powerful mobster in The Netherlands. She will probably live in hiding the rest of her life.
Patrick Radden Keefe’s twelve vignettes appear to be meticulously researched and all are as well written, interesting and informative as Say Nothing and Empire of Pain.
Eleanor Brown’s third novel is about three women who have become a family because they have adopted children from the same woman. Tabitha and her husband adopted Brianna’s twins. Tabitha has a good heart, lots of energy and wants everyone involved to feel a strong family connection. Elizabeth and her husband adopted Brianna’s youngest, Violet. Elizabeth is having doubts about her ability to mother. Ginger is single and adopted Phoebe, Brianna’s first born. For seven years Phoebe lived her grandmother, but when the grandmother died, Phoebe chose Ginger to raise her. Ginger likes peace and quiet and dislikes change. When Tabitha arranges a two week get together with everyone at a vacation home in Aspen, conflict and hurt feelings are bound to occur.
Any Other Family is an enjoyable read, but there is not much substance to it. It is not thought provoking, and although Brown presents several adoption issues, she tends to gloss over them.
It is the summer of 1999 and twelve year old Fe Fe Stevens is jumping rope outside The Robert Taylor Homes on the south side of Chicago with her friends Precious, Tonya and Stacia. This is the summer the high rise projects will be demolished. It is also the summer of police raids, gang violence and families and friendships torn apart. The summer of 1999 taught Fe Fe some valuable lessons which she will carry with her into adulthood.
Wolfe’s debut novel is a thoughtful work touching on the concepts of crime, poverty, race, friendship and family. It is an engrossing story with characters who feel true to life and prose that is clear, concise and sometimes poetic.