Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslitt. I did not enjoy reading this book. My main problem with it was that all the characters actively annoyed me for various reasons. I certainly don’t need to like a character to like a book, but the only plot was really the characters, and if you can’t root for any of them, or in my case, if you actively wanted them to shut up, then it makes for a book whose ending is welcome. The chapters switched viewpoints between five members of a family: the father is an Englishman living in America and who is suffering from very serious mental illness. The mother starts off interesting and stoic, but for most of the book she is just trying to help her son, Michael, who inherited the mental illness from his father. Michael is often manic in his chapters, which also tended toward the run-on stream of consciousness style. He seemed realistic, but it was hard to read his chapters. The youngest son, Alec, was a jerk, and Celia, the middle daughter, escaped to her own life in California, but basically that wasn’t far enough. Michael also becomes addicted to the psychiatric medicines he is prescribed, and his addiction propels most of the events of the book. Perhaps it would’ve been interesting for me if I liked the characters, but again: I did not.
Good As Gone by Amy Gentry. This was a fun, suspenseful read. Gentry takes the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping – a younger sister seeing her older sister kidnapped out of her bedroom – and runs with it. When the book begins, Julie, the kidnapped daughter has reappeared eight years later. Her parents and sister, all in their own ways broken by the kidnapping, are ecstatic, but doubts begin to surface as to whether it is actually Julie or not. We also get Julie’s experiences, chapter by chapter, going backwards for the past years. It’s an interesting way to structure the book and it works. It was hard to put the book down.
Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker. I loved this book. Parker is an excellent writer and it was such a good idea to write a memoir like this. The whole book is written as letters to the men in her life, but the “in her life” part is very all-encompassing, from obvious figures like her father, and grandfather, and lovers, and son, to more random ones like a taxi driver, and the oyster-picker who picked the oysters for her father’s last meal, and to the man that will one day fall in love with her daughter. It was an interesting approach and her writing was beautiful – poetic and funny, and achieving the right balance of reveal. I was surprised at how good it was and sad when it ended.
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. I did not really enjoy this book. For me, it was too lacking in nuance, and I felt like I was being hit over the head with Picoult’s points for 500 pages. It read like an adult version of the kid’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day. The story is about Ruth, a labor and delivery nurse of twenty years’ standing, who has a newborn patient whose parents are white supremacists. They do not want Ruth to touch their child, so when Ruth is the only nurse around when the baby goes into distress, she is not sure what to do. Turk & Brittany, the white supremacist parents later sue Ruth for murder, and the hospital, despite Ruth’s years of excellent service, throws her to the wolves. The book switches between Ruth, Turk, and Ruth’s lawyer, Kennedy, a white liberal who is not aware how hard Ruth has it on a daily basis. But this is the part that we get hit over the head with: Ruth has to confront racism every day. Picoult seems to think that her readers are going to be surprised by this notion, and in order to make her point, she shows non-stop how racism is everywhere. She does not do this with any sophistication or, as I said above, nuance, and the result is a very tiresome read (although the court scenes move quickly).
Fast Falls The Night by Julia Keller. I read the first two novels in the “Bell Elkins” series a few years ago and enjoyed them, and then recently saw that Keller had published a new one, so got it and read it without realizing that it was actually number six in the series (and that several of the middle numbers were divided between two or more books). So I read 6 after 1 and 2, and didn’t realize this until I had finished 6. I could tell there were references to things that I didn’t know, but it didn’t interfere with my mild, pleasant enjoyment of this book. I think I will mosey to the library to get the middle volumes, but not with any sense of urgency. Bell Elkins is confronted with an astonishing amount of overdoses and works hard with the sheriff and deputies to try to get the word out that there is a tainted batch of heroin in the town. She runs into people’s prejudice against drug addicts and interfering in their self-destruction, etc. Bell’s sister, Shirley, is in this book, and she keeps trying to reveal a secret to Bell. Basically if you want a nice little crime drama that takes place in the mountains of West Virginia and involves a small town’s depressing battle with heroin, then this is the book for you.
We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson. I loved this perfect, strange little novel. I’ve always heard of Shirley Jackson but this is the first book of hers that I read – thanks to my sister, Martha, for the recommendation and loan of it. It’s a gothic tale about two sisters, Constance and Mary Katherine, who live with their senile Uncle Julian in a large country house outside of a village. When the book begins, Mary Katherine is doing one of her twice weekly trips into the village for food and library books, and is hoping to do so unnoticed by the villagers, who when they do notice her, are unkind. We soon learn that Merricat’s (as she is called by her sister) family was murdered by arsenic in their sugar, and Constance was accused and acquitted of the murder, yet the villagers still think she is guilty. So the three of them live a secluded life, with Constance cooking and gardening, and Merricat, an eccentric 18 year-old, perhaps on the spectrum, going on long adventures in the woods with her cat, Jonas. It’s perfectly written and perfectly structured: as the reader you slowly learn the truth of what is going on, while becoming completely on the side of the sisters. It’s odd and funny and sad and full of tension, and extremely well-done.