Sunday, June 26, 2011


A beautifully crafted novel about the feelings and events and histories that bind people together. I found it interesting that Glass linked this book back to THREE JUNES through the character of Fenno. It's almost as if she created the link between those two novels to suggest (go meta? we do have a psychotherapist in this novel, named Alan) the ways that connections among people (characters) become apparent over time (through plot). In this novel, a group of about a dozen characters with seemingly disparate stories begin to forge connections--through an act of generosity such as helping to take care of a box of stray puppies, a common interest such as high-end cooking, a similar experience such as being a single adult wanting to adopt a child. Glass's characters are flawed but mostly kind, and though the book ends with 9/11 (the "crash" that brings together nearly everyone who survives) it's an optimistic novel. I loved how layered the novel is--there are references to everything from the lyrics to Broadway musicals to a dozen children's books to cooking recipes with esoteric spices. When I was in grad school they called this "intertextuality"--and I guess I see this novel drawing the links among all these texts as a metaphor for the links among these characters. Not that this is a novel with a message, but it's easy to take away the idea that we have only to look carefully (or be thrown into a particular situation) to see the connections.

Gennifer Choldenko, AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS

A solid middle-grade novel about a boy who moves to Alcatraz during the 1930s. His sister Natalie has something "wrong" (we might call it Asperger's); his father works two jobs at Alcatraz and is never around; his mother struggles to find a cure for Natalie; his neighbor is a pretty troublemaker who lures him into her schemes. Well-written, realistic but clean read for the tween crowd.

Tony Earley, JIM THE BOY

Written in 2000, a charming story of a boy growing up in 1930s in a small town in North Carolina, with a heap of uncles and a single mother because his father (Jim the dad) died right before Jim the boy was born. It's told in third-person but focalized through the ten-year-old Jim's perspective. First line: "During the night something like a miracle happened: Jim's age grew an extra digit. He was nine years old when he went to sleep, but ten years old when he woke up. The extra number had weight, like a muscle, and Jim hefted it like a prize." But despite the wide-eyed boy's perspective that this first line suggests, Jim is no saint and this story isn't just sweet--it alludes to some fairly grisly pieces of American history, a mother who is too wrapped up in her husband's death, a horrible grandfather, the clash between mountain-folk and town-folk. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


This memoir is very engaging--and by turns harrowing, insightful, other-worldly. Retief's father is a computer programmer for the research department at Kruger National Park in South Africa, so among other things young Retief learns that there are 517 varieties of birds in the park and how it feels to come to school and find four lions on the basketball courts. The plot arc that governs the book, it seems to me, is Retief learning (or mislearning) about the links among sexuality, race, and violence and then unlearning them. So if at age 12 he links sexuality (and homosexuality) with violence because of the white prefect John who sexually and physically abuses him at his boarding school (I was physically wincing through this section), he unlearns the link later and begins to connect sexuality with love. Several times he writes about "that great cycle of apartheid violence--the apparatus whereby white boys are bullied when young so that they later they will know how to beat blacks into continued submission." I don't mean to make this sound like a "teaching" memoir--it's compulsively readable--but it provided a window into a world I don't know.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


This novel reminded me of Jane Austen. Not only does it concern "three or four families in a country village" in England, but there is a gently satiric tone that recalls Austen. This novel, set in Edgecombe St. Mary, portrays an older gentleman (with a fairly obnoxious money-driven son, at moments as ridiculous as Mr. Collins) who falls in love with the Pakistani shopkeeper Mrs. Ali and sends shock waves through the town. Mrs. Ali is almost an Elizabeth Bennet, with a sharp-eyed wit. A friend told me the book was "too slow"; but I didn't find it so. It is not a "page-turner," but as in Austen's novels, the plot turns on small events, gestures, or a word spoken out of turn, with the utmost attention paid to delicate shades of feelings.