In which I revisit quality fiction: Progress report on Anuradha Roy’s The Folded Earth (by Jill)

Layout 1 The last two books I’ve read have been wonderful, but I wouldn’t consider either of them high-end fiction. They were more like time spent with friends, both old and new. When I started The Folded Earth I was struck immediately by Roy’s elegant yet simple prose. It flows so well, and is just beautiful. Here is the first paragraph (it’s not long): “The girl came at the same hour, summer or winter. Every morning I heard her approach. Plastic slippers, the clink of steel on stone. And then her footsteps, receding. That morning she was earlier. The whistling thrushes had barely cleared their throats, and the rifle range across the valley had not yet sounded its bugles. And, unlike every other day, I did not hear her leave after she had set down my daily canister of milk (3).” Isn’t that nice?

Maya is our narrator, and the setting is a mountain town in India called Ranikhet. Maya is originally from Delhi, where she lived with her husband Michael, until he went to climb a mountain and died. After that she moved to Ranikhet, which is actually near the mountain on which Michael perished. She becomes a schoolteacher at the village Christian school despite not actually being a Christian, though Michael was, and settles in to become a member of the community. As the book opens I think Maya has been in Ranikhet for about six years. I’m about halfway through the book at this point, and the supposed major plot based on the back of the book stuff, the “power-hungry politicians threaten [Maya’s] beloved mountain community” plot line. So far, that stuff has been percolating in the background, and I’m not sure what’s going to come of it. And honestly, if things continued as they have been so far, with Maya spending time with her village compatriots, that would be okay. I don’t want to know about these power-hungry politicians. I am enjoying spending peaceful time with the family Maya has cobbled together in her adopted home.

We have been learning about Maya’s relationship with Michael in flashbacks. The two were apparently star-crossed lovers who gave up their families to be together. I think it was an Indian caste problem, but the details haven’t been revealed yet, other than mentioning in passing that Michael was Christian, and that Maya’s father didn’t like Christians much. What I do know is that six plus years after Michael’s death his wife is still mourning him, and it’s terribly sad. Just before I paused in my reading to work on this post in earnest, Maya has begun seeing Veer, her neighbor Diwan Sahib’s nephew, recently returned to Ranikhet. Veer is some sort of mountain climbing guide for tourists, and as such Ranikhet is a good home base for him, and there has been some speculation that he has returned to his former summer vacation spot to take care of his uncle as he approaches the end of his years. Diwan Sahib is probably Maya’s best friend in the village at the start of the novel. He is much older than she, and had a governmental post of some importance during the British colonial era of India. As such, he often has visitors of importance, but Maya is his favorite. They read the papers together in the afternoons, and share rum, and Maya has been editing his biography of Jim Corbett, a famous big game hunter who Diwan Sahib had passing acquaintance with years ago. Other important folks are Charu, the village girl mentioned in the first paragraph. She was once one of Maya’s students at the school, but was abysmal, and eventually dropped out. She lives with her grandmother, Ama, and “slow” uncle, Puran, and seems to spend most of her days taking the cattle and goats out to graze and home from grazing. She meets a boy early on, Kundan Singh, who is a cook for the manager of a new hotel in town. The manager and his wife end up returning to Delhi and taking Kudan Singh with them. His letters are what finally convince Charu to let Maya teach her how to read.

The only significant “politician” character so far is Mr. Chauhan, who is some sort of local official, and has been portrayed thus far as something of a benign fool, though I think that this is about to change. He spends his days painting slogans on rocks and billboards around Ranikhet, with such catchy sayings as “Walk in Nature Zone, It is Health Prone” and “Mountains are Fountains of Joy.” There are more. I might recommend reading this book on the basis of being able to mock these ridiculous slogans alone. He thinks that this graffiti of his will promote tourism in Ranikhet and stimulate the villagers to take better care of their home (i.e. keep it clean for the tourists). Puran, Charu’s uncle, becomes the focus of Mr. Chauhan’s rage as the chapters go by. Puran likes to let the family cattle and goats graze and eliminate wherever they feel like, and this makes Mr. Chauhan very angry, as does Puran’s general appearance and odor. At one point he takes all of Puran’s clothes and burns them. The last full chapter I read ended with the words “he resolved that this time he would teach Puran a lesson he would never forget (160).” And this is concerning, because Puran seems like a nice fellow, and one who has no defenses of his own.

So far, I definitely recommend this book to everyone. I can’t think of anyone who I would think would not enjoy it. That may change, of course, but I’m hoping not. More in a few days or whenever I finish The Folded Earth.

Posted in Anuradha Roy, Fiction - general, Fiction - literary, Reviews by Jill | Leave a comment

Anne Rice has a new book out!

IMG_7733.JPG

The release of Anne Rice’s latest entry in her Vampire Chronicles series (now in it’s 38th year) surprised me when I learned about it back in March, but I’m delighted that it finally arrived on Tuesday. It looks like it’s going to be a follow-up to The Queen of the Damned, in the sense that it’s going to be a “cast of thousands” story, rather than focusing on one or two vampires. I loved The Queen of the Damned, and was deeply disappointed when the books that followed it didn’t update me on all the vampires who were introduced in that seminal work. The series, for me, took a downward turn after that book, and I’m hoping Anne Rice gets back to her glory days with this one. I’m skeptical that this will actually be the case, but that’s okay. I’m loyal to Anne, for better or worse.

Posted in Anne Rice, Fiction - Fantasy, Fiction - general, Fiction - Vampire Porn, Reviews by Jill | Leave a comment

Yarn Along

 

Yarn Along 10.19.14 - 2

It’s true. I started a new project before I finished the orange cowl, in spite of certain promises I may have made about finishing that project. But this weekend I was reminded of how much I love making simple children’s rollneck sweaters, and so I cast one on. I’ve downsized the needles I usually use in order to adjust my gauge. So far I think the smaller needles are making the sweater too stiff, but we’ll see. The photo doesn’t show the sweater off as well as it might, but the yarn is a beautiful mallard green.

And This Side of Paradise - sigh. It’s still not very interesting. More details soon.

Yarn Along is hosted each Wednesday by Ginny on her blog, Small Things.

Posted in Yarn Along | 6 Comments

I Think I Can, I Think I Can: The Numbers Challenge Comes to an Unexpected October Standstill (by Bethany)

this side of paradise cover image

I’m reading This Side of Paradise, which was my September book for the Numbers Challenge. After that, I will read Ceremony, which was my August book, and maybe then Jill will let me have my October number and my November number, since things always go more smoothly when I get to plan my procrastination well in advance.

I am surprised at how little I am enjoying This Side of Paradise. Fitzgerald published this novel just five years before The Great Gatsby, but there is almost nothing in its pages that seems to prefigure the glib polish and sad, beautiful humor of the latter novel. I haven’t encountered a single sentence or passage worth extracting from the novel and studying or admiring on its own. This is less a novel than a character sketch of Amory Blaine – whom we should regard as a stand-in for Fitzgerald, I believe – as he proceeds from clueless, foppish child to self-conscious, foppish adolescent to whatever else happens after page 46, which is the page I’m on right now. Every time I sit down and try to make it to page 47, I am suddenly overcome with some urgent task that must be completed right at that very second.

Amory is his mother’s darling. Beatrice Blaine is the subject of several rhapsodic passages in the opening chapter. She occasions many, many, many exclamation points. She and Amory travel around together for most of Amory’s formative years, until “Beatrice had a nervous breakdown that bore a suspicious resemblance to delirium tremens” (13) and Amory is packed off to live with an aunt and uncle in Minneapolis for two years, followed by prep school in Connecticut and college at Princeton.

What this novel reminds me of, instead of The Great Gatsby, is an episode of Frasier. Amory could pass for either Frasier or Niles Crane, for one thing, but what keeps reminding me of this sitcom is the fact that each chapter in the novel is subdivided into sections, which are given witty titles. Remember the way  scenes from Frasier had titles? “A Kiss for Amory” relates an incident that takes place at a “bobbing party,” which seems like the sort of thing Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie ought to have been involved in. “The Philosophy of a Slicker” relates Amory’s last year in prep school, where a “slicker” is a student who slicks his hair back with water, as Amory does. In “Incident of the Well-Meaning Professor,” one of Amory’s prep school teachers tries to explain to Amory why none of the other boys at school like him; this incident ends with Amory screaming at the teacher, who runs away like a scared rabbit.

I am going to stop fiddle-farting around with this book. From now until I finish it, this novel will be my top reading priority. I will try to have something more cogent and coherent to say about it by Friday. I’m curious to find links between this novel and Gatsby. What did the process of writing this novel do to Fitzgerald that primed and trained him to write The Great Gatsby only five years later? I’m not sure I’ll find a clear answer to this question – but if I do, I’ll let you know.

Posted in Authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Fiction - general, Fiction - literary, Reviews by Bethany, The Numbers Challenge | Leave a comment

A Review of Brian Morton’s Florence Gordon (by Bethany)

elle-brian-morton-florence-gordon-

First thing’s first: why would anyone give a novel a title that rhymes with his name? Seriously – try saying it five times fast: Brian Morton Florence Gordon. See the problem? What does that even mean, psychologically speaking? Is it some kind of Echo and Narcissus complex? Or is the brain-space surrounding his name so finely tuned that he didn’t even recognize that the rhyme was there? This is one of the many annoyances that kept me busy while I was reading this novel.

First, the good things: this novel is a quick, easy read. The chapters are always short and sometimes almost microscopic – not quite “My mother is a fish,” but almost. If you read this novel, you will not have to worry your pretty little head about pesky things like characterization and description. You will be thrust into the presence of a variety of characters, and then you will be told some things that they say and do, and you will be told what you should feel about them. There may be some readers out there who would enjoy not having to figure out the characters for themselves – but don’t those sorts of readers usually just watch TV?

I would also like to share with you the one sentence in the novel that I liked: “‘Jewish women,’ he said, ‘are all that stand between us and the death of the publishing industry.” The “he” in question is the title character’s new editor. I like this sentence not because I have any strongly-held feelings about the reading habits of Jewish women but because it is one of the few sentences in this novel in which it is suggested, however obliquely, that a character might possibly have a personality. Unfortunately, the new editor is only on the page for a chapter or two.

I read this book because it was the inaugural selection of a new book club I recently joined. After I read the first thirty pages or so of the book, I decided that I didn’t want to finish it and that maybe I would reconsider being part of the book club. But the online chatting that went on among the book club members made them seem like very interesting people, and two days before the first meeting I picked the book up and kept reading. I wasn’t done yet when I went to the meeting this past Thursday, and I was pleased that many of the other members were turned off by the book for all of the same reasons I was, and they did in fact prove to be interesting people, so I can’t resent this novel too much, although I’ve tried.

What more can I tell you? This is a novel about an elderly feminist and her circle of family members and friends. (An aside: I am also reading another novel about an elderly feminist and her circle of family members and friends – Margaret Drabble’s The Witch of Exmoor – and I am finding that novel a little tedious too, although for different reasons. That novel is packed with characterization and description and backstory, while this novel has almost none. I look forward to comparing the two in a future post.) Florence Gordon is the elderly feminist, and she has an ex-husband named Saul, an adult son named Daniel, a daughter-in-law named Janine, and two grandchildren – Mark, who never once appears in the novel, and Emily, a nineteen year-old taking a break from college who persuades her grandmother to let her be her research assistant. Florence also has a circle of elderly feminist friends, an old (i.e. retired) editor and a new editor, and a doctor named Noah. Florence is in the early stages of working on her memoir when a New York Times reviewer writes a retrospective about all of Florence’s books and publishes it as the cover story on the Times Book Review. All of this is very exciting to everyone in Florence’s circle. Her ex-husband begs her to get him a job at the university where she once taught. Her granddaughter Emily keeps asking her what she will do differently now that she has been identified as a major literary figure. And her daughter-in-law, who most of the time treats Florence with worshipful reserve, pays no attention to Florence’s newfound fame because she is busy flirting and considering having an affair with her colleague, Lev.

Note that I say considering an affair. This novel is about people considering things. It’s about Florence considering her memoir and Saul considering his failed career and Janine considering having an affair and Daniel considering what to do about the fact that he knows she is considering having an affair (but she doesn’t know that he knows she is considering an affair, so she is not considering what to do about his considerations, thank goodness). Emily considers snooping through Florence’s papers, Janine considers snooping through Daniel’s papers, and Noah the doctor considers Florence’s lab results, which are pointing toward a neurological disorder and a hastened, miserable death. No one else is considering said hastened, miserable death, however, because Florence doesn’t tell anyone.

This novel pulses with clichés and with colloquialisms that are just the tiniest bit off – the kind that make me wonder if the author has one of those learning disabilities that make a person unable to detect the nuances of colloquial speech. It’s small stuff, mostly: a teenager referring to “text messaging” (what teenager wouldn’t say “texting”?). Various octogenarians tossing around the colloquial use of “rock star,” referring to someone who is good at what he or she does. An injunction to “slow fucking down,” when clearly the correct usage is “slow the fuck down.” The UN-ironic use of the phrase “sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll” – over and over and over again. And then there are the terrible sentences, the ones that should never have gotten past an editor, sentences like this: “Both of them radiated testosteronely confidence.”

I tried. I really did. I assumed the author knew something I didn’t about testosterone and/or about the English language that would make this sentence make sense. But it just doesn’t. Testosterone is a noun, and can be used as an adjective only with certain nouns, such as “Today I have to take my ferret to get some testosterone injections.” Confidence isn’t one of those words that pair up with testosterone easily, although testosterone confidence could be a thing, maybe. Maybe testosterone confidence is the phenomenon that explains why teenage boys think it’s a good idea to spray themselves with so much Axe Body Spray before school dances.

But even so – even if testosterone confidence might be a thing, testosteronely confidence is definitely not a thing. Because confidence is definitely a noun in this sentence, and testosteronely is definitely an attempt at an adverb, and adverbs (or attempts thereof) just can’t modify nouns. It doesn’t work that way. And how can I take a book seriously when its author and any number of other educated professionals – editors and so forth – let such an appalling sentence fly by? And who is Brian Morton, anyway? Does he really have the kind of clout that he can draw a line in the sand about these sorts of things? “Testosteronely confidence stays, or I walk,” he must have said. “Screw you, Houghton Mifflin. I’m packing up my awkward adverbs and taking my business over to Random House.”

This book is laughable. It is worse than bad. Between the one good sentence, which I quoted above, and the one absolutely horrible one I expounded on at some length, stroll many, many other forgettable ones, laced with clichés and ambiguous pronouns and a lot of sloppy, superficial thinking about human beings. The characters in this novel shouldn’t be simplistic, but they are. The sentences shouldn’t be facile, but they are. I can’t imagine what the genesis of this novel was, since Morton seems barely to care about his characters or take them seriously – which makes it hard to take him seriously as a writer as well.

Posted in Authors, Brian Morton, Fiction - general, Fiction - Tedious novels about elderly feminists, Reviews by Bethany | Leave a comment

Forget responsible reading! That’s what purgatory is for! Jill’s thoughts on Kim Harrison’s The Witch with No Name.

photo (2)

Anyone who has been reading the blog for a while knows of my love for Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series. The Witch with No Name came out in early September and I’ve had a heck of a time not reading it until now. On Wednesday night I looked at the book I’d started reading on Monday (Anuradha Roy’s The Folded Earth), and thought, I just can’t. I’ve read about twelve pages of it and it seems lovely, nice first person narrator and a sad story about to be related, but I only had two days off this weekend and damnit I wanted to read something fun. So I picked up the last book about Rachel Morgan that Kim Harrison will ever write (I kind of doubt that), and slammed through it in about forty-eight hours. I am pleased to report that Kim did not disappoint me. Yes, there were a few typos, and overuse of the weird adverbial phrases she loves so much, and too many references to things “slipping” that have no business slipping, and Rachel was having a pity party for herself for the bulk of the book, but other than that it was practically perfect. I’ve spent so many years being disappointed in endings of things (Lost comes to mind, as well as the Sookie Stackhouse books, and How I Met Your Mother, just to name a few) that it was nice to see a series wrap up nicely.

This book starts about three months after the end of The Undead Pool. Rachel and Trent are stupid happy, though Rachel keeps freaking out in her head that he’s going to leave her for Ellasbeth, or something else is going to happen to mess everything up. The girl has a really crappy track record, I’ll give her that. Truly, this aspect of the novel was the most annoying thing. I mean, I feel her, I do. It’s been one failed relationship after another for her: Kisten died twice, Nick was a jackass, that hot swimmer witch ditched her when she was shunned by the coven, and then Pierce, the ghost, turned out to be only slightly less shady than Nick. I was convinced she would do something to sabotage her relationship with Trent just because she couldn’t believe she might get her happy ending after all that. (Spoiler alert: she gets it. And it warmed my heart.) The book opens with Ivy, Rachel, and Jenks on a run, just the three of them. The first few books were all about these three working together, and I suspect Harrison wrote this scene for old time’s sake. At the end of it, though, Ivy gets hit by a car, and the three of them get chased into Eden Park by a gang of living vampires. Rachel moves them to the Ever After to get away because Ivy can’t move any further, and they wait. Wait for Ivy to die? They figure out pretty quickly that Rynn Cormel, Ivy’s master vampire, is behind this: he wants his soul, he wants Rachel to get it for him, and he knows the best way to get Rachel to do what he wants is to threaten to make Ivy an undead too. Eventually Rachel’s gargoyle Bis wakes up (gargoyles sleep during the day) and gets Trent and Nina (Ivy’s living vampire girlfriend who has a very unhealthy bond with her master vampire Felix, i.e. he spends a lot of his time with his consciousness inside Nina) into the Ever After to help Rachel with Ivy. As the surface demons circle, one of them seems drawn to Nina especially after Felix becomes dominant. And then Rachel realizes that the surface demons are actually the undead vampires’ souls! I sort of figured this was the case in the last book but it was nice to have it confirmed.

Long story short, Ivy survives this attempt on her life, and Rachel figures out how to capture the “surface demons” and how to bind them to the undead vampires, but in doing so she realizes, along with everyone else, that returning the souls to the long undead vamps will probably make them walk into the sun over the guilt of all the stuff they’ve been doing while they’ve been without their souls. Something annoying about this? They called it “suncide.” Why can’t they just say walk into the sun, or go towards the light, or something like that? Suncide just sounds dumb. Maybe “sunicide” would have been better. Anyway, there are tons of political machinations going on, with the elves trying to promote rejoining the souls to the undead vamps, which is essentially a power play. Some of the politicking went over my head, probably because it’s been a few months since I read the last few books. This bothered me, but not because of anything Kim Harrison did—I was irritated with myself more than anything else. I know all the information I forgot about elf/vampire/witch/demon relations is available somewhere, just not easily accessible to me from my brain, and I had no time to go researching these things. Had to keep reading!

The big battle at the end goes on for about sixty pages. At one point or another I thought every character was dead. It was awesome. And like I said, everyone gets a happy ending, but I’m not going to go into any more detail than that. I don’t want to ruin it any more than I already have. I really love this series, and I’m sad that it’s over, but I think Kim Harrison chose to end it at the right time, and in the right way. She didn’t drag things on past their natural lifespan. And I’m very much looking forward to whatever she comes up with next. I really hope that this isn’t the last we see of Rachel, Ivy, Jenks, Trent, Al, Nina, and all the other characters she has created. I was a bit disappointed that Cormel doesn’t get the snot kicked out of him before the end of the novel, but being the country’s most powerful undead vampire has to have a few perks, I guess.

I have loved reading The Hollows, and I’ve also enjoyed writing about it.  I can only hope that Kim Harrison’s next series is as enjoyable as this one has been, and that I don’t have to wait very long to find out!

Posted in Fiction - Fantasy, Fiction - general, Fiction - Vampire Porn, Kim Harrison, Reviews by Jill | Leave a comment

A Review of Lily King’s Father of the Rain (by Bethany)

father of the rain cover image

I don’t seek out fiction about dysfunctional families as actively as I used to, but I still consider myself a bit of a connoisseur of the genre. Lily King’s Father of the Rain is in some ways very typical of this genre, but it rarely resorts to cliché, and King’s characterization insists that every character, even minor ones, be taken on his or her own terms. Like real dysfunctional families, this book is maddening and sad, but I read it with great interest, involvement and admiration.

Daley Amory is eleven when the novel opens, and her mother is on the verge of divorcing her father. On their last days as an intact family, Daley’s father takes her to a pet store to buy a puppy. Daley knows that she and her mother will be leaving that night, but her father doesn’t. She turns down all the pure-bred dogs her father offers because she knows she needs to choose a dog she won’t mind abandoning. She chooses a mutt, but of course she is still terribly sad to leave him behind. The sadness of this initial loss never stops haunting the novel, even as Daley’s family grows more and more fragmented and unhappy.

Meanwhile, at home, Daley’s mother hosts a friend named Bob Wuzzy, who runs something called Project Genesis, which seems to have something to do with promoting racial harmony. One of the sources of conflict in this novel is that Daley’s father, Gardiner, is a blue-blooded New England WASP who grows increasingly annoyed by and suspicious of the changing political sensibilities of the time (the novel opens in 1971) while her mother is established early in the novel as a Democrat actively involved in many social issues. When the novel opens, it seems as if Bob Wuzzy, Project Genesis, and ‘70’s social issues are going to be important to the plot, but as soon as Daley’s mother leaves Gardiner these issues are never mentioned again. Bob Wuzzy (“I don’t know if Bob Wuzzy is white or black. He has no hair, not a single strand, and caramel-colored skin. When I asked my mother she asked me why it mattered, and when I asked my father he said if he wasn’t black he should be” [7]) is only around long enough for Gardiner to make a few “Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear” remarks, and the racially-ambiguous children (“When they get out of the pool and run back to the diving board, the water shimmers on their skin, which looks so smooth, as if it has been polished by Lemon Pledge. None of them are close to being ‘black.’ They are all different shades of brown” [7]) that have accompanied Bob Wuzzy to the Amorys’ house and may or may not be Bob’s actual children never reappear either. It’s possible that Lily’s mother hosted Wuzzy & Co. primarily (or only) to make Gardiner angry and lost interest in them after she divorced him. It’s also possible that she continues the work on her political causes after the divorce but that Daley, who is the first-person narrator, does not report on it because after the divorce she pays very little attention to her mother. While her mother is her primary custodial parent, Daley’s attentions during her pre-teen and teenaged years are on what happens in her father’s house, which is where the loudest and most attention-seeking demons of this dysfunctional family take root. Daley’s mother won’t win any Mother of the Year awards, but her dysfunction is quieter, and she lives on the fringes of the novel after the first few chapters.

We also never learn what “Project Genesis” is, though I’m pretty sure it’s not the same Project Genesis that plays an important role in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

Gardiner Amory sees himself as besieged on all fronts. Liberals and black people and women are encroaching upon his life in his small Massachusetts town (though he’s pleased that he can retreat to his all-white country club). He is a raging alcoholic fond of dramatic displays involving screaming, aggressive and semi-public sexual displays, and nudity. His friends love him; they see him as the life of any party. He works lazily at some financial firm, and his income is assured by virtue of his trust fund. Almost immediately after Daley and her mother leave, Gardiner begins seeing, and later marries, the mother of Daley’s good friend Patrick. When Daley visits her father on weekends, she shares her old room with Patrick’s sister, and Patrick has taken over her role as her father’s sidekick and ally. Daley’s mother’s divorce lawyer is a constant object of mockery and rage in this newly-created family. And of course, while Gardiner is sometimes a jovial drunk, at other times he is awful: derisive and narcissistic and mean. With his posse of dogs as his loyal companions and his status as Unspeakable Asshole, Gardiner has a lot in common with Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. I have no reason to think that King intended this connection, but it’s certainly present.

The first half of the novel brings us through these years – Daley’s adolescence and early adulthood – and while these 120-or-so pages are as painful as they sound, they are also beautiful. As maddening as Gardiner is, it is impossible to hate him (though it is certainly possible to wish for social services involvement). His new wife is hapless and needy; her children hapless, needy, and pathetic. Daley is pulled in all the directions you can imagine, vacillating between her deep need to be loved by her father and her awareness of how deeply pathetic and self-destructive he is.

The second half of the novel takes place in Daley’s late twenties, just after she receives a Ph.D in anthropology and is about to move on to a prestigious new job as a junior professor at UC Berkeley, where she plans to move with her new boyfriend – a black man with a Ph.D in philosophy who accepts a position much less prestigious than hers in order to move to California with her. The day before she leaves, she receives a phone call from her brother (whom I haven’t mentioned yet – he is about 5-6 years older than Daley, and his primary talent is disappearing whenever things get difficult) summoning her back to Massachusetts, where Gardiner’s second wife had just left him and he is a few drinks away from suicide-by-alcohol. Daley can’t point herself in any direction except at her father; she aims her tightly-packed car east instead of west and shows up at his house for the first time in years. Her boyfriend is first surprised, then furious; when she calls the anthropology department at Berkeley and quits her job, he leaves her. Daley enters the trenches of recovery with her father – she physically deposits him at AA every evening, cooks healthy food for him, and cleans up his house so it’s an inviting place for him to spend time. He starts looking her in the eye with a new appreciation. Initially skeptical, he begins to embrace AA and think of himself as an alcoholic in recovery. Daley agonizes over her lost job and her boyfriend’s departure, but she can’t turn away – her desperation for Gardiner’s love keeps her anchored (or shackled) there. She reconnects with a few old friends. After several months, though, Gardiner begins dating an old friend, a woman who has always thought of Gardiner as charismatic, risqué, and hilarious. It was the drunk Gardiner she liked, though, and slowly, not entirely knowing what kind of person she is unleashing, she coaxes the drinker back out. This part of the novel is almost unendurable – it is so sad, after everything that Daley gave up and all the progress that Gardiner has made – but it’s the path this novel has to follow. As encouraging as Gardiner’s recovery seems during the few months that he commits to AA, he is not a man who can stay sober, and King was bold and brave in insisting on bringing Gardiner all the way down to whatever happens after rock bottom. I’ve read so many novels that settle for easy answers, and I want to find all of those authors and hand them copies of this book with a little note that just says THIS.

The novel takes one more quick leap into the future and ends in 2008. I won’t tell you a lot about what happens there, but I will say that 1) the novel never stops being painful, 2) in spite of #1, Gardiner and Daley do get a reconciliation of sorts (and as someone who has seen a parent descend into physical decline and dementia, King gets these final scenes absolutely, painstakingly right), and 3) by 2008, Daley has her own small brood of mixed-race children, and a lot of the imagery from the first chapter is echoed in the last, except that in chapter 1 the mixed-race children are the interlopers, roughhousing in the Amorys’ backyard pool, chaotic and faceless and alien, and in the final chapter the mixed-race children are Daley’s own, intimately known and loved, part of the clan – and even Gardiner embraces them.

This is a wonderful novel. I recommend it to just about any reader, although it is certainly a painful read at times, so make sure your antidepressants are refilled and you have a plan in place for how you will bring yourself out of its cloud when you are finished: time spent with a goofy toddler would work, or maybe some sex, or maybe a classic episode of Saturday Night Live – one of the ones where Jon Lovitz played Dukakis, perhaps? Or, in my preferred mode of consolation, you could spend some good solid quality time with a rambunctious cat and the contents of a full-to-bursting paper shredder.

Posted in Authors, Fiction - general, Fiction - literary, Lily King, Reviews by Bethany | Leave a comment