The Fortunate Brother – Donna Morrissey

The Fortunate Brother - Donna MorrisseyA gritty angst-filled guy book set in West Newfoundland. The context – geography and people- is described perfectly. A father and son are paralyzed by grief, so they retreat and psychologically “run away” into a life of drink and anger. The book then becomes a murder mystery with deception and lies and misunderstandings. Annoying behaviour to be sure but the descriptions of the people in a fishing outport trying, usually badly, to have each other’s back is compelling. This is one of Morrissey’s best books.

The Nest – Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

The Nest - Cynthia D_Aprix SweeneyThis is an entertaining story about a dysfunctional family, the Plumb siblings (Johnathan Franzen territory). The core character is the oldest, Leo, a prodigal brother who is charming but dishonest and deceitful. The plot has a number of surprising turns to make this a very enjoyable read. Leo’s siblings are variably desperate and entitled and conniving. This is another amazing first novel that is highly recommended.

May We Be Forgiven – A.M. Homes

May We Be Forgiven - A.M. HomesHarold has a younger brother, George, who has exhibited psychopathic tendencies his whole life. When George commits an unspeakable act of violence, Harold is thrust into being responsible for George’s two children, a responsibility for which he is woefully unprepared. Initially Harold is very annoying because of poor impulse control resulting in very bad decisions, especially with his relationships with women. However, he slowly grows into his role of protector and confidant. The setting is NY with an interesting excursion into South Africa. This is a very good book about how complex behaviours can evolve. A sub-plot about Richard Nixon is totally entertaining.

The Conjoined – Jen Sookfong Lee

The Conjoined - Jen Sookfong LeeWhat if you are cleaning the basement of your family home after the death of your mother, and you find the bodies of two foster-children in a basement freezer who went missing 28 years ago? This is an intriguing book that examines family secrets and the social welfare system. Some of the ideas reminded me of Zoe Whitall’s book The Best Kind Of People where suspicion is directed to “good” people. What is the cost of bringing foster children into a home for all concerned? Highly recommended.

The Dust That Falls From Dreams – Louis de Bernieres

The Dust That Falls From Dreams - Louis de BernieresDe Bernieres wrote the delightful Corelli’s Mandolin, and his latest book is also excellent. The setting is Britain in 1914. The horror of WWI, the mud and stink and brutal death, is described vividly. Also, very precise details of flying are detailed. But this is a book about relationships within the McCosh family, in particular the 4 sisters. At times, the book is a tender love story that also touches on grief and religion. The relationships are often complicated: a sister loves someone who does not love her in return, and vice versa. There is some wry humour, particularly the class-conscious matriarch Mrs. McCosh who should be played by Maggie Smith if this story is ever adapted for film or theatre. Overall, a very entertaining story.

Commonwealth – Ann Patchett

commonwealth-ann-patchettPatchett is a great writer and this latest book is a wonderful story of what appears to be entirely dysfunctional families. A blended family with step-children united in their dislike of their parents, and each other, is described wonderfully. Then over 5 decades, relationships change and evolve. A favourite sentence that encapsulates how relationships change: “She had loved Bert Cousins, and then grown used to him, then was disappointed in him and then later, after he left her, with five small children, she had hated him with the full force of her life”. Wow.

Party Wall – Catherine Leroux

party-wall-catherine-lerouxThis is a really excellent book, not surprising since this was a Giller finalist. The chapters are all about pairs, for example, two sisters. But some of the pairs are not what they seem: a husband and wife, a mother and son, and a brother and sister. There is a strong sense of place but not of time. And finally, lives begin to intersect. This is dazzling writing and exceptional translating (the translator won a Governor General’s Award), so a “must read”.