Messud wrote the very excellent The Woman Upstairs, about the relationships of a mature woman. In this new novel, Messud has turned her perceptive gaze to a coming-of-age story of two girls, best friends since nursery school whose lives begin to diverge in middle school. What does friendship entail? What stories do we create for others and for ourselves? This is a beautifully poignant book.
A contemporary story about survivor guilt, and ultimately redemption because of a mother’s unconditional love (and many rescue dogs). Sometimes the story descends dangerously close to soap-opera but this is an enjoyable and worthwhile read. Hoffman’s writings are very diverse and dependable, so I faithfully read all her books.
Previously, I used the words “brutally honest and uncomfortably candid” to describe Camilla Gibbs’s memoir This Is Happy, and the same descriptors can be applied emphatically to this memoir by Roxane Gay. Gay is subjected to a brutal sexual assault at age 12; she discusses being both a survivor and a victim. There are two dramatic aspects to the aftermath: her silence and her reaction to eat, to become become fat and undesirable in order to be safe. Gay vividly describes living in a wildly undisciplined body as she becomes categorized as morbidly obese. The cruelty of pubic opinion of her appearance (i.e. fat shaming) is tragic. Her own analysis of her psychology is self-loathing. This is a deeply personal memoir that is often disturbing but occasionally comic as she describes how much she hates exercise. An amazing story.
This is a fantastic Indigenous novel, set in North Dakota in 1999. There is a powerful start to the story, a tragedy on page 2. What follows is an attempted reparation, guilt and paralyzing grief; a long-standing grudge which leads to revenge; and a gradual reconciliation. The story shifts back and forth in time, and has a mystical element. There is, amidst all this angst, a delightful plainness, a simplicity that engages and delights. For example, there is a transcendent passage about a volleyball game that captures the psychology of young adolescents perfectly! Although this is a multi-generational story, it is the children who are the most complex characters, particularly in circumstances where they are forced to be mature beyond their years (similar to Glass Castle). This book is wonderful storytelling.
Barton’s very successful debut novel, The Widow, was going to be a tough act to follow, and admittedly The Child is not as good. However, there are some very strong aspects to this second novel. Once again, this is a well-written psychological thriller/mystery. What is the relationship between skeletal remains of a child found in a construction site with a child abduction case from the 1970s? Also this is a story almost entirely about women including Kate, the intrepid reporter from The Widow. Male characters other than the plodding police are either inconsequential or sleaze balls. And finally, one of the female characters has incredibly poor parenting skills, setting up the engrossing question – what will she say/do next? Overall, this is a book that becomes hard to put down.
Sometimes a story can capture time and place perfectly, and this book is a prime example of that success. The time is 1981; the place is a Great Lakes steamship. And Kate is a rebellious 19 year-old: too much drinking, too much casual sex in a very sexist environment. Her reckless lifestyle has an incredible intensity that is intoxicating. A very good read.
Given the struggles with reconciliation and ongoing issues of cultural appropriation, I have decided to read more Indigenous authors. This novel begins in Northern Manitoba in 1951 with fishing and hunting as dominant activities in a simple but harsh life. Two brothers experience abuse at a Residential School and then settle in Winnipeg where alienation and estrangement complicates their struggle to survive. Dance and music provide a welcome respite. Although emotionally complex, the novel has a triumphant tone. And throughout, the brothers are watched over by the trickster fur queen. An excellent look at remarkable changes in Indigenous life over a 40 year period.