Librarian Lizzie Benson lives a pretty ordinary life in New York City with her husband Ben and son Eli. What’s happening around her, however, is anything but. Climate change, Trump, threats to democracy, artificial intelligence, drug addiction – there’s plenty to worry about. How to absorb it all while going on living is the question. Weather by Jenny Offill puts words to what it’s like to live right now and thanks to her playful, fragmented writing style, this book is not nearly as depressing as it sounds.
Five people plunge to their deaths when an old Inca bridge across a gorge in Peru snaps. Who were these people? And why these five? That’s what Brother Juniper, a Catholic priest, sets out to investigate in the glorious little novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder. ‘Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan’ Brother Juniper reasons. So which one is it?
Here’s one to set off a fiery debate around the dinner table. Now that the first storm around #MeToo has settled, This is Pleasure by Mary Gaitskill takes a step back and looks at the fallout. Quin, a successful, charming publisher, has been a huge flirt his entire adult life. While never explicitly abusing his power, Quin has always operated at the very edge of acceptable behaviour (sometimes overstepping it). It has now come back to haunt him. Many of us have had a Quin in our lives. What do we think of this one?
Toby Fleishman is divorcing. He’s had enough of his absent, high-flying talent agent wife, Rachel, who never seems to be satisfied with his job as a doctor, their flat in Manhattan or indeed have time for their two kids. He’s fed up. In his new-found freedom he’s going through a sort of sexual renaissance. New York, it appears, is full of middle-aged horny women who will do anything to get laid by someone like Toby, or, actually, just anyone. Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner has descriptions of the befuddling world of online dating that had me, literally, screaming with laughter. But there’s more to this book than clever comedy and the turn to a more serious tone is both its strength and weakness.
Madeleine Miller is the much-praised author of the recently published and hugely successful Circe, which we at Bookstoker loved. In my view, Miller’s debut novel, The Song of Achilles, first published in 2012 and the winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction that year, is even better. This spellbinding novel is a must-read for anyone who loved Circe, The Silence of the Girls , has an interest in the Greek myths or is simply looking for an addictively good read.
Devouring Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, this summer’s most talked about book, has left a bad taste in my mouth. For eight years Taddeo followed the relationships of three American women – Maggie, Lina and Sloane – with the goal of uncovering ‘vital truths about women and desire’. Taddeo’s initial plan was to study a larger group of women but finding volunteers (the level of intimate details in this book would make the bravest of women shy away) proved tricky. That’s a shame as these three stories, captivating as they are (Taddeo is a superb storyteller), surely represent only a small sub-section of female sexual experience. So that begs the question: what is the point of this book?
Celestial and Roy are two young black newlyweds, he an executive with a promising career ahead; she an up-and-coming folk artist. When something terrible happens they are torn apart for five years – their lives unravel and they question everything they thought they knew. I read An American Marriage by Tayari Jones as an e-book without having read the blurb (surprising for me but there you are) and I think this is the best and only way to read it. If you know what is going to happen – and almost every review will tell you – then the spoiler makes the whole book a bit pointless.
At the age of 54, author Dani Shapiro discovers that her father is not the man who raised her. The Ancestry.com genealogy test results show that not only is she fathered by someone else, but she also has a lot less Jewish DNA than she thought. Having been raised in an orthodox Jewish family, this raises all kinds of questions about identity and belonging. I was enthralled by Shapiro’s detective work as I joined her emotional rollercoaster to find out why, how and who. Inheritance by Dani Shapiro is a human story which raises some compelling ethical dilemmas and is well worth your time.
Ben Lerner’s pot smoking, pill popping protagonist Adam is an endearing, hilarious and vulnerable anti-hero whom I immediately warmed to. On a poetry fellowship to Spain from Kansas, Adam comes weighed down with self-doubt. His knowledge of Spanish is negligible, his skills as a poet questionable. Adam self-medicates to the point that much of his life has become an out-of-body experience. Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner had me in stiches, but just like Adam’s experience of life, this book has layers and layers of meaning, some hilarious, some profound, many of them both.
I have a soft spot for anything Wild West (yes, I did watch a fair bit of The Little House on the Prairie as a kid), so when West by Carys Davies came along I wasn’t hard to convince. It’s the short story of widower Cy Bellman who sets out from Pennsylvania in 1815 to find rumoured gigantic beasts after reading about the discovery of ancient bones in a newspaper. Left behind, in the care of strict Aunt Julia, is his 10-year-old daughter Bess. Like many a mid-life crisis, this one doesn’t end well.