I think they’re calling for a lovely fall day today. The sun is shining, there’s a nip in the air, and there’s no chance of rain in the forecast. A good day for tea, a walk in the park, and a good book.
I’ve got a couple of books to talk about today, both of them from my “required reading” list. The first is The Girl in the Box by Sheila Dalton. It tells the story of a psychologist from Toronto, Jerry, who, during a visit to Guatemala to research the value of ethnotropic drugs in therapy, comes across a young Mayan woman, Inez, mute and possibly autistic, who is being kept in a box in the jungle by her family. Her parents beg him to take her back to Canada, which he eventually does. At some point during her stay with Jerry, who arranges therapy sessions for her to help overcome her trauma, she kills him and is sent away to a facility for the criminally insane. Jerry’s long-time girlfriend, Caitlin, a journalist, is left to deal with the aftermath of this event, and she struggles to find out what really happened and why, in order to find a way to forgive Inez and move on. This book grabbed me right from the beginning, and although it shifted between narrators and times, it was not overly difficult to follow. I did find, by the end of the novel, that I was ready for it to be over, and was happy to reach the final page. I felt that the first half of the book really set the stage for the mystery, and I wanted to read on the find out what happened next, or to find out what happened before, which lead to what was happening now. The second half, however, lost that edge and droned on a bit, and I felt that the author mythologized (I think that’s the right word) Inez a bit too much. I found myself gritting my teeth every time the author wrote about Inez’s radiance and inner spirituality, when she’d made that point many times before. Having said that, it was definitely an interesting read, and I really enjoyed the first half of the novel, perhaps because it dealt more with Jerry and Caitlin, and other minor characters, and their relationships, as well as Inez, whereas the last half of the book focused mainly on Inez, and Caitlin’s search for the truth about the killing. I’ve never read anything else by this author, who is from Newmarket, although I believe she has written other adult fiction. I’m not sure I would recommend this to everyone as a great read, but it was definitely interesting and well-written, though not flawless.
The next book I’d like to talk about is Our Daily Bread by Lauren B Davis. This novel, too, deals with abuse and violence, but in a very different way. It tells the story of the folks in the small town of Gideon, and the way they handle the presence and activities of the Erskines, the clan that live up on the mountain. There are many main characters and plots. I can’t say that this book is just about Ivy and Dorothy, and the relationship that develops between the lost little girl and the widow. Nor can I say that it is about Albert, the young Erskine man who wants to get away from the clan and leave the mountain behind, and Bobby, a town teen who needs someone to look up to, and the relationship that develops between these characters. It is also not just about Tom Evans, a good-looking and upstanding town member whose restless partner runs off, leaving him to deal with the children and the town gossip. No, it is about all of these things and much more. It is about the town’s reluctance to acknowledge what is happening up on the mountain, to turn a blind eye to the abuse, neglect and illegal activities that everyone knows is happening but no one wants to deal with. I don’t want to write too much about this novel, to avoid giving any more of the plot away. I’ll just say that it kept me riveted to the last page. Davis handled a difficult subject with grace and skill. She described unpleasant situations with only as much detail as the reader needed to understand, never indulging in unnecessary description for shock value (not that she needed to, as the subject matter was shocking enough). This novel was inspired by the true story of the Goler Clan living on a mountain in Nova Scotia in the 1970s. It was both horrifying and compelling, but not for anyone looking for an uplifting read. I feel that I can accurately sum up this novel using the words Davis penned to describe Ivy at one point in the novel: it was “unutterably sad”. I will definiely be checking out The Stubborn Season, another novel by this author.
Now I need to select something else to read. I could tackle my next book club selection, The Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, but I think it’s a bit too early for that - I’ll finish it too far in advance of our meeting. Perhaps another novel from the list of “required reading”? I have Everybody has Everything, by Katrina Onstad, from the library. This book has recently been nominated for the Giller prize, so I read a few pages last night before I went to bed. I’m sensing that it will not be a book I “can’t put down”, but I will read a bit more before making a decision. That’s the great thing about being an adult - unlike being a student, I don’t have to read anything I don’t want to read. There will be no exams or essays, and except for my book groups, there are no expectations for me to read a certain book at a certain time. The only problem with that situation is that there are so many good books to choose from that it is often difficult to make a decision. It’s good to have some guidance regarding book choices sometimes. But that’s for another post…
Bye for now!