Somehow, within the span of seven days, we’ve gone from wearing t-shirts and shorts to wearing winter coats. Yes, it’s true - yesterday I pulled out my warmest winter coat and it kept me warm and cozy while I ran my errands. So I’m especially thankful for my steaming cup of chai tea this morning, as I think about what I’ve read this past week.
Before I move on to new books, I wanted to follow up on the last 40 pages or so of Peter Robinson’s When the Music’s Over - they did not wow me, so my rating of 7/10 still stands.
But thankfully I read something early last week that really did wow me - Margeurite Andersen’s The Bad Mother. I have heard of this German/Canadian writer but have never read anything she has written until now, and I’m so glad the English translation of this book was in a box I received to be considered for the awards’ committee I am on. It is something I never would have normally picked up, but I’m so glad I did. This memoir is a reflection by Andersen on her life, and all the ways she was a bad mother. At the age of 30, she left her two sons in the care of her husband for a year and a half, and flew halfway across the world to escape a bad marriage. Sixty years later, she is writing about this period in her life that has tormented her for so long. In 1945, at the end of WWII, Andersen is twenty years old and living in Berlin, but she wants freedom, to live without hunger or thirst, to be free, so when her handsome lover talks of his homeland in Tunis, North Africa, she is tempted to follow him there to start a new life. When she becomes pregnant, her fate is sealed and off she goes, but all is not as she had hoped, and what follows are her choices and decisions, the consequences she must face, and the ways these decisions have affected her family (as she perceives them). OK, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you must be thinking, “But she doesn’t like reading non-fiction, especially memoirs”, and you would be totally right. But this book was written less like a typical memoir and more like a long narrative, free-verse poem, which was extremely engaging - I was drawn into her story immediately and had a hard time putting the book down. I read it in two days, and was sad to reach the last page. I couldn’t believe the things that Andersen had to go through in her life, the choices she faced and the tough decisions she made, trying to do the best for everyone, but also preserving herself. I was truly wowed and would rate this book 9 out of 10.
And I started reading a book of short stories called Four- Letter Words by Newfoundland author Chad Pelley. Once again, I had never read anything by this author, but was pretty impressed with the first few stories in this collection, which deal with themes of love, lust, hate or loss. The first story is told from the point of view of a young man who left home because his father abused his mother and she just took it. He befriended the old reclusive guy down the street, who helped him through these tough times and also helped him make his escape. At one point, when telling the reader about his father shouting abuse at his mother, Pelley writes, “...the way he shouted it made her lips quiver. Her whole body rippled: she was a pond and he was throwing stones” (p. 21). That’s beautiful language, clear and concise, and also refreshingly different. But after reading about a third of the stories, I found my interest waning, as somehow, although the characters and setting in each story were different, it felt a bit like I was reading the same story over and over. The way I see it, if you are reading short stories, you probably want some variety, and this collection wasn’t giving me what I needed at this time. So I closed the book and have guiltlessly moved on to something else (I know there are people who, once they start a book, feel that they absolutely must finish it, but I am not one of them).
And I finished listening to an audiobook this week, The Ex by Alafair Burke. I listened to another of her books a few years ago, Long Gone, and I just looked at my comments on that book - confusing, but not bad. Well, this book, her most recent novel, was not only confusing, but perhaps one of the most irritating books I’ve ever listened to. I actually planned to stop listening about a third of the way in, but then I read reviews of the book and they were outstanding, so I persevered, but it never got any better, and I’m now thinking that it was two weeks of listening that I’ll never get back. The novel tells the story of Olivia Randall, a single forty-something lawyer who, after a boozy night (all of her nights seem to be boozy), she is awakened by a call from her law office (does she not have to keep regular hours?) asking her to return a call from someone who claims to know her. It turns out that the call is from the teenaged daughter of her former fiancé, novelist Jack Harris, asking for her help in getting her dad out of jail. It seems that, after the death of his wife, Molly, in the mass Penn Station shooting a few years earlier, Jack has devoted his life to writing novels and caring for his daughter as a single father, never interested in dating anyone else… until now. A couple of weeks earlier, while taking an early morning jog by the harbourfront, he happened to see a woman in a party dress sitting in the grass reading a book and drinking champagne straight out of the bottle. He nods to her, she smiles at him, he comments to his friend who coincidentally runs an extremely popular online “Missed Moments” column, and...BAM! Instant romance. Sounds ideal, right? They arrange to meet at a particular time at a particular place (a favourite spot mentioned in Jack’s favourite book, the one she happened to be reading at the time of the sighting), but on the appointed day, while Jack is there, she pulls a no-show… then suddenly, shots ring out and three people are dead, including the father of the boy who shot Jack’s wife. Did Jack do it, or was he just in the wrong place at the wrong time? It is up to Olivia to help him out of this situation before he is found guilty and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in jail. She knows Jack didn’t do it, not a nice, helpful, kind, caring guy like Jack… until evidence surfaces, and secrets and lies are revealed, and she begins to doubt the innocence of her client. OK, I’m no lawyer, but I’ve read enough crime novels to wonder at Olivia’s behaviour. She was hired to defend Jack, so my thought is that she shouldn’t care whether he was guilty or not, she just needs to show reasonable doubt for the jury to find him innocent. Yet she spends half the book thinking, “Could Jack have done this? How well do I really know the man I was once engaged to, the man I treated so poorly and whose heart I broke? Could he really be a killer?” She shouldn’t be focusing on “Is he guilty?”, but rather on “How can I convince the jury that there is reasonable doubt about his guilt?” And she’s totally self-absorbed, like everything revolves around her, including some of the strange coincidences surrounding this case. I had to suspend my sense of disbelief for pretty much the entire novel (a nice way of saying "this storyline was ridiculous!"), and it never got any better than the way I felt at the beginning. I’m not sure why all the reviews were so positive, but of course, everyone’s reading tastes are different. Unfortunately, this one left a bitter taste in my mouth - it was truly one of the worst listening experiences I can recall. But this book is also compared to Gone Girl and the writer compared to Mary Higgins Clark, so that probably explains things. I'm not even going to rate this book, because it was clearly not my type of novel and I should have just quit while I was ahead and moved on to something else. (oh boy, was I ranting there for a bit? Sorry!)
That’s all for today. Stay warm and keep reading!
Bye for now…
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