It’s my last day of Christmas Break, so I thought I should take advantage of the rare opportunity to write my blog post on a weekday morning, and a bright, crisp one it is. It certainly feels like winter, with the typical cold January weather I love, so I’m especially enjoying my cup of steeped chai tea today (I'm using my beautiful new "Home is where my cat is" cup - awesome!)
I read two books last week. The first was a novel I purchased at Chapters last weekend, The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. This novel is one that everyone has been reading over the past year - it was even recommended to me by my dentist, and we never talk about books! If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you probably know that I generally avoid reading books that “everyone” is reading, but this one was on the Guaranteed Great Reads display at the bookstore - if I didn’t think it was a great read, I could bring it back for a full refund. Well, I figured that this would be a great opportunity to support a bookstore and try out a book I wouldn’t normally read. I started it the very same day, and was sucked in immediately! In case you are one of the few people who have not read this runaway bestseller, here’s a quick plot summary: the four adult siblings in the Plumb family are eagerly waiting to receive their share of the trust fund their father had set up for them decades earlier, which was meant to be a small top-up in their middle age, but which, after his death, grew exponentially to an amount in the millions. As the date of the trust’s maturity approaches, each sibling contemplates the ways in which the money from "the Nest" will help them out of their financial situations. Then a family crisis occurs involving one of the siblings, which requires using most of the Nest to resolve. The other three siblings are hoping for repayment from their brother, but they know this is unlikely, yet they anxiously plan, scheme and lie in order to obtain a commitment from him. Somewhere along the way, however, the story becomes less about getting what is theirs and more about rediscovering what is truly important. I’m sorry to be so vague about the plot, but I really don’t want to give anything away, since much of the enjoyment of the story lies in not knowing how things will be resolved. I was amazed that it really was a “great read”, and I nearly threw my receipt away. All four main characters were complex, flawed, interesting and multidimensional; the minor characters were also complex and interesting; the story was timely and illustrated for me the ways in which people continue to live beyond their means, always hoping for that one big break that will fix their financial woes. The writing was superb, witty and satirical, yet gentle and insightful. Because it detailed the lives and situations of each of the siblings, it was really like getting four novels in one. I was loving this book, and devouring it in enormous chunks. I considered recommending it to friends and colleagues, and maybe even suggesting it as a book club selection for one or both of my book clubs. And then I reached the ending, which was a huge disappointment. Not only was it unrealistic and fairytale-ish, but the author left the reader to imagine nothing about the fates of the characters. I never really thought about how much I appreciate ambiguous endings in books until reaching the end of this one. I don’t need to be told what happens to every one of the characters, including most of the minor ones! And speaking of minor characters, I was particularly disturbed by the judgmental comments about one of the minor characters who, throughout the book, had seemed to me like the most “normal” one, steady and stable and responsible in the midst of all the “infantile” behaviour of the others. I’m sorry to go on so much about the ending, but it was so disappointing to me that I don’t think I can read this book again, so I will not be recommending it as a selection for either book club. (I’m glad I saved my receipt!) Until the last 50 pages, I would have given this book a 9 out of 10, so please don’t let my feelings about the ending deter you from reading this novel if you were planning to do so - after all, it was the number one most requested book of 2016 at the Toronto Public Library.
I also read My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout which we will be discussing tomorrow morning at my Volunteer Book Club. I guess I should have waited until Sunday to write about this one, as I like to give you the highlights of the discussion, but I have so much cooking and baking to do Sunday morning that I don’t really have time for blogging as well. This novel tells the story of Lucy Barton, a writer who is recollecting a time many years earlier when she was in the hospital for an unexpectedly long stay, a time during which her mother came to stay by her bedside for five days and nights. Lucy has been estranged from her mother for years, and is surprised by the appearance of this woman from whom she has been separated for so long, and from who she has intentionally severed herself. During these five days and nights, they spend some time recollecting instances from Lucy’s childhood, but mostly Lucy’s mother tells her stories about what has happened to people from Lucy’s past, other students or people in the town where she grew up. In this way, Lucy is forced to confront her past and determine who she is and who she has become, while reconciling herself with who she was and where she has come from. Strout uses sparse language to relate these recollections, which may or may not be accurate, recollections of loneliness and poverty, of social isolation and emotional deprivation. It was brutally honest and heartwrenching, and yet I wondered how Lucy could so easily accept the little her mother was willing (or able?) to give and forgive the rest, her entire past, poverty, loneliness, emotional abuse and all. I don’t feel that I can adequately comment on this book because I didn’t really like it, and yet Strout is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning author and this book is extremely well reviewed. Maybe after the discussion tomorrow I will have a better understanding of this novel. Perhaps part of the problem is that I generally enjoy more of a linear narrative, rather than a series of vague recollections that are part of a larger tapestry that is the main character’s life. If I have time, I will mention the discussion highlights in my next post.
And I finished listening to an audiobook by Paul Doiron, The Poacher’s Son, which is the first in a series featuring Mike Bowditch, a Maine Game Warden who seems to stumble upon mysteries while enforcing the law. In this first novel, Mike is a promising young Game Warden in Maine when he receives news of a double-homicide in a neighbouring county and learns that the main suspect is his estranged father, Jack. Convinced of his father’s innocence, he gets involved in the hunt for this fugitive, against the advice of his commanding officer and the chief of police. This hunt leads him back to the camp where, at sixteen, he spent a summer trying to get to know his emotionally distant, alcoholic father, and where he reconnects with some of the men and women who were part of his experiences that season. I’m glad I listened to this fast-paced thriller, as it set the stage for future books featuring Bowditch, so I would recommend starting with this one if you are going to read others in this series. I didn’t realize that there were so many (the eight book was just released this year), and I am definitely interested in listening to more of these mysteries.
Whew, that’s alot of blogging for one morning! I'm now going to finish my tea, then bundle up and get outside for a long, brisk walk before settling down for my last free afternoon of reading. Have a great weekend!
Bye for now…