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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

WWW Wednesdays

It's WWW Wednesday as hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. And it's easy to take part: Just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading?

• What did you recently finish reading?

• What do you think you’ll read next?

Current reads include Kate Morton's The Distant Hours, a huge throwback of a novel to the days of du Maurier and gothic family secrets, and Paul Murray's brilliant, funny and sad Skippy Dies, about the denizens of a Dublin secondary boys school.

Latest finished read is Jennifer Brown's Hate List. This YA novel about the aftermath of a Columbine-style shooting is tailormade for book discussions. Brown's debut novel gives readers space to think about how they feel about what various characters are doing. Me, I'm incensed at the main character's parents.

Up next? The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown. Three sisters named for Shakespeare characters by their scholarly father come back home to a small Midwest town when their mother is stricken with cancer. I have the feeling lighter notes will be struck as well as the more serious ones about sibling relationships.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Review: 'The Radleys'

By Matt Haig
December 2010
Free Press
ISBN: 978-1439194010

Suburban ennui and angst fill the days and nights of the Radley family in a middle class Yorkshire village. Peter remembers when he and his so proper wife, Helen, had good times. Helen frets about appearances. Really, really frets. Teen son Rowan is the favorite whipping boy of the school bullies. And disaffected daughter Clara is trying to be a vegan.

As a portrait of an aimless modern family, The Radleys is spot on. Everyone slogs through their days and wonders every night what became of their dreams.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Review: 'Must You Go?'

MUST YOU GO? My Life With Harold Pinter
By Antonia Fraser
November 2010
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday
ISBN: 978-0385532501

Lady Antonia Fraser, from outward appearances, seemed to have a lovely life. An 18-year-marriage to a Conservative MP, six children, author of highly respected historical biographies and a wide circle of friends. While saying goodbyes at her sister's dinner party, playwright Harold Pinter asked her, "Must you go?" And both of their lives changed.

That was in January 1975. By February, they were desperately in love, both acknowledging their marriages were not fulfilling. By the spring, both of their spouses knew, and many of their friends. By summer, they were living together. And stayed together they did until Pinter's death on Christmas Eve 2008.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

In Progress: 'Best American Short Stories'

Charles Baxter contributes a tangled tale of "The Cousins" to Best American Short Stories 2010. It opens with narrator Bunny relating a boozy lunch he has with his much younger cousin, Brantford. Although the years separate them, Bunny feels they are connected, that they share a lot.

With the name of the famous victim in Donna Tartt's classic The Secret History, and cousin Brantford telling him that he feels like he killed someone but isn't sure, waiting for the other shoe to drop can derail the reading process.

And Baxter takes the narrative off course right away. While Brantford is asking Bunny for sympathy about this odd feeling, Bunny notes that "I haven't always behaved well when people open their hearts to me." Oooooh, more Tartt territory. Especially when Bunny dumps telling about lunch to talk about a woman he was seeing, Giulietta, whose eyes she keeps covered with dark glasses. En route to a super irony ultra New York 1970s party, Bunny asks her to please be clever. An isolated poet at the party calls Bunny scum when he puts his foot in his mouth trying to be clever and he runs away. Nothing more about Giulietta that night. The evening ends with Bunny enthralled about a pissy encounter with a drunk in a subway station he may or may not have had, much like Brantford's feeling about killing someone.

After a visit with Brantford's mother, in which she mentions a woman important to him that he never mentioned to Bunny, the years go by and Bunny meets that woman. After he's left New York, become a lawyer, found Giulietta, married her and had two children, all offstage. That woman, Camille, tells Bunny he can send her big checks every month to "exercise his pity". But this is the man who told the reader he has a history of not doing good by those who open their hearts to him. Then again, it's quite unlikely that Camille opened her heart to him.

In the cab ride home, Bunny listens to the Ethiopian driver tell him about the nine hearts each Somali has, hidden one inside the other. Then the story ends with Bunny on the outside of his home looking in.

"The Cousins" has as many layers as Somalis have hearts. But is there a real heart inside the other eight? Did Brantford kill someone? Did Bunny sock a drunk? Is he going to send money to Camille and why should he? Brantford spent his life taking care of strays. Bunny and Brantford have loosely parallel lives. Is Camille now Bunny's stray? What about home? Is it still his safe haven?

Baxter has written one of those stories that raises question after question. And it's just possible that none of them need to be answered. That the point is looking back down the road and realizing what has happened, rather than trying to make sense of it as it happens.