Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Addie is a 70-year-old widow who decides to pay a visit to her neighbor, Louis, whose wife is deceased.  Addie proposes that Louis consider spending the night at her house, not for sex, but for company and conversation.   Thus begins a deep friendship that enhances both of their lives, but it is not without complications.  Some of their family and neighbors frown on their relationship for reasons that I cannot fathom.  Addie’s grandson comes to live with her temporarily after his parents separate, and Louis steps in to perform duties neglected by the boy’s father, such as teaching him to play ball and getting him a dog for a companion.  Neither Addie nor Louis had ideal marriages, and both made some serious mistakes.  Their budding relationship feels like a chance to do things right and enjoy their twilight years.  The dialog is pitch perfect, and Addie and Louis are so authentic in their awkwardness and grace.  The first three quarters of this very short novel are just delightful, but as is often the case in real life, those who are not happy want everyone else to share in their misery.  In this situation I’m not sure if we have just a case of misery loves company or if the motive is really some sort of belated retaliation.  Regardless of what the author intended, I hated the ending, which totally overshadowed all the beauty of the previous pages.  I don’t like feeling angry after reading a book, but this book just made my blood boil.  Call me crazy, but I found the outcome to be a little like the movie La La Land, in which the characters have to make difficult choices between two seemingly incompatible options.  Maybe I just want to have my cake and eat it, too, but sometimes I think we give up too easily on managing to do both. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

PLAINSONG by Kent Haruf

This is one of those novels about a small town, in the vein of Jan Karon or Adriana Trigiani, but oh so much better.  We have a pregnant teenager whose mother has tossed her out of the house, a high school bully, two teachers trying to do the right thing, and two sets of brothers who don’t talk much.  One set of brothers is a pair of aging bachelors who raise cattle and take in the pregnant girl, at the request of teacher Maggie Jones, whose elderly father is too demented to be in the same house as the teenager.  The other brothers, age 9 and 10, are the sons of another teacher, Tom Guthrie, whose wife is depressed and soon moves out.  So we have two basically motherless boys, and two kindly men who have now gained sort of a daughter.  Both sets of brothers are naïve in their own ways, especially in matters related to women, sometimes resulting in some very funny interactions.  The adage that it takes a village to raise a child is very evident here, and sometimes makeshift families of thrown together strangers work out exceedingly well.  The book is not sugary sweet, as all of the characters make their fair share of mistakes, and there are a couple of nasty villains.  To say that this is a satisfying read is an understatement.  The only downside is the lack of complete closure at the end, but there are two sequels.  Sign me up!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

LAROSE by Louise Erdrich

When Landreaux Iron accidentally shoots and kills a neighbor’s 5-year-old son, he gives his own son, LaRose, to the bereaved family.  This action may seem extreme, but from the Native American perspective of the Iron family, it’s the right thing to do.  Now both families are grieving the loss of a son, and LaRose himself is devastated as the innocent pawn in these tragic circumstances.  At first I felt that nothing good could come of his arrangement.  However, Nola Ravich, the dead boy’s mother, eventually embraces LaRose as her own, often at the expense of her difficult daughter, Maggie.  LaRose is the hinge that joins the two families together and comes to serve as almost a guardian angel.  This role is a pretty tall order for such a young boy, but he is obviously far from ordinary.  The book also has a couple of side stories, including sparse snippets from about four generations ago that really did not hold my attention very well.  More compelling is the story of Romeo, who attended boarding school with Landreaux as a child and whose son Hollis is now being raised as a member of Landreaux’s family—another boy whose father has given him away, if you will.  The beginning of this novel is intense, and the last quarter of the book is very satisfying.  However, the middle part drags, as the struggles of the Iron and Ravich families intensify, until two big events occur—one involving Romeo and his plan for revenge and one involving parents misbehaving at a high school volleyball match.  The book also has some occasional elements of magical realism, accentuating the Native American beliefs, but somehow seeming a little superfluous rather than applicable to the plot or the character development.

Sunday, July 16, 2017


It’s overly long, but I enjoyed this novel immensely.  Jack Mauser has had 5 wives, 4 of whom are still living.  When these women convene at his funeral, they find something to like in each other and have a chance to tell their stories when they become stranded in a car in a snowstorm.  Also in the car is a well-disguised hitchhiker whose identity remains a mystery while each woman is telling her tale and clearing the tailpipe so that they can turn on the heat now and then.  Eleanor is quite possibly Jack’s best match, but she’s a college professor with a propensity for affairs with students.  Candice is a dentist who wants to raise Jack’s infant son, borne by wild child Marlis.  Finally, there’s Dot, who keeps the books for Jack’s construction company and is still married to and in love with a man serving prison time when she marries Jack.  She may be a bigamist, but she is the most in the dark about Jack’s past.  All four are colorful and fascinating and sometimes manipulative, especially Marlis, so that in some ways Jack is the victim of some very imaginative women, not to mention his own impetuosity.  This novel may be about the women, but Jack himself is the character who binds them all together.  He’s dashing and charming and good-hearted but drinks too much and isn’t ever faithful to the wife of the moment.  Some of the occurrences in the novel are a bit preposterous, but I don’t mind a bit of levity to lighten up dire circumstances, and this novel has both a raging fire and a raging blizzard.  During the latter, some serious female bonding is offset by a bit of righteous indignation that’s both funny and horrifying at the same time.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

THE RACE FOR PARIS by Meg Waite Clayton

The race in question is the race to report the liberation of Paris at the end of WWII.  Jane, the narrator, writes for the Nashville Banner, and Liv is a talented Associated Press photographer.  Female journalists were generally forbidden from war zones at that time, but Liv is determined to capture shots from the front.  She persuades Jane to join her on this dangerous gambit, and Fletcher, a British military photographer and friend of Liv’s husband, takes them under his wing.  Unfortunately, his protection has its limits, and the girls find themselves in trenches and dodging bullets, while existing on K-rations and chocolate.  Although this sounds like a treacherous adventure, the action does not exactly leap off the page, and neither do the characters.  Liv is an intrepid risk-taker, haunted by rumors of her husband’s infidelity back in the States.  Jane has a thing for Fletcher, but he has eyes only for Liv.  Jane struggles with jealousy but never divulges enough of herself to show us someone for whom Fletcher could forsake Liv or his absent fiancée.  Jane also has a bit of a chip on her shoulder, because she’s never known her father and her mother is a maid.  She should stand even taller than her affluent comrades, given how far she’s come, but instead she seems to defer to Liv on almost every decision about their journey.  She becomes both Liv’s and Fletcher’s confidante while subordinating her own preferences.  Jane respects and admires Liv and Fletcher, but I never had the sense that they reciprocated.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


Edward Monkford is a minimalist architect and is very picky about the people who occupy his homes.  The book itself is pretty minimalist in that there are basically just three other characters.  Simon and his girlfriend Emma move into One Folgate Place after Emma has been robbed at gunpoint.  In fact, the safety of the home with all kinds of electronic controls is one of its most appealing factors.  Not so appealing is how clutter-free Monkford expects the occupants to live.   Simon and Emma’s story alternates with that of Jane, who occupies the same house at a later time and who also has survived a traumatic event—a stillborn child.  The storyline is really pretty straightforward, except that Emma and Jane both become Edward’s lover and bear a striking resemblance to his deceased wife.  Consequently, I found that I had to do a certain amount of mental resetting each time the narrator changed, although we find that the two characters have less and less in common as the story progresses.  Monkford is too obvious as a sinister presence throughout the novel, but Jane and Emma are full of surprises.  I also enjoyed the nifty way in which the author gives us back-to-back chapters in which the two women are having very similar experiences, particularly with Monkford.  Jane has the benefit of knowing that Emma preceded her in the house and as Monkford’s lover, but she doesn’t appear to be any more savvy.  If you don’t like the characters, keep reading, because new revelations keep surfacing and changing your perception of them.  This is not the first novel in which a character has probed into the life of the previous occupant of her home, but it may be one of the more engaging ones.