Bookworks' IT'S ABOUT BOOKS For January
Without a doubt Alexandra Fuller is one of my most favorite authors. Her first book, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, is a delightfully funny yet poignant backward look at her childhood in Africa. The latest,Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, is, at first glance a charming, delightfully funny account of her mother's life as a child when she was growing up in Africa. Fuller never loses her sense of humor and there are numerous chuckle out loud moments where she uses her mother's own words to paint for us an undeniably brilliant picture of just who her mother is and what is important to her. However the story of her mother is complicated. She comes from a long line of womenfolk who balance precariously between here and there where there is a mental institution for the mildly nuts. I can't imagine a reality that could drive one over the edge faster than growing up and living in Africa as her mother did. What her mother faced would bring many, if not all, to their knees. Life didn't get any easier after marriage. Sometimes it became a bit more difficult as she moved with her husband from one precarious situation to the next having babies along with way. And there were instances where life in Africa became downright frightening. Fuller reminds us that this was the time of revolution and terrorism as majority rule came to first one nation and then to the next with the Fuller family moving from one country to the next hoping for a better life. Of the five children she bore only the two oldest lived. A boy dies as an infant from meningitis; another boy dies shortly after childbirth and a girl, the apple of everyone's eye, drowns before she turns three in a puddle with only a foot of water in it. Each death pushed her mother further into the land of "there" until she too was institutionalized for a short time justas was her mother before her.
What sounds like a depressing biography is actually a joyous yet, at times, an undeniably heart wrenching appreciation of a woman who withstood, who spoke her mind, and who saw life for what it was: brilliantly enticing and cruel in the same breath. What emanates from this author who examines her mother's life is wisdom, and an sage appreciation of the one word her father uses to describe her mother. That word is courage. Her father knows that no one can take courage from her mother's inner most soul and Fuller, despite all the differences and difficulties she had with her mother, has respect for that courage. By the way, there really is a tree called the Tree of Forgetfulness in Africa. There are occasions where it might be nice to have one of those trees in our own backyard.
Editor, It's About Books
The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan (HarperCollins $29.99)
In her first novel in eight years, Amy Tan (Saving Fish From Drowning; The Joy Luck Club) spins a tale that propels us into the lives of three generations of women on both sides of the Pacific. At its vortex is half-Chinese and half-American Violet, an infinitely charismatic Shanghai courtesan who despite her material prosperity and professional success struggles with her identity, her past, and the possibility of real love. Tan's portrait of Violet's dominant, yet emotionally wounded mother Lucia possesses a poignancy that threads the novel together into a piece.
by Donna Tartt (Little Brown & Co $30)
It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don't know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.
The Death of the Black-Haired Girl
by Robert Stone (Houghton Mifflin $25)
In an elite college in a once-decaying New England city, Steven Brookman has come to a decision. A brilliant but careless professor, he has determined that for the sake of his marriage, and his soul, he must end his relationship with Maud Stack, his electrifying student, whose papers are always late yet always incandescent. But Maud is a young woman whose passions are not easily curtailed, and their union will quickly yield tragic and far-reaching consequences.
Local Souls by Allan Gurganus (W.W. Norton $25.95)
Through memorable language and bawdy humor, Gurganus returns to his mythological Falls, North Carolina, home of Widow. This first work in a decade offers three novellas mirroring today's face-lifted South, a zone revolutionized around freer sexuality, looser family ties, and superior telecommunications, yet it celebrates those locals who have chosen to stay local. In doing so, Local Souls uncovers certain old habits-adultery, incest, obsession-still very much alive in our New South, a "Winesburg, Ohio" with high-speed Internet.
Harvest by Jim Grace (Doubleday $15)
On the morning after harvest, the inhabitants of a remote English village awaken looking forward to a hard-earned day of rest and feasting at their landowner's table. But the sky is marred by two conspicuous columns of smoke, replacing pleasurable anticipation with alarm and suspicion. One smoke column is the result of an overnight fire that has damaged the master's outbuildings. The second column rises from the wooded edge of the village, sent up by newcomers to announce their presence. In the minds of the wary villagers a mere coincidence of events appears to be unlikely, with violent confrontation looming as the unavoidable outcome. Meanwhile, another newcomer has recently been spotted taking careful notes and making drawings of the land. It is his presence more than any other that will threaten the village's entire way of life.
Benediction by Kent Haruf (Knopf Doubleday $15)
When Dad Lewis is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he and his wife, Mary, must work together to make his final days as comfortable as possible. Their daughter, Lorraine, hastens back from Denver to help look after him; her devotion softens the bitter absence of their estranged son, Frank, but this cannot be willed away and remains a palpable presence for all three of them. Next door, a young girl named Alice moves in with her grandmother and contends with the painful memories that Dad's condition stirs up of her own mother's death. Meanwhile, the town's newly arrived preacher attempts to mend his strained relationships with his wife and teenaged son, a task that proves all the more challenging when he faces the disdain of his congregation after offering more than they are accustomed to getting on a Sunday morning. And throughout, an elderly widow and her middle-aged daughter do everything they can to ease the pain of their friends and neighbors.
Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy
by Helen Fielding (Knopf Doubleday $26.95)
What do you do when your girlfriend's sixtieth birthday party is the same day as your boyfriend's thirtieth?
Is it better to die of Botox or die of loneliness because you're so wrinkly? Is it wrong to lie about your age when online dating? Is sleeping with someone after two dates and six weeks of texting the same as getting married after two meetings and six months of letter writing in Jane Austen's day? Pondering these and other modern dilemmas, Bridget Jones stumbles through the challenges of loss, single motherhood, tweeting, texting, technology, and rediscovering her sexuality in-Warning! Bad, outdated phrase approaching!-middle age.
Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III (W.W, Norton $25.95)
In this heartbreakingly beautiful book of disillusioned intimacy and persistent yearning, beloved and celebrated author Andre Dubus III explores the bottomless needs and stubborn weaknesses of people seeking gratification in food and sex, work and love. In these linked novellas in which characters walk out the back door of one story and into the next, love is "dirty"-tangled up with need, power, boredom, ego, fear, and fantasy.
White Fire by Douglas Preston (Grand Central $27)
Special Agent Pendergast arrives at an exclusive Colorado ski resort to rescue his protégée, Corrie Swanson, from serious trouble with the law. His sudden appearance coincides with the first attack of a murderous arsonist who-with brutal precision-begins burning down multimillion-dollar mansions with the families locked inside.
King & Maxwell
by David Baldacci (Grand Central $28)
David Baldacci brings back Sean King and Michelle Maxwell-former Secret Service agents turned private investigators-in their most surprising, personal, and dangerous case ever . . . It seems at first like a simple, tragic story. Tyler Wingo, a teenage boy, learns the awful news that his father, a soldier, was killed in action in Afghanistan. Then the extraordinary happens: Tyler receives a communication from his father . . . after his supposed death. Tyler hires Sean and Michelle to solve the mystery surrounding his father. But their investigation quickly leads to deeper, more troubling questions. Could Tyler's father really still be alive? What was his true mission? Could Tyler be the next target?