One of the things I miss from my East Coast childhood is riding commuter trains.
There is something about the feeling of time being suspended as you lean against the window and watch the world flow past: houses, schools, playgrounds, rivers, cars and those glimpses of people passing ordinary days. After reading this British thriller, I will never look at trains the same way again.
A young woman, Rachel, just past the bloom of youth, rides trains into London every weekday: the 8:04 a.m. into town and the 5:56 p.m. return. Every evening she drinks too much—small bottles of wine or canned mixed drinks.
One particular neighborhood--where the train slows for a crossing--captures Rachel’s complete attention. In one of the backyards she often spots a young glamorous couple, whom she doesn’t know at all, but she names them Justin and Jess. She often sees Justin coming out to the garden with a mug of coffee or tea for his wife, and they exchange endearments.
Rachel even invents careers for them, a private life. Jess works in the arts, and Justin does something with computers. Meanwhile, Rachel’s career and married life have taken a horrible slide.
Her husband, Tom, left her for another woman, Anna. He’s not only left her but then had a child with Anna after Rachel tried and failed for years to have a family with him. To make matters even worse, Tom and Anna live in the same house, Rachel shared with Tom. Guess where it’s located? Yes, just off the railroad tracks, a few yards down from that of the fabled couple, Justin and Jess.
Even though Rachel has no reason to ride the train every day she continues. Now she goes to the library and works on her CV. But her drinking gets worse and worse. She calls, texts, and emails her ex constantly, driving Anna crazy. Her landlady throws her out of the apartment after she has left a major mess once too often.
Then one morning, a different man joins Jess in the garden. At first Rachel thinks: a brother, a cousin, her husband’s friend. But no, he kisses Jess tenderly as the train slows at its normal spot.
Soon someone is murdered in one of the houses just off the tracks. The problem: Rachel got off the train that night and wandered through the train tunnel. She was soused and cannot piece together what happened. So many details were lost to the fog of alcohol. Also, someone hurt her that night. But whom?
This riveting book will keep you turning the pages. My advice: don’t start it on a week night unless you have an open calendar the next day. The characters, the story, the unexpected twists, will keep you guessing and enthralled.
I had a personal connection to this novel because my mom was raised as an orphan in Chicago. Luckily, she never had to experience adoptions or sharing foster homes with unloving parents but she did start out on her own at age sixteen working as a salesgirl in the Chicago Loop.
This touching intertwined story of two orphans: one contemporary and one from depression era days, was a quick and touching read. It begins with Goth-looking Molly, a young, half-Native America girl from Maine who just got busted for stealing a book from the public library. Really? Well not every detail in a novel has to be 100% authentic.
Several best poetry lists of the year include this seventh title by Christian Wiman, former editor of the well-renowned Poetry Magazine, who now teaches at Yale Divinity School.
His interest in theology and his experience as a person with a terminal disease bring a unique focus to his writing as these lines attest: “A soul / extrapolated // from the body’s / need // needs a body / of loss.” In another poem “The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians” he shows the power of the right words to hone in, “I tell you some Sundays even the children’s sermon / --maybe especially this—sharks your gut // like a bite of tin some beer-guzzling goat / either drunkenly or mistakenly decides to sample.”
As he did in his memoir My Bright Abyss about life after a bone marrow transplant, Wiman dives deep. There is no surface skimming for him. Several poems celebrate his Read more about Once in the West
Even though I knew the ending before I opened this book, this in-depth, emotionally and factually rich story of 33 miners trapped under the earth for sixty-nine days was a real thriller.
The book opens with a photograph of the 33 men who survived two months deep underground. Thirty-two were from Chile, and there was one young miner from Bolivia who had the amazingly bad luck to be stuck in a mine collapse on his very first day of work.
In his fourth book, journalist Tobar presents not only the San Jose mine but an overview of modern Chilean life. He begins with a rich description of many of the miners and their families, some of whom travelled almost the whole length of Chile for their jobs. Read more about Deep Down Dark
Opening Lines: “Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Pledge.” The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called "The Turn." The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige."
While growing up in Bloomington, I had the pleasure of knowing a professional stage magician. He made a small living performing at various conventions and meetings around the United States. As a small boy of 10, I found him fascinating. He took me under his wing for a while and gave me what he called a beginning magic kit. It wasn’t the type you found in magic stores. This was something special. Read more about The Prestige
This Sunday at 2 p.m. in Room 2B, join our Booksplus discussion about Edwidge Danticat’s Claire of the Sea Light. In honor of Black History month, we will discuss this luminous book set in Haiti just before the cataclysmic earthquake of 2009.
Danticat, who emigrated from Haiti as a child, has won many awards including the MacArthur Award (nicknamed the genius award).
If you like folklore and learning about other cultures, Claire of the Sea Light is the book for you. It tells the tale of a young girl whose mother died just after her daughter’s birth. According to Haitian folklore, this makes Claire a revenan, a child who battled with her mother’s spirit and won.
On each of her birthdays, Nozias, Claire’s father, takes her to visit her mother’s grave. In the cemetery they meet Madam Gaelle, a fabric store owner and wealthy widow in town, who lost her own daughter on the same date as Claire’s birthday. Read more about Claire of the Sea Light