Fiction

The Nest

Tolstoy’s quote from Anna Karenina applies to this book: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

The Nest is about three generations of Plumbs: Francie, the matriarch, the middle generation that consists of Leo, Bea, Jack, and Melody, plus two of their spouses, and Melody’s two girls, the twins, Nora and Louise.

At novel’s opening we find Leo, the eldest, who long ago made a bundle on a trendy magazine, and has just been released from rehab, wandering through Central Park trying to score some drugs.

The twins, who are playing hooky from their senior year SAT prep class, watch as their uncle falls to the ground. They decide not to rescue him because he will most likely tell their mom, Melody, where he saw them, thus getting them into trouble.

At that very moment, Leo was supposed to be attending a family lunch. It’s about the nest, which is the money their Dad set aside for them in trust that comes due at Melody’s 40th birthday.  The elder Mr. Plumb wanted his kids to inherit something but not a grand inheritance, nothing that would create havoc in their lives or make them too dependent on his money.

Euphoria

This compelling novel does what few do these days—it discusses subjects and ideas with intelligence and feeling.  In this case the primary subject is the new field of anthropology presented through the viewpoints of three field scientists in the 1930s. It’s based upon the real lives of Margaret Mead, Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson although the novel’s ending veers far from the historical record.

What a captivating novel this is--set in exotic Papua New Guinea, where hundreds of native tribes lived, speaking different languages with vastly different cultures and customs.

It hooked me right away. Was that a baby, the Mumbanyo just threw in the water?  Nell, the character based upon Margaret Mead, couldn’t see because her husband had broken her glasses. When she and Fen (based upon Mead’s second husband, Reo Fortune) arrive back in civilization (of a sort), her eyes are malarial and she has welts over her body as well as bruises on her ankle. Two English ladies express shock at her appearance as they guzzle liquor on the boat.

Jane Steele

This book retells Jane Eyre in the voice of a serial killer. No, the novel is not some bizarre mocking of a great classic, but a humorous, well-executed pastiche --literary even—of Charlotte Bronte’s favorite book.

Jane’s first killing is accidental. When Jane was only nine, her annoying first cousin, Edwin, who was thirteen, kissed Jane and then tried to force himself upon her when they were playing outside. She shoved him away, perhaps with more strength than she’d intended.  His head slammed on a rock and he died. 

It happened during an awful period for Jane. Her French mother had just died from a self-inflicted draught of laudanum, and her Aunt Patience, her cousin’s mother, had decided to send her off to boarding school.

But according to Jane’s mother, whom Jane shared a lowly cottage with, the whole vast estate belonged to Jane and she would inherit it when she came of age.

A Fall of Marigolds

This beautiful novel weaves together two stories from vastly different time periods. One is that of modern Taryn, a single Mom, who works at a high-end fabric store in Manhattan that specializes in matching rare fabrics. The other is Clara’s story about working as a nurse with infectious disease patients on Ellis Island in 1911.

Both women have experienced deep tragedies.Taryn lost her husband in the World Trade Bombings of 2001. A special fabric assignment made her late to a Windows on the World restaurant breakfast with her husband who worked in one of the towers. He died. She survived, thanks to a the scarf that is featured in the title, a beautiful scarf more than a hundred years old that Clara also wore on Ellis Island.

Throughout her life Clara had been spunky. As a teenager she helped her dad in his doctor’s office and unlike her mother and sister, could handle even the bloodiest patrons, and the most horrific sick room scenes.  Unlike many young women of her time, she traveled far from home for a job, first working in Manhattan for the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist

Do you remember what significant event happened on Nov. 30, 1999?

The World Trade Organization protests, which rocked Seattle that day, shocked the world. In many ways, they served as a precursor of what was to come: Wall Street protests, the Occupy Movement, anger against Wall Street, and massive climate change rallies.

This dramatic, fast-paced novel shows you how thie WTO protest felt from the perspectives of protesters, the police and mayor, and one delegate from Sri Lanka whose country’s future hung in the balance.

The protesters were mostly young, and trained in nonviolence. But alas, the cops were ill-prepared and vastly outnumbered and reacted with fear and brutality. The police included a woman from Guatemala who’d worked for the LA Police during the Rodney King fiasco, another who had been severely scarred by the Oklahoma bombing, and Seattle’s Chief of Police himself, a man who preferred no conflict and whose careful planning was torn aside in the torrent of history.

A Lesson Before Dying

Since 1976, four hundred and ninety four blacks have been executed in our country. This is more than half the amount of executions of whites, although Caucasians make up a much greater percentage of our population.

This powerful short novel tells the story of Jefferson, a young black man, who was sentenced to execution in the Jim Crow days of the 1940s in Cajun Louisiana. Grant Wiggins, one of the few college-educated blacks in the area, narrates the story.

It opens with a liquor store robbery where Jefferson unfortunately happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Soon an all-white jury convicts the young man, and he is sentenced to the electric chair. Attending the trial are his godmother, Miss Emma, who raised him, and Tante Louise, who brought up Grant and with whom he still lives.

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