Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Little Gem

OK, the election is over and I'm back to books full time. Last week I finished a novel that is so light, sweet and entertaining that those who of you who are more than familiar with my reading habits will be shocked. If you're looking for a break from noir and blood-pressure-raising political books take a gander at Beginner's Greek, a debut novel by journalist James Collins. He's such a romantic!

The premise is that two "single, but looking" professional adults happen to be seated next to each other on a cross-country flight. Peter and Holly form an immediate connection, bonding over Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain, so Holly rips out a page of her book, scrawls her Dad's phone number on it (where she'll be staying for the week) and hands it to Peter as they rush away to separate cabs. Naturally, Peter loses the paper.

Three years later, in a less than satisfactory relationship but commited to a marriage of convenience, Peter meets Holly again in New York and voila, she's married to his best friend Jonathan. How he obsesses. He's so focused on Holly and Jonathan that he doesn't even realize that his betrothed, Charlotte, is actually in love with someone else as well! It's all very Shakespearean and a great comedy of manners ensues.

Though I said the book is "light" I should perhaps say that it has a light touch. It's actually very deep in its perceptive examination of human nature, communication, love vs. friendship, office politics, fate, timing, you name it. If Collins seems to exaggerate a bit to make a point it's done in such a clever, roundabout way that you can't help but have a smile on your face all through your reading. This is a truly enjoyable book. I was ready for it, especially after slogging through half of Joyce Carol Oates' The Gravedigger's Daughter. Oy vay! I gave it way longer than Nancy Pearl would have - at least 20 miles worth of walking and listening before I caved in. I only kept on because I had met Oates at a conference last year and owned an autographed copy of the book which I can now, in good conscience, donate to the Friends as I probably won't be going back to take another look. Unless I decide that Oates should be read rather than listened to. Now that I think of it, the reader's voice (Bernadette Dunne) also drove me crazy in Choi's A Person of Interest.

Normally, I enjoy stories of the immigrant experience. Amy Bloom's Away was an exceptional book. I also reviewed Rose Tremain's The Road Home for LJ and found it wonderfully appealing and uplifting. Oates wrote this book, though fiction, about her grandmother Blanche Morgenstern, so I'd hate to believe that Oates' family was as unsympathetic and downright unsavory as the fictional Schwarts who fled 1930's Germany for upstate New York.

Language and cultural barriers assault the Schwart family. Resentment simmers unabated in Jacob Schwart's heart, this man who was respected and educated in Germany but who now digs graves for a pittance and lives and raises his family in an old stone carriage house on the grounds of the cemetary. His wife Anna fears everything in this new world and gradually succumbs to a form of agoraphobia. One by one, Rebecca's brothers leave for greener pastures and Rebecca's bright, inquisitive mind languishes under her mother's fear of education and her father's bitterness.

I know it isn't fair to write this without reading the entire 582 pages so perhaps one of you will do it for me and let me hear from you about how wonderful Rebecca's life turns out. You know it's pretty bad when things begin getting better after she becomes orphaned!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear SallyB, I'm back. Now to catch up with your reviews and on-going subtle, tasteful political commentary. Not sure which I prefer more, the book reviews our your keen political insight and thoughts. I'll bet it's both.

Keep it up