Friday, January 9, 2015

Bits and Pieces from a New Year

Nine days into the new year and I've been unable to shake the funk that has kept me from writing. It's not that I haven't been reading, but everything I pick up seems to be just background noise to the thoughts that are forefront on my mind.

Two years ago my brother was diagnosed with cancer. Initially it looked like he would be the remarkable patient who'd be written up in the medical journals. He handled the treatments so beautifully, he was so vibrant, so amenable to every health food supplement and juicing program that came his way. But slowly, inexorably, cancer has had its way with us.

I say "us," because the whole family suffers the illness. It becomes all you think about. The phone is a double-edged sword, a lifeline and a dreaded thing. I often wonder what's worse, to be the patient or to be the helpless person waiting in the wings to do something, anything to make it better.

I have a modus operandi that has served me well during low points in my past. I get physical. I spend hours mowing, trimming, weeding, and planting. This month I decided that my bathrooms were outdated. Can one get tennis elbow while scraping off wallpaper? How about throwing out your back while hauling the paint bucket up and down the ladder? Yes, yes you can.

So now, here I am with little to actually rave about but bear with me. I'm almost finished listening to a phenomenal Barbara Kingsolver narrate her novel "Prodigal Summer." The following are a few of the books I finished in my run up to the end of the year list. And oh, will someone who's read it please explain to me why "Station Eleven" is so hot. I couldn't even get half way through!

I'll admit I slogged to the end of Marlon James's half fiction/half fact book about Jamaican singer Bob Marley and the scarcely clandestine interest of our now notorious CIA in the political affairs of Jamaica. "A Brief History of Seven Killings" has been on all the "best" lists of 2014 but for me it was just too clever by half. I much preferred Mr. James's debut, "The Book of Night Women."

Colm Toibin's "Nora Webster" was a quiet, thoughtful look at a woman fighting to come into her own after the death of her young husband. Her small town in Ireland could be any place, anywhere, that neighbors know more about your business than you do. Family, some meaning well, some perhaps not, have too much to say about each little step Nora takes toward independence, but thankfully, she forges ahead and it's a pleasure to take that step with her.

Jean Hanff Korelitz once again turns her gimlet eye and measured sarcasm (see my review of "Admission") on an echelon of New York society that must seem far afield for most readers. "You Should Have Known" introduces a self-satisfied psychologist who specializes in rocky marriages and bad choices. Her precocious son attends a posh private school and her husband, a pediatric oncologist, is a saint. Grace Reinhart Sachs has just published a book and is prepping for the publisher's tour. Perhaps that's why she completely misses the cues in her own perfectly constructed life that keep hinting at something terribly awry? This is a piercing study of how one woman examines her life and opens herself to new possibilities after a devastating fall from grace.


Linda said...

I thought Station Eleven was remarkable, but I wouldn't worry if you didn't find it so. Maybe you've had enough of dystopian novels! I loved the way she weaved the post-apocalypse story with the new world tale and balanced the ephemeral life with the permanence of art. I also thought she was quite the skillful storyteller, bringing all the puzzle pieces together in a satisfying way. I just picked up Driftless from the library!

Linda said...

Just read my own comment. Obviously I meant the pre-apocalypse story juxtaposed with the new world story. Also found the characters strong, particularly Miranda and Clark.

Sallyb said...

OK, I'll go get the print copy and try again. I suspect that I don't drive far enough to really get into a story I'm listening to in the car. It becomes disjointed and I fail to get as involved as I would with the book. I must remember to keep my listening material light.