4 books in 5 days.
How can a man lead, if he himself is lost?
The hero of Elizabeth Strout’s second novel, Tyler Claskey, is the minister of a small, gossipy, Maine congregation
Initially believing himself ‘supremely blessed,’ with a beautiful wife, two small children and an adoring congregation, he finds himself, within a short time, a widower with a disturbed child, drowning in grief.
Sometimes, when tragedy strikes, human beings do not rise to the challenge.
They do not behave with warmth, or understanding.
Instead they fall prey to their vulnerabilities and prejudices.
Strout’s characters are never especially likable, but they are immensely real and resonant. From Claskey’s vain and furious wife, raging against her fate, to his daughter’s priggish and judgmental teachers, to the chattering ladies of the community and their secretive and damaged men, Abide with me should be prescribed reading for anyone who has been disapointed by society’s failure to understand and empathise.
And like all of Strout’s novels, the conclusions that her characters arrive at are hard-won and heartbreakingly true-to-life.
Abide with me is memorable even before you’ve completed it.
A middle-aged man confronting the failure of his parent’s marriage while making a terrible hash of his his own, might not strike readers as very HurricaneV subject matter.
But I would read Richard Russo if he wrote about lawn mowers.
This wonderful book is a story of relationships, human frailties and the ties that bind.
And those subjects are compelling for most of us.
The Old Cape Magic is another novel set on the Eastern seaboard of The States, and is a book of two halves. The first dealing with Jack Griffin’s past, his parents’ unhappy marriage and his struggle to deal with the lost dreams of his youth. The second, concerns itself with the way Griffin deals with, (or resists dealing with), his future.
Throughout the book, Griffin carries around the ashes of his father in the trunk of his car and later those of his terrible shrew of a Mother too. And typically of Russo – he’s carrying much more baggage besides.
Poignant, funny and well-observed, The Old Cape Magic is vintage Russo.
It has been criticised for being “one for the fans” but as fan, I loved it.
David Vann’s first book won an important short-story award in his native America, but it is not strictly a collection of short stories. It could either be described as a novella with supporting narratives, or a writer’s heartbreakingly honest attempt to put his troubled relationship with his father to rest.
“The stories are fiction” says Vann, “but based on a lot that is true.”
And central to that is the suicide of his father, James, to whom the book is dedicated, in 1980.
The narrator of the book’s father, James Edwin Fenn is a dentist turned unsuccessful fisherman who believes that he has been cheated in life.
After two failed seasons fishing in Alaska’s wild oceans, he walks to the stern of his boat and shoots himself with a Magnum.
So far, it has been a summer of men and their struggles to relate to the people who love them for me, wrt the books I’ve read and Legend of a Suicide is no exception. It’s set in Alaska and is steeped in all things macho: fishin’, shootin’ and huntin’.
But for female readers that background makes it all the more touching.
This book is extremely clever, but it is not pretentious or thrilled with itself for it’s confidence or deftness.
It’s moving, readable and funny.
And then I read an Anita Shreve.
Because it was about Kenya, marriage, mountains.
Not, as it turned out, a good enough reason.