Thursday, April 04, 2024

March Madness

Yes, it's true. I could not come up with a more clever title. There were no basketballs, polished gym floors, hoops, or three-point shots involved in the making of this post. 

Six books for the third month in a row. A respectable number.

 So much for my thinking that I could go a whole year reading nothing but nonfiction. It's just not so. I need novels. Novels need me?

 1. Lilac Girls - Martha Hall Kelly. Historical novel. Audiobook. I was almost halfway through this novel before I realized that several of these characters were actual people. Up to that point, I was quite engaged in the book, but that revelation had me sitting straight up for the rest. Caroline Ferriday is a rich New York socialite who devotes endless days to helping French refugees at the dawn of WWII. During the war, she raises funds for care packages for French orphanages. After the war, she spearheads a campaign to help women who were in German concentration camps get surgery to repair injuries inflicted on them by Nazi doctors at the camp who were bent on ghoulish experimentation. Kasia is a young Polish political prisoner. Herta is one of the Nazi doctors. Eventually, their stories intertwine. I'm really mad at myself for sidestepping this book for at least three years. It was so well done. The audiobook is incredible. Three different actors portray these women, and the one who narrated Kasia's part had me teary-eyed more than once. I admired Caroline, and despised Herta with the heat of a thousand suns. 

 2. Akin - Emma Donoghue. Novel. There are two stories here, and one gets completely overshadowed by the other. Not my favorite Donoghue novel, although when she seems to falter, she's still really good. I read this for book group.

 3. Class - Stephanie Land. Memoir. Land starts Class where her previous memoir, Maid left off, and concentrates on Land's senior year at the University of Montana, where she is pursuing a BA in Creative Writing, and is hoping to be accepted to the MFA program there. She's also still working cleaning houses and raising her kindergarten-age daughter as a single mother living below the poverty level. As graduation draws near, her life is further complicated by an unplanned pregnancy. She gets more than her share of raised eyebrows and well-meaning  but judgmental advice from classmates and faculty. And, as always, she does ongoing battle with a social services system that borders on Kafkaesque. Stephanie Land's writing is intense. One of her professors said "relentless", and I agree, but only in the best sense. What I like best about both her memoirs is that she's not afraid to portray herself as complex and contradictory. Looking forward to a third memoir.

 4. The Vaster Wilds - Lauren Groff. Historical novel. A young girl, a servant to a minister and his wife is on the run in the 1630s from the diseased and failing settlement of Jamestown. The reader is made to understand that the girl has committed some sort of crime. Her life in the wild is brutal, but through flashbacks, we see that her whole life has been difficult, and seems to have prepared her. given her the mental toughness needed for this latest hardship.

 5. The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen Age 83 1/4 - "Hendrik Groen". Novel. Audiobook. Set in The Netherlands, Hendrik and his friends, old-age pensioners in a retirement home, get tired of the tedium of the place and start the Old-But-Not-Dead Club in which each member arranges an outing per month for all of them. Hendrik also buys a motorized scooter and explores the area around the home. He is an avid reader of the news, especially when it pertains to senior citizens. His observations are concise, witty, and sometimes pretty savage. His diary follows a whole year, one of great change as he and his friends face up to their physical limitations and still have good times. Derek Jacobi as narrator was an inspired choice, although I sometimes had problems with his vocal dynamics. When Hendrik shouts, he shouts, he lets it all out, but when he was saying witty, caustic things half under his breath, I would often not catch it. When the book ended, I found myself missing these characters.

 6. The Guest - Emma Cline. Novel. After inviting her to spend the summer with him at his house in the Hamptons, Alex's much-older, rich boyfriend suddenly cuts her loose right before Labor Day, having his assistant get her a ticket back to New York City. But Alex has burned all of her bridges back in the city, and has grown accustomed to life among the rich, so she decides that no, she just won't return to NYC. Her plan is to hang around then show up at Simon's (the boyfriend) Labor Day party. By then, she hopes he will reconsider and they'll have a lovely reunion. During the five days Alex is adrift, she taps into her considerable grifting skills, then immediately embraces her genius for the bad decision. I was horrified by Alex, but enjoyed The Guest so much. Really loved the Patricia Highsmith feel of it. And OH MY GOD THAT ENDING! What happened? I went back over the last chapter a few times, looking for clues and developing theories. I'm glad I don't know for sure. I admire Emma Cline for making readers figure it out.

1 comment:

jenclair said...

The Lilac Girls appeals to me, and I thoroughly enjoyed The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen and the various adventures of the Old-But-Not-Dead-Club.