Fiction

Britt-Marie Was Here

Confession: I’m not much of an audio book junkie. In fact, I seldom listen to one unless it is the only copy of a book available, but Joan Walker’s funny and poignant rendition of this Scandinavian novel entranced me.

I couldn’t wait to get back to the poor, out of the way Swedish town of Borg--football crazy and poor--where most of the inhabitants were racing to sell their homes and leave after the 2008 financial crises.

How did a middle-aged wife who had not worked outside the home or travelled anywhere end up in Borg?

Well, first her husband of four decades began an affair with a much younger woman. So Britt-Marie decided to leave him. When she went to the employment agency, there were no jobs, so she returned the next day and cooked for the young lady who worked there a lovely salmon dinner. Britt was nothing if not persistent.

Commonwealth

Fifty per cent of all North American children experience the divorce of their parents. Talented author Ann Patchett explores her own family’s divorce in this novel, altered, of course, as all fiction is.

A chance meeting at a 1960s christening causes two families to divide and then merge in new ways.  The novel jumps around in the lives of the Cousinses and Keatings. Fix Keating is a Los Angeles cop, and Bert Cousins, an attorney who moves to Virginia. When Cousins falls hard for Keating’s wife, Beverly, at the christening, two families are forever tied though they end up living across the continent from each other.

The novel proceeds from the perfectly realized christening—where many of the guests are cops and the families of cops, and many of the partiers get drunk including some of the children, to one lakeside vacation where the blended children of the two families seek their own adventures while their parent and step-parent laze away in bed until mid-afternoon.

The Past

This novel is a dense, rich celebration of an English family, first in the present time, then in the past--the late 60s and early 70s.

In the first half, four siblings: Harriet, Alice, Roland, and Jane meet at the old family homestead near the sea for a family reunion.  The house is being sold, and it will be their last time together at their childhood home.

Accompanying them, are children (Jane’s), a new South American wife (Roland’s--his third), a young friend, and son of a former lover (Alice’s), and all alone, (Harriet).

In the siblings’ idiosyncratic fashion, Harriet arrives first; she leaves the house locked and goes wandering in the forest.  Alice arrives with Kasim, and then realizes, what she has done, brought an eighteen-year old to a place with nothing going on. Roland calls and says there will be delay, and that he and Pilar will arrive on Sunday.

Alice runs through the house, throwing open windows, picking and placing beautiful bouquets in each of the adults’ room, while Jane, the mom, practically begins cooking the evening meal as her two children, Ivy and Arthur explore.

Privately, Jane and Harriet discuss whether Kazim is more than a friend to wild, actress Alice. Kazim reads on the porch terribly bored. But on Sunday when Roland, Pilar and Molly, Roland’s sixteen year old daughter, arrive. Kazim immediately perks up at Molly’s appearance.

Our Souls at Night

This moving book describes a love affair late in life. It’s set in the fictional county of Holt, Colorado. One day Addie Moore visits her neighbor Louis.  Louis almost falls off his chair when she asks him if he will come to her house and sleep with her that night.  To share conversation, Addie adds, “not sex.”

Shortly after their night visits have begun (pajamas and toothbrush, paper bag will travel), Louis asks Addie, “Why me?” She answers with a question, do you think I’d just invite anyone. Because you’re a good man, that’s why I chose you.

Haruf, writes laconically, the kind of conversation you might expect from a man raised in a small agricultural town two hours east of Colorado Springs. Yet he succeeds masterfully at tackling the deep subjects: love, death, marriage, the friction between adult children and their parents.

The Dogs of Littlefield

Something is happening to the dogs of Littlefield, Mass.  Is someone poisoning them or does the blame fall on something more supernatural?  A cast of delightful, small-town characters suffers through this travesty as circumstance and personality pit one against each other.

It begins with the posting of warnings: pet-owners should not let their dogs roam free in the park. The signs start off politely, then denigrate into meaner advice: “Leash your beast or else.” Then a white bull-mastiff is found poisoned in the park woods.  Soon the aldermen schedule a meeting to discuss two diametrically-opposed proposals: ban all dogs from the park, or create a leash-free area for the dogs to play and have freedom.

Littlefield, long on the top ten list of best small communities to live in America, appears to be coming apart in myriad ways. Most of the teens and adults have therapists. The veneer of social niceness quickly disappears.

Eligible

What do jogging, hate sex, cross fit gyms, and reality TV have to do with Jane Austen? Don’t be so 19th century. So what if Austen is rolling over in her grave. Sittenfeld has made a delightful pastiche of Pride and Prejudice, much more to my fiction-reading tastes than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

In this reimagined version of the classic, it’s 2013 and the Bennet family has relocated to a spider-infected old Tudor in an upscale neighborhood of Cincinnati. Country club lunches, anyone?

The five unmarried daughters still ground the story although all of them have turned very 21st century. Even Mrs. Bennet has been modernized, she’s now a shopaholic busybody. However, she still remains in determined pursuit of worthy husbands (rich, upper class) for her daughters.   

Jane and Liz have flown the nest for New York City where gentle Jane teaches yoga, and Liz, writes for the entertainment mag, Mascara. She also sleeps with her married boyfriend. At thirty-nine, Jane has given up on finding a man, and has begun in vitro fertilization treatments in the hopes of having a child. Alas, no wedding bells in the offing for both Jane and Liz.

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