I promised books, then I disappeared! But I'm back and here are the books I've been reading.
First I'll cover recent releases that I've read and liked:
The Children Act by Ian McEwan is a look into the life of Fiona Maye, a leading High Court Judge who presides in the family court. She has a number of well known decisions in her resume' including a difficult case dealing with the separation of conjoined twins. At age 58 she has achieved great professional standing which has come at significant personal cost. Her thirty year marriage is in crisis, and her childlessness is a lingering regret.
In the midst of this she is determining a case of a 17 year old boy, Adam Henry, months from the age of majority, whose family is refusing life saving treatment for religious reasons. Fiona takes the unusual measure of suspending court proceedings to travel to the hospital and meet Adam to determine if the refusal of treatment is Adam's own wish or if he is being prevailed upon by his parents and religious community.
The book is a relatively quick read, but the brevity belies the complexity of the story and the lives depicted therein. Kudo's to McEwan on this one.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. Okay..this is a war novel so not a sunny story. But the writing, character development, and story telling are so well done that this book is my current favorite of 2015. It opens at the end of 2004 in a small war torn Chechen village with 8 year old Haava whose home has just been fire bombed by Russian forces, killing her father who is her only surviving relative. Her father's friend and neighbor, Akhmed, covertly takes her to the remains of a hospital in the neighboring town with the hopes that she will be concealed and cared for by a female doctor that he has heard of, Sonja.
The Chechen wars (2) covered in the novel take place from 1994 through 2004, but the author has a talent for telescoping time to give the reader an over view of the history from hundreds of years ago, through the Stalin era, and the recent decade of war. In various parts of the story, he extends the view into the future of some of the characters to bring the story to the present day.
The three main characters, Haava, Akhmed, and Sonja are beautifully drawn and they are connected through the story by many different threads. Some scenes in the book are written unflinchingly, while others show the art of dark humor. Though the novel informs the reader about a long history, the actual story arc takes place over less than 5 days. This debut novel reveals to us an author with a rare level of talent for story telling.
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf is a book I really didn't want to read because it is the last of the author's work and the thought of no more new Kent Haruf books waiting to be read was just too sad. He passed away in Nov. 2014 and this book was released posthumously. Like The Children Act, this is a short, dense book. The author once again brings us to Holt, Co. where widower, Louis Waters, is visited by a neighboring widow, Addie Moore, with a suggestion. Both characters are in late life, both are lonely, and both have lived under the microscope of a small town.
I cannot think of a single author who is more generous to his characters than Kent Haruf, and he continues that in this book. The story is poignant and yet very real. And for long time Haruf fans, characters and places from his previous novels make cameo appearances. It's the kind of book you close with a sigh of satisfaction and yet a longing for more.
Anne Enright's The Green Road is long listed for this year's Booker Prize. The story takes place on the west coast of Ireland and is really a story about a matriarch, Rosaleen Madigan, and her four children. In the first half of the book, we are given brief back stories on each of the 4 children who have scattered from the family home as fars as the U.S. and Africa. Starting with Hannah, the youngest, the reader gets the first glimpse of Rosaleen. She has taken to her bed in protest of Dan's (oldest son's) announcement that he is joining the priesthood. We are given to conclude that this isn't the first time she's done so as it is named her "horizontal solution".
The second half of the book deals with a Christmas homecoming that Rosaleen has called, inviting all four children home. It is telling that the homecoming does not include the significant others of the children, except for the oldest daughter, Constance, who true to her name has become Rosaleen's care taker.
In summary, it is a well written dysfunctional Irish family story. Enright creates her characters in the circle of a harsh spotlight: all beauty marks and flaws are on display.
Well....this appears to be long enough for now. So not only am I starting with new releases, I will also end there for now. Happy Reading!