Chabon’s newest book, Moonglow is a literary treat. It’s a departure from a regular novel in that it is, at least in part, biographical. The novel follows Chabon as he sits with his grandfather during his grandfather’s last days. His grandfather tells him stories about his life and Chabon is able to piece together the past based on stories he’s heard and the new stories and retellings his grandfather tells him during these final moments. The book begins with an Author’s Note that is fitting for a memoir that isn’t necessarily a memoir, but one that reads more like a novel, “I have stuck to the facts except when facts refused to conform with memory, narrative purpose, or the truth as I prefer to understand it. Wherever liberties have been taken with names, dates, places, events, and conversations, or with identities, motivations, and interrelationships of family members and historical personages, the reader is assured that they have been taken with due abandon.” This declaimer of sorts sets the reader up for one very engaging novel.
Reviewed by Jennifer Jensen
Debut author Sara Flannery Murphy drew me right in with The Possessions and kept her hooks in me until the very end. The plot line of this first novel sounded similar to the canceled-too-soon TV show Dollhouse, which was a favorite of mine, so I simply had to read it. Written in first person, The Possessions is a raw account of a troubled young woman’s intriguing career as a “body” for the Elysian Society. Eurydice, as she calls herself, though this is not her true name, lends her body to clients who are looking to gain closure with loved ones who have passed on.
At dusk, not quite night but no longer day, Nan (Nancy) Lewis takes the curve on River Road too fast. She is blurry eyed, distracted, distraught, and she had maybe too much wine at the college faculty Christmas party. Her thoughts are on what she did not get, what she felt she was owed. Rounding the corner, a deer jumped seemingly from nowhere directly in front of her car. Nan hit her brakes too late. She hears a sickening thud as her car hits the animal then slides into the ditch.
“It was a deer,” she tells herself repeatedly. She searches but cannot find the wounded animal.
When Kate Pearson graduated college and was all set to move in with her French boyfriend in Paris, it came as a hard shock when he decided that was the time to break things off with her. In the next months, she fell apart, spending most days on her sofa or bed, going days without showers, and generally being miserable. With the help of her sister and friend Chloe, she finally gets it together enough to land a job at one of New York City’s most prestigious private schools as an admissions officer.
Kate is, at first, quite overwhelmed by a job she’s sure she has no business doing. But meeting these families who would–and do–do anything to get their kids into the perfect school gives her a focus and keeps her busy. Soon Kate is highly invested in her job and slowly but surely getting her life back on track.
Samantha Whipple is a twenty-year-old first year student at Old College, Oxford. She enters school as something of a celebrity being the final descendant of the famed Bronte family line. Her first year at Oxford proves troubling since she doesn’t work well with others, tends towards her famous father’s reclusiveness, and is charged with solving a family mystery involving her father and his ancestors.
The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell is, in a sense, a late bloomer’s coming of age tale. Samantha Whipple has an attitude that is flippant, fun, annoying, and back to fun. Her cynical nature is difficult to take at times, but it becomes apparent that this is her protection.
Gloria Burgess’s seemingly perfect world comes to an abrupt end when her husband of nine years dies of leukemia. Alone in London, she struggles to cope with her grief whilst trying to successfully raise her young son. She battles the temptation to sink into the same self-absorbed world that drove her own father to suicide.
In Necessary Madness, author Jenn Crowell (who also wrote Etched on Me) takes a look at the mental stability of Gloria after the death of her husband, Bill. Crowell explores the long argued nature vs. nurture–Gloria both blames her parents for her current state of being and hopes that she is not a mimicry of either parent. Whilst dealing with the grief of losing her husband, she wonders if she will be doomed to repeat the damage caused by her own father.
The year is 1987, and in the world of 14-year-old Billy, Clark, and Alf, nothing is more important than getting their hands on the recently published, scandalous pictures of Vanna White appearing in Playboy. The boys, somewhat outcasts, come up with ways to get their hands on the magazine…settling on the idea that Billy should romance the newsstand owner’s daughter so that he might gain the security code and they then would break into the shop and steal themselves a copy.
Convoluted? Yes. But there was more than one circumstance in which the characters seem to go through tremendous effort to carry out their bad decisions. They even built a scale model of the buildings so they could visualize the break-in. For 14-year-old boys, this is asking a lot.
I read All Our Wrong Todays, a book about the year 2016, in the last month of the year 2016. I am writing this review in the last week of the year, but by the time you read it, it will already be 2017, making this a tiny experiment in time travel. We can all admit that 2016 did not live up to anyone’s expectations, and you may be tempted to read this book to find solace in Mastai’s perfect, made-up 2016. But All Our Wrong Todays does you one better: it teaches you to appreciate the one we have.
Tom Barren comes not from the future, but from an alternate 2016, where all our 1950s dreams of hover cars and food synthesizers have been made possible by the 1965 invention of a machine called the Goettreider Engine.
The Girl Before is another mystery/thriller novel in the vein of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. Hey, as a matter of fact, it even has the word “girl” right there in the title. While it’s true that as the events unfold, the unreliable narrator, dual storytelling points of view, and red herrings are very similar to the other books I’ve mentioned, the plot of The Girl Before enthralled me right from the start and never let go.
The book begins with two women who have suffered a traumatic event moving into a famous, yet foreboding house: Jane, who lives in the house in present day, and Emma, who was the girl that lived in the house before her.
Jade Chang’s novel, Wangs vs. the World is highly entertaining. It is a portrait of a family complete with all of their similarities and their differences. She shows them as they come together and also when they fall apart. The novel is a very quick read. Chang’s prose is energetic and flows flawlessly. She peppers in thoughts about immigration and politics but it is not heavy-handed and fits within the confines of the novel well. The thoughts propel the story to its conclusion.
Charles Wang has lost everything. He once had everything–fancy cars, a lucrative business, many factories, enough money to be comfortable and then some. He has three children, Grace, Andrew and Saina. He’s married to his second wife, Barbra. His first wife was killed in an accident six months after his youngest daughter, Grace, was born.