For Friday: Friday Reads – 5 Novels (1 down, 4 to go)

June 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

If You Were Here by Alafair Burke

This Friday, it’s books.  In particular, fiction.  Even more specifically, smart, well-written novels.  One I’ve read.  One I am reading.  And the other three are waiting patiently.  So many books, so little time.

Read:  “The Flamethrowers” by Rachel Kushner.

The year is 1975 and Reno—so-called because of the place of her birth—has come to New York intent on turning her fascination with motorcycles and speed into art. Her arrival coincides with an explosion of activity in the art world—artists have colonized a deserted and industrial SoHo, are staging actions in the East Village, and are blurring the line between life and art. Reno meets a group of dreamers and raconteurs who submit her to a sentimental education of sorts. Ardent, vulnerable, and bold, she begins an affair with an artist named Sandro Valera, the semi-estranged scion of an Italian tire and motorcycle empire. When they visit Sandro’s family home in Italy, Reno falls in with members of the radical movement that overtook Italy in the seventies. Betrayal sends her reeling into a clandestine undertow.

The Flamethrowers is an intensely engaging exploration of the mystique of the feminine, the fake, the terrorist. At its center is Kushner’s brilliantly realized protagonist, a young woman on the verge. Thrilling and fearless, this is a major American novel from a writer of spectacular talent and imagination.

I loved this book from the chapter title on the first page, “1. HE KILLED HIM WITH A MOTORBIKE HEADLAMP (WHAT HE HAD IN HIS HAND).”

Reading:  “Jacob’s Folly” by Rebecca Miller.

In eighteenth-century Paris, Jacob Cerf is a Jew, a peddler of knives, saltcellars, and snuffboxes. Despite a disastrous teenage marriage, he is determined to raise himself up in life, by whatever means he can. More than two hundred years later, Jacob is amazed to find himself reincarnated as a fly in the Long Island suburbs of twenty-first-century America, his new life twisted in ways he could never have imagined. But even the tiniest of insects can influence the turning of the world, and thanks to his arrival, the lives of a reliable volunteer fireman and a young Orthodox Jewish woman nursing a secret ambition will never be the same.

Through the unique lens of Jacob’s consciousness, Rebecca Miller explores change in all its different guises—personal, spiritual, literal. The hold of the past on the present, the power of private hopes and dreams, the collision of fate and free will: Miller’s world—which is our own, transfigured by her clear gaze and by her sharp, surprising wit—comes brilliantly to life in the pages of this profoundly original novel.

Rebecca Miller’s ability to inhabit, and make real, the minds of an eighteenth-century Parisian Jew reincarnated as a twenty-first century Long Island fly and those of his two wards, is mystifying and it works.

On Deck:  “TransAtlantic” by Colum McCann.

Newfoundland, 1919. Two aviators—Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown—set course for Ireland as they attempt the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, placing their trust in a modified bomber to heal the wounds of the Great War.

Dublin, 1845 and ’46. On an international lecture tour in support of his subversive autobiography, Frederick Douglass finds the Irish people sympathetic to the abolitionist cause—despite the fact that, as famine ravages the countryside, the poor suffer from hardships that are astonishing even to an American slave.

New York, 1998. Leaving behind a young wife and newborn child, Senator George Mitchell departs for Belfast, where it has fallen to him, the son of an Irish-American father and a Lebanese mother, to shepherd Northern Ireland’s notoriously bitter and volatile peace talks to an uncertain conclusion.

These three iconic crossings are connected by a series of remarkable women whose personal stories are caught up in the swells of history. Beginning with Irish housemaid Lily Duggan, who crosses paths with Frederick Douglass, the novel follows her daughter and granddaughter, Emily and Lottie, and culminates in the present-day story of Hannah Carson, in whom all the hopes and failures of previous generations live on. From the loughs of Ireland to the flatlands of Missouri and the windswept coast of Newfoundland, their journeys mirror the progress and shape of history. They each learn that even the most unassuming moments of grace have a way of rippling through time, space, and memory.

I am looking forward to digging into McCann’s latest work.

Ready to Load:  “If You Were Here” by Alafair Burke

If You Were Here is a thrilling novel of suspense from Alafair Burke, the author Dennis Lehane calls “one of the finest young crime writers working today.”

Manhattan journalist McKenna Jordan is chasing the story of an unidentified woman who heroically pulled a teenaged boy from the subway tracks. When she locates a video that captures part of the incident, she thinks she has an edge on the competition scrambling to identify the mystery heroine, but is shocked to discover that the woman in the video bears a strong resemblance to Susan Hauptmann, a close friend who disappeared without a trace a decade earlier.

What would have been a short-lived metro story sends McKenna on a dangerous search for the missing woman—a search that will force her to unearth long-buried truths much closer to home…

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet and speak with Alafair Burke.  I’ve not yet read her crime novels (eight others prior to “If You Were Here”), but if they are half as insightful, intelligent and engaging as she is, I am in for a thrilling ride.

Soon:  “The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen.

After almost fifty years as a wife and mother, Enid Lambert is ready to have some fun. Unfortunately, her husband, Alfred, is losing his sanity to Parkinson’s disease, and their children have long since flown the family nest to the catastrophes of their own lives. The oldest, Gary, a once-stable portfolio manager and family man, is trying to convince his wife and himself, despite clear signs to the contrary, that he is not clinically depressed. The middle child, Chip, has lost his seemingly secure academic job and is failing spectacularly at his new line of work. And Denise, the youngest, has escaped a disastrous marriage only to pour her youth and beauty down the drain of an affair with a married man-or so her mother fears. Desperate for some pleasure to look forward to, Enid has set her heart on an elusive goal: bringing her family together for one last Christmas at home.

I am a bit embarrassed to say that I’ve not yet read “The Corrections.”  It’s is my what-I-missed-the-first-time-around pick.

Happy #FridayReading!

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