Books Read in March

“The Three Weissmanns of Westport” a novel by Cathleen Schein
When Joseph Weissmann divorced his wife, he was seventy-eight years old and she was seventy-five.

I love how the first sentence dumps us smack in the middle of this story. But it is not only a story of divorce. When she is exiled from her lovely Manhattan apartment, Betty Weissmann gathers her two grown daughters, Miranda and Annie, and they head to a small cottage owned by her cousin Lou. Miranda, a literary agent is enduring a professional exile as a result of her client’s memoirs proving to be not all that based in reality. Annie has exiled herself to be the keeper of her mother’s and sister’s emotional and financial problems while trying to carve out a personal life of her own. The novel is delightful and the characters really came alive for me. I turned each page wanting to know what happens to them because I cared what happened to them.

“Where the God of Love Hangs Out”
fiction by Amy Bloom
At two o’clock in the morning, no one is to blame.

Amy Bloom is a gifted short story writer and this latest collection lives up to her gift. Many of the stories are grouped together in a series of linked stories so we get to follow the characters over a period of time and see how they grow and change. I don’t think I will ever forget Julia and her step-son Lion and how they struggle to retain their relationship in the wake of their grief. In another series we get a glimpse into two marriages and what happens when two of them shed their relationships in order to be with each other. Bloom’s writing is beautiful and her characters are real and flawed. She exposes these beautiful flaws with a surgeon’s precision, slicing open their most secret desires, thoughts and fears. I can’t recommend her enough. Really. Go read her. Now.

“Sum- forty tales from the afterlives” by David Eagleman

If you’ve ever wondered what happens after you die, then you need to take a romp through these forty possibilities. Eagleman, a neuroscientist, imagines scenarios from the whimsical to the disturbing and each one made me appreciate the beautiful chaos of the life I am living right now. Some of my favorites? In the afterlife you live your life backwards; God is a married couple; you relive every moment but all the shared experiences are grouped together so you would sleep for thirty years or spend fifteen months looking for lost items. Entertaining as well as extremely thought-provoking.

“Committed- A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage” by Elizabeth Gilbert
Late one afternoon in the summer of 2006, I found myself in a small village in northern Vietnam, sitting around a sooty kitchen fire with a number of local women who language I did not speak, trying to ask them questions about marriage.

And ask questions she does. The entire book questions marriage but not in a hostile way. Gilbert is genuinely curious about this institution, an institution she and her boyfriend (for lack of a better word) both agreed vehemently never to partake in again, even though they fell madly in love with each other. They then found themselves on the wrong side of immigration and homeland security with marriage as the only option available if they had any chance of being together. She weaves the progress of their relationship through all the red tape with a history of marriage as well as discussions she had with people as far away as that small Vietnam village. I learned things about marriage that surprised and intrigued me. Toward the end part of me got impatient for her to just make peace with it already but another part of me admired her for having such deep convictions about marriage and having the resolve to dig deeper to find her way to a place of not only acceptance but perhaps also of comfort.

“The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo” a novel by Darrin Doyle
The story of Audrey Mapes begins with butter. Actually, Imperial margarine. The Mapeses couldn’t afford real butter.

Thus begins this utterly touching and surreal story of a girl who literally eats the city of Kalamazoo. What I admired most is how Doyle made this seem like a perfectly plausible situation, complete with press coverage in this age of celebrity. This story explores the myriad of things we hunger for and the ways we try to fill that empty hole we all seem to have.

“The Things That Keep Us Here”
a novel by Carla Buckley
It was quiet coming home from the funeral. Too quiet.

Yet another book that explores my obsession with a particular possible vision of our future. In this story H5N1 has hit and is rapidly spreading across the world. We experience it with the Brooks family. Anna and Peter had separated. When schools close and grocery stores become battle grounds, they all must come together in order to survive. It’s another scary peek into a probable and grim scenario. But reading these stories makes me feel somewhat prepared for a worst-case scenario.

“Model Home” a novel by Eric Puchner
Two days after his car– an ’85 Chrysler LeBaron with leather seat and all-power accessories– vanished from the driveway, Warren Ziller crept past the expensive homes of his neighbors, trying to match his dog’s limp.

It’s the mid-eighties in California and Warren Ziller has moved his family out there from Wisconsin on the promise of big money from a real estate venture in the desert. When the deal goes south, Warren refuses to believe it and digs himself and his family further and further into a financial hole until there is really no way out. The chapters alternate between different points of view which helped me see a possible structure for the novel I am working on. This story is compelling and these characters kept me spellbound.

“The Private Lives of Pippa Lee” a novel by Rebecca Miller
Pippa had to admit, she liked the house.

Considering that Miller’s book of short stories made it on to my permanent bookshelf I’m not sure why I’m so surprised at how much I loved her novel. I finished it this morning and sat there with it in my lap, stunned by its powerful beauty. I’m not sure if I can put my finger on it without reading it again (which I will definitely do at some point) but I think it has to do with the close and careful observation of the character and the way Miller structured the novel to reveal all of Pippa’s lives. She does this wonderful thing with point of view changing from third to first that added a level of depth and intimacy. Some parts of her lives are disturbing but it never feels sensational. Pippa is a unique, layered character whose story mesmerized me.

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