The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

In making a Faustian deal, an eighteenth century young woman escapes an arranged marriage. But the devil is in the details.  

Addie LaRue gets her freedom and her wish to be her own person, even gaining immortality, but no one she meets remembers her.  In The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, V.E. Schwab cleverly spans three centuries across Europe and the United States in a time travel fantasy examining the value of a legacy.

Addie initially struggles through the hardships of suddenly being without family or any means of support, but she does have her freedom, including the ability to steal what she needs and being instantly forgotten for doing it.  She makes it through the plague (not the current one), fashions herself into a well-read and astute thinker when women were not expected to do more than marry and bear children.  As she gallops through the centuries, her accomplishments are bittersweet because no one knows about her, forgetting her almost instantly.  Later, this talent to reintroduce herself to the same person gets a little strained.

Known by her seven freckles resembling  a galaxy of stars across her face, she discovers she can make her mark through others as artists use her as their muse. She fills art and music with the memory of ideas she has planted. Her devil appears occasionally over the years to taunt her with difficulties but she is never willing to surrender her freedom and her soul.

Suddenly, after 300 hundred years, she finds a soulmate in Henry, a bookstore owner who has made his own deal with the devil.  To her surprise Henry does remember her, and for the first time she can hear her real name from her lover. Although Schwab nurtures the romance, true love really does not lie with these two characters.  Addie’s true love is her freedom and, despite the devil’s machinations, she finds a way her to leave her mark and be remembered.

As I finished the story, with its unlikely and clever ending (I won’t spoil it for you), I remembered my own much shorter journey so far, and the marks I’ve left behind.  Like Addie, most have morphed into an amalgam of pieces leading to others’ adaptations.  The ideas I created may not have the same name, but most are still viable and progressed with the times, as they should.  Yet, we all want to be remembered.

Caitlyn Paxson for NPR said: “Addie LaRue manages to pull off like the prestige of a particularly elegant magic trick, leaving us with the feeling that we too have been a part of Addie’s long and invisible life. I for one will most certainly remember her.”

So will I.

 “Strive not to be a success but to be of value.” Albert Einstein

Before the Coffee Gets Cold

Imagine you are in a small theater (not likely these days).  On the stage the scene is set like  Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks; small and dark with a woman in white seated at the end of the counter.  The setting stays the same and a small cast of characters come and go in four scenes.  Crucial to the plot – a time portal carrying the time traveler back to an important event or conversation they want to rectify within the minutes before their coffee gets cold.

Toshiikazu Kawaguchi’s short novel was originally a play in Japanese, and it is easier to read if you imagine it still is.  The themes of regret and anger are tempered by the possibilities of hope and change in the future, and these days we could all use a lesson in hope.

The novel is told over a series of small vignettes, each revolving around a specific trip one of the regulars of the cafe takes.  The stories follow a theatrical setup – single location and only a handful of characters.  Forgive the awkward translation and be open to the message.

What would you do if you could travel back in time for only a few minutes – until the hot steaming coffee poured into your cup got cold?  This premise connects four chapter stories with related characters who each have different motivations to see their worlds again in the past.  The cafe, named Funiculi, Funicula, has the reputation of being able to transport willing customers to another time, but only if the rules are followed.  Only one seat in the cafe serves as the vehicle, and it is usually occupied by the same patron absorbed in reading her book; the woman in white fiercely guards her territory and only leaves her seat to go to the bathroom. She is, in fact, a ghost who did not follow the café’s most important rule – to finish drinking before the coffee gets cold.  The time ravelers may only stay a short amount of time before being whisked back to their own time, but if they fail to drink the coffee before it gets cold, they will join the ghostly chorus.

A married couple, Kei and Nagare, are the current owners, while Nagare’s cousin, Kazu, a university student, helps out when she’s not in school. Regular customers include: businesswoman Fumiko who is desperate to be more open and vulnerable during her last meeting with her boyfriend Goro before he relocates to the U.S., nurse Kohtake wants one more opportunity to talk to her husband Fusagi before Alzheimer’s made him forget too much – including her. Bar owner Hirai needs to talk to her younger sister Kumi, whom she’s been avoiding for too many years. Finally, co-owner Kei, who is pregnant, bends the rules to go into the future to meet her unborn child.

Each chapter ends on a bittersweet note with the time traveler returning to the present, knowing it has not changed.  And yet, Kawaguchi does offer a change of perspective to each from their brief experience reliving a past moment; they return with renewed hope for the future. Perhaps reworking a significant turning point in the past would not change the present, but recognizing its impact can affect the future and how we live in the present.

Kazu notes at the end of the book,

“No matter what difficulties people face, they will always have the strength to overcome them. It just takes heart. And if the chair (the time portal) can change someone’s heart, it clearly has its purpose.”

I made myself a cup of coffee to time how long it took to go cold.  Not long. Better “Drink the coffee before it gets cold.”  No time to waste.

 

Trying Out a Podcast

I’ve been recording book reviews for the Hawaii Library for the Blind and Print Disabled during this pandemic, converting my audio into MP3 files for patrons.  I’ve thought about starting a podcast as a supplement to my reviews on this blog, but thought I’d try by sharing some my recordings here first.

This file is focused on Halloween stories with enough magical realism and scary tales to carry you through Halloween, and maybe the horrors of the subsequent election coming soon.

Let me know:  if you can access it, what you think, ideas for what you’d like to hear.

 

 

 

 

 

Feel Good Books

Angela Haupt lists fifteen books to lift your spirits in her article for the Washington Post, and I’ve already read four of them.  In case you need a pick me up, here they are with my reviews:

but my next book really is a beach read – says so in the title.  I’ve started reading, and so far, it seems to be a romantic comedy starring Jonathan Franzen and Jennifer Weiner in their famous literary feud. The two main characters are writers, accidentally living in houses across from each other and each has a summer to write a book.  To encourage a new muse in their writing, they agree to write in the other’s genre.  The Franzen character, known in the book as serious Gus, will write a happily-ever-after romance, and the Weiner character, with the name January Andrews agrees to write serious stuff.

 

Her list includes Anxious People by Backman. I’m not a fan of the author, so will probably skip it, but if you are looking for a story about an inept bank robber who takes  prospective buyers hostage during an open house, you might try it.

Others on her list promise some fast, mindless, and satisfying reads; I plan to look for them:

  • Dear Emmie Blue by Lia Louis – romance and humor
  • You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria – romantic fun on a soap opera
  • The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune – fantasy – been on my to read list for a while

What feel good books have you been reading lately?

 

 

From Monogamy to Monotony

It started with Sue Miller’s Monogamy.  With that title, I expected a love story but Miller delivered something else.  With infidelity and death mixed into romantic interludes, the story left me feeling sour.

I went on to read Eleanor Lipman’s new short novel, available now only on Kindle, and to be published after election day.  I thought I could laugh at the bumbling episodes of Rachel to the Rescue, with a fictional satire on Trump’s incompetence and infidelity, but I couldn’t.  Maybe after the election – depending on who wins.

Finally, I turned to Sophie Kinsella – surely, she would save me from the world.  With the title Love Your Life, it promised a fantasy love affair somewhere in the Mediterranean, but, alas, it is not published yet.

Amor Towles has a new short story with a welcoming title – You Have Arrived at Your Destination but it’s only available on audio, and I can’t find my earphones.

Not even the Barefoot Contessa with her new Modern Comfort Food could save me.  The pictures were sumptuous but did not motivate me to get into the kitchen and cook. If only Ina did takeout.

Must be me, right?  I’ve ordered books from two of my favorite inde bookstores, but it’s so long ago – they are coming by media mail – I’ve forgotten what I bought.  I’m pretty sure the new Ken Follett book is in the package, and, if it ever gets here, should keep me busy for a while. 

In the meantime, back to watching movies and taking naps.