Library books don’t always make my cut. Lately, I had been discarding some after a few pages, but since the reopening of the library here is an unknown, I’ve given the books I checked out before the library closed a second look and determinedly read them. Here are three books I probably would not have finished if I were not sheltering in place, but they did pass the time.
All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg
A slow slog through a dysfunctional family whose patriarch is dying did not, at first, capture my interest; however, as I forced myself to continue into the saga, I found a strange connection to current repulsive men who are celebrated for their egregious lives. Vincent is a power-hungry real estate developer who cheats on his wife and sexually abuses her and others, including his daughter-in-law. As he gets richer, the misery he causes gets worse. The author calls him a “bad man,” an understatement, whose wife has stuck by him through it all.
Through a day as he lay dying in the hospital, Atttenberg explores Victor’s influence on the lives of his wife and now grown children. Each has a story increasingly miserable, and the book ends with Vincent’s body unceremoniously thrown into a common grave, as the others move on, their lives forever marked by him. Not a happy story, and probably not one I would have read, but it does give insight into how the abused cope, sometimes surviving and sometimes even thriving.
Little by Edward Carey
As I read this book, published in 2018, I was sure I had read it before. Although I had no evidence, the story kept being familiar. I finally found the title in a list of library books I published in December, 2018, but no review.
The opening introduces the narrator, Anne Marie Grosholtz — known as Little for her small stature. The book includes black and white illustrations throughout and the first is of Marie’s mother’s strong nose and her father’s upturned chin, combined not as attractively into their young daughter. Both die when she is six years old, and little Marie is sent to live as an apprentice to Curtius, a gruff sculpturor who creates Marie’s face in wax.
Carey continues with the narrator’s description of their lives in Paris, creating wax heads of famous nobleman and dressing them in the period attire to display in the window. Marie continues her story as she grows into Madame Tussaud during the French Revolution.
I skipped through some of the more vivid descriptions of the war; Carey mingles history with the growth and popularity of Tussaud as she uses decapitated heads for her models. She eventually lands in prison awaiting the dreaded guillotine but regains her freedom and the story ends with an eighty-nine year Marie in business in London.
The historical facts are grim and Tussaud’s life is a sad one. I probably returned this book to the library the first time unfinished.
When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald
When the book was described in a review as a coming of age novel about Zelda, born with fetal alcohol syndrome, I decided to research exactly what the term means. Zelda had alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder, causing learning and behavior problems, including difficulties with memory or attention, and impulse control and judgment – the reason she could not be responsible for herself at twenty-one, and lived with her brother. Although I did not read the extensive research available, I understood the premise and started to read this young adult novel, written in the voice of a girl whose life and mind at first seem limited and juvenile.
I stopped not long after, not because I’m a prude, but sex started to pervade the story; the foul language and double entendres were irritating and distracting from Zelda’s quest for independence. I made it through to the end as Zelda conquers her fears, becomes self-assured and independent, despite her difficult beginning.
The title refers to Zelda’s obsession with Vikings and her need to have structure and rules to cope. Her bible is a book by a retired professor outlining the history and culture of the Vikings, and she uses it to organize her life and to make life-altering decisions. Sadly, the insertion of sexual language and actions, many of which Zelda did not always seem to understand, seemed exploitive and did not add to the story.
Only one library book left before I delve into my own stash. I have high expectations for Isabel Allende’s A Long Petal of the Sea. Have you read it yet?