The summer in Hawaii is not very different from the rest of the year, just hotter, more humid, and more tourists. Most residents are content to live in a place where others can only visit, but can sometimes feel trapped on the farthest rock in the middle of the ocean Reading may offer an escape on days when the trade winds do not blow and the yearning for a civilized alternate life lingers in the air. Women in books often reinvent themselves, from Bernadette to Alice, offering a cool escape through their stories.
Jodi Picoult’s feud with best-selling author Jonathan Franzen kept me from her books. After her Small Great Things was recommended by two friends, I finally took on the author. Whether or not her work fits into the category of literary fiction, her book tackles an ugly reality and forces the reader into introspection. Her expected ending has a surprise twist, somehow forcing her message. Ruth, her main character, stays true to herself, and it’s the villain who reinvents himself.
Nina George’s The Little French Bistro weaves romance into a desperate struggle to escape. With the charm and beauty of a coastal village in Brittany as the setting, sixty year old Marianne casts aside her miserable forty years of marriage and begins again with a new attitude and a better connection. I missed reading George’s “The Little Paris Bookshop” – another book about new beginnings; reinvention seems to be her theme – what better place to reinvent yourself than Paris.
Kathleen Rooney’s Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk has a sophisticated Dorothy Parker literary aura, as the eighty-five year old New Yorker who lives in Murray Hill reminisces about milestones in her life on New Year’s Eve, 1984. The book is a series of vignettes as she revisits old haunts and recalls important moments in her life represented in restaurants, bars, parks, Penn Station, and Macy’s, where she worked for years as as advertising executive. The book was inspired by the real life of Margaret Fishback, poet and Macy’s ad-writing wonder of the 1930s. The neighborhoods have changed over the years as have the people, but Lillian remains curious and loyal, making new friends as she walks – the cop on the beat, the pregnant woman waiting outside the hospital, the store clerk who sells her an amaryllis bulb. In true New York style, she has also an encounter with three muggers. Anyone familiar with New York will recognize her – someone who needs no reinvention. Sprinkled within her reminiscences are lines from Margaret Fishback’s books of poetry.
When life seems gray
And short of fizz
It seems that way
Because it is.