A Quick Inventory of Books

You know where the road to good intentions leads and I seem to have been on it for a while.  Although I have renewed online library books from the Libby site, more often they are returned unread.  How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell is the latest ebook I have on my Libby shelf, but I think maybe I’ve already figured it out.  The list of books returned stays on the site, admonishing me for neglect, and I’ve forgotten why I decided to check out the titles in the first place.  Have you read any?  Should I try again?

  • Actress by Anne Enright
  • The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian
  • The Book of the Little Axe by Lauren Francis-Sharma
  • The Summer Guest by Justin Cronin

I have read and finished Bob Woodward’s RAGE, and it offered more than I wanted to but should know.  Things are worse than they seem.  I followed by watching the new not so fictionalized cable presentation of The Comey Rule and my appetite for facts ignored by the general population gave me indigestion.

My books from Powell Book Store finally arrived by slow boat, but Trust by Susan Choi was disappointing.  I have hopes for Jill McCorkle’s Life After Life, with a review from Elizabeth Berg promising magic.  I could use some.

The Authenticity Project by Claire Pooley is an iBook on my phone, as well as The Secret Book and Scone Society, recommended by a friend.

On my to read list (I still have good intentions):

  1. Monogamy by Sue Miller (on the NYT Sunday Review
  2. The Boy in the Field by Margot Livesey (a favorite author)
  3. The RBG Workout by Bryant Johnson

The Arsonist

9780307594792_p0_v3_s260x420In The Arsonist, Sue Miller connects real fires set by an unknown pyromaniac to the fires that burn within two women – a mother and her daughter – as they struggle to be true to themselves and find home.  Drawn to their own work, Sylvia, a part-time college instructor, and her daughter, Frankie, an Aid worker in Africa, are reluctant to trade independence and self-worth for a shared life in a place neither wants to be – yet they both do – for awhile.  Love, of course, is the great motivator.

Frankie returns to her parent’s rural New England home, after years of working in Africa, trying to decide if she should return to her work or stay away from the country she has adopted.  Her father, a retired college professor, who is showing signs of dementia, continues on a steady decline throughout the story, while her mother, Sylvia, is bristling with the responsibilities she must suddenly assume, and restless over losing her own way in life as she followed the husband she no longer loves.

Frankie meets Bud, the small town newspaper owner/editor, who left the political maelstrom in Washington, D.C. during the Clinton presidency, to assume the more ordered and calm life of the country.  His somnolent reports of high school sports, births and deaths, teas and dances, are suddenly jolted by the fires that destroy the opulent summer houses in the town.  With each new fire, the normally sleepy town becomes restless, with townies pitted against the flatlanders.  The search for the arsonist carries the plot, yet Miller’s observations of human nature are the real story.

Eventually, the arsonist is caught – perhaps.  And, by the end, all the characters’ personal journeys are resolved – somewhat.  The ending might not fit with some readers’ expectations of self-realization for the characters, but I could relate to the unsettled feelings that seemed more realistic than a pat resolution.  Miller leaves the reader wondering about the concept of home.

Read a reviews of another Sue Miller book:   The Lake Shore Limited


from Ann Beattie’s Imagination – Mrs. Pat Nixon

A frequent contributor to The New Yorker, with her own collection of short stories making the best seller list (see the review below), Ann Beattie has imagined Pat Nixon’s life in a fictionalized version of the former first lady’s life and thoughts – Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life – to be published this month.  Not the first time a First Lady has recently been subjected to conjecture:  Laura Bush in Curtis Sittenfeld’s An American Wife, Hilary Clinton in Sue Miller’s The Senator’s Wife.  Monica Ali even resurrected Princess Diana with a new life in Untold Story.

In her article for the New York Times, Me and Mrs. Nixon, Beattie offers her rationale for creating her own scrutiny of Richard Nixon’s wife – a seeming paragon of old-fashioned values, married to a man with no values.  What must have been going on in her head?  How did she manage to fade so effectively into the background – even behind the intensity of her daughters?

Beattie offered a taste of what to expect in her recent excerpt in The New Yorker – Starlight.  The book might be fun to read, but, like others in this genre, it could be hard to remember it’s fiction.

  • Read the review of Ann Beattie – the New Yorker Storieshere

First Sentences from New Books Now in Paperback

If you missed them when they first came out, here are three of my favorites now in paperback.  Does the first sentence draw you in?

Lloyd shoves off the bedcovers and hurries to the front door in white underwear and black socks.

From The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman; check the review here

Major Pettigrew was still upset about the phone call from his brother’s wife and so he answered the door without thinking.

From Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson; check the review here

 Because it was still afternoon, because she was in a strange room, because she was napping rather than sleeping (I’ll just lie down for a bit and see what happens,” she’d told Pierce) – because of all this, she was aware of herself as she dreamed, at some level conscious of working to subvert the dream she was having, to make it come out another way, different from the way it seemed to be headed.

From The Lake Shore Limited by Sue Miller; check the review here

The Lake Shore Limited

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players…

But each player can only guess what the other actors are thinking as they say their lines.   In The Lake Shore Limited, Sue Miller lets us in.

Using a play about a train wreck triggered by terrorists, Miller reveals the play within a play – the lives of the actor, playwright, and audience reflected in the script.   The story opens with the play and keeps returning to it as the real lives of the characters unfold.

At the preview performance of  “The Lake Shore Limited” all the key characters are present: Billy, the playwright, faced with her ambivalence after her lover, Gus, died in a 9/11 plane crash; Leslie, Gus’s sister, struggling with her own identity; Rafe, the lead actor in Billy’s play, whose wife is dieing of ALS; and Sam, introduced to Billy by Leslie as a possible love interest.  What seems more than a little Shakespearean, the theme focuses on how hard it is to figure out what really is important in their lives, and the sacrifices  made to get to that realization.  Throughout, Miller has a knack for delivering dialogue and action that are familiar.

Scenes from 9/11 sneak in, with the desperation of the survivors having to live on and remember. But Miller manages to avoid the trite yet miserable storyline that has been retold before, and dives down another level to explore what happens when wishes, no matter how horrible, come true. The lead in the play wonders if the disaster has actually brought him a reprieve – a feeling echoed in the real lives of the characters in the novel.  As he works through his guilt, betrayal, and epiphany in the play- so do Billy, Sam, Rafe, and Leslie in their lives.

Miller’s attention to detail as she sketches out each one’s inner turmoil,  connection to each other, and worry about how actions are received and perceived is sometimes more than you need.  At times, the story seems to go on forever.  But Miller cleanly connects the dots, and maintains interest with the novel’s organization – flipping back and forth among the voices.   It’s like watching a play, with an interview of each actor backstage, explaining  the motivation – Method acting for real life.

“All’s well that ends well;”  the story finally lands in a happy ending, and the dog has a great role.