Monthly Archives: June 2011

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

More a series of short stories than a novel, this work by Elizabeth Strout uses vignettes to bring to life the town of Crosby, Maine.  Olive Kitteridge is a retired math teacher married to Henry, a retired pharmacist.  Her relationship with her son, Christopher, is complicated.   Olive is a woman of strong opinions who speaks her mind.  Her life has its share of sorrows, as do those of the other townspeople featured in the various chapters.  Though she isn’t always likable, Olive is nonetheless entirely genuine.  Elizabeth Strout has done a remarkable job of bringing Olive to life, while also ably exploring themes of infidelity, suicide, grief, and the possibility of growth.  Not your typical novel, but well worth reading.

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

Another interesting glimpse into the past from Tracy Chevalier.  An unlikely friendship between middle-class spinster Elizabeth Philpot and working-class Mary Anning forms through a shared love of the hunt for and defining of fossils found in and around an English seaside town.  The remarkable creatures are as much Elizabeth and Mary as are the fossils they find.  An enjoyable read from the author of Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis

Set in affluent Los Angeles, it is a raw and powerful portrayal of a generation of young people who have experienced sex, drugs and disaffection at too early an age.  Clay, coming home to Los Angeles for Christmas vacation following his first semester at an Eastern college, tries to make sense of the life he left behind.   Clay’s holiday turns into a dizzying spiral of desperation that takes him through the rich suburban homes, the relentless parties, the seedy bars, and glitzy rock clubs.   A shocking coming-of-age novel about the casual nihilism that comes with youth and money, Less Than Zero marked the stunning debut of the first voice of a new generation, Bret Easton Ellis.   It was also adapted into a movie in 1987, starring Andrew McCarthy, Robert Downey Jr., Jami Gertz, and James Spader.

Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis

Bret Easton Ellis’ debut, Less Than Zero, is one of the signal novels of the last thirty years, and he now follows those infamous teenagers into an even more desperate middle age.  Clay, a successful screenwriter, has returned from New York to Los Angelos to help cast his new movie, and he’s soon drifting through a long-familiar circle.  Clay’s demons emerge once he meets a gorgeous young actress determined to win a role in his movie.  When his life careens completely out of control, he has no choice but to plumb the darkest recesses of his character and come to terms with his proclivity for betrayal.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Dr. Marina Singh is a pharmaceutical researcher with a firm that is seeking a potentially lucrative answer to extending women’s fertility. When a cryptic note arrives from South America, announcing the death of a colleague, Marina is sent to the sweltering Amazon jungle to investigate.  Her meeting there with 73-year-old, pregnant, Dr. Annick Swenson, Marina’s former mentor and hero, leads to insights that a sterile lab would never provide.   Ms. Patchett  captures the chaos of the jungle in her prose, but the heart of the story lies in the conflict between the pharmaceutical company’s desire for profit and the morality of developing a drug that could have profound negative effects.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

The Bigtree family can no longer continue to operate their aging Florida theme-park, Swamplandia!, when their mother, alligator-wrestling star Hilola Bigtree, dies. Twelve-year-old Ava dreams of saving the park with an alligator show of her own.  Instead, she finds herself abandoned as each remaining member of the family drifts, one-by-one, away from the park.  Ava’s Ouija board-obsessed sister Osceola is the last to leave, off to elope with a boyfriend she claims is a ghost.  Ava sets out into the swampy Everglades to rescue Osceola in a poignant coming-of-age journey.  Full of compelling characters and rich descriptions of the Everglades, Swamplandia! is one of those books that stays in the mind long after the final page.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Twilight for grown-ups would be one way to describe this book, but it is so much more: a mysterious 500-year-old manuscript, a forbidden romance, untested magical power,s and the search for the origin of other-worldly speices.  Harkness’s first novel has it all, and I couldn’t put it down.  When I finished reading it, I immediately checked on-line to see if there would be a sequel and was happy to learn the author is hard at work on the next installment.  I can’t wait to see what happens to the characters next!

Elegies For the Brokenhearted by Christie Hodgen

Who are the people you’ll never forget?  For Mary Murphy, there are five:  A skirt-chasing, car-racing uncle with whiskey breath and a three-day beard.  A “walking joke, a sitting duck, a fish in a barrel” named Elwood LePoer.  A dirt-poor college roommate who conceals an unbearable secret.  A failed piano prodigy lost in middle age.  A beautiful mother haunted by her once-great aspirations.  In five quirky elegies to lost friends and relatives, Mary tells us the story of her life.  With a rhythmically unique voice and pitch-perfect wry humor, Christie Hodgen spins an unconventional and moving story about identity, belonging, and family.

I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb

Domminick Birdsey’s entire life has been compromised and constricted by anger and fear, by the paranoid schizophrenic twin brother he both deeply loves and resents, and by the past they shared with their adoptive father, Ray, a spit-and-polish ex-Navy man, and their long suffering mother, Concettina, a timid woman with a harelip that made her shy and self-conscious.  Dominick’s talent for survival comes at an enormous cost, including the break-up of his marriage.  And his talent for survival will be put to the test when Thomas, his paranoid schizophrenic twin, commits an unthinkable act that threatens the tenuous balance of both his and Dominick’s lives.  It’s a deeply moving and thoroughly satisfying novel that brings to light humanity’s deepest needs and fears, our aloneness, our desire for love and acceptance, and our struggle to survive at all costs.