Last month I found myself with some unexpected time to read several fiction books that are hard to find a common theme for, but perhaps the common denominator is that they all transport us into another place, culture, or time.
The Removed by Brandon Hobson follows a Cherokee family, the Echotas, as they plan their yearly bonfire remembrance for their son Ray-Ray, who was killed by police at a mall at age 15. Their remaining son struggles with addiction and ignores their calls, escaping to a nightmarish town and the home of an old friend who is up to no good. Daughter Sonia gets herself tangled up in multiple unhealthy relationships with younger men. A mysterious child, Wyatt, who reminds the Echotas so much of Ray-Ray, comes into their lives briefly for foster care. Interspersed is the story of ancestor Tsala, who was killed on the Trail of Tears, and who tries to effect change in the here and now.
Kirkus Reviews states: “Spare, strange, bird-haunted, and mediated by grief, the novel defies its own bleakness as its calls forth a delicate and monumental endurance. A slim yet wise novel boils profound questions down to its final word: “Home.”
Who Is Maud Dixon by Alexandra Andrews
Florence is trying to get ahead in her job in publishing but makes a grave mistake. A new opportunity comes out of nowhere – a position as assistant to a wildly popular but extremely private author, known as Maud Dixon. The two of them travel to Morocco so that Maud can work on research for the setting of her next book. Florence begins to question Maud’s ability as a writer and the progress being made on the book. The two of them go out drinking, and the next day, Florence discovers that Maud has disappeared and presumes she is dead. Is it possible for Florence to assume Maud’s identity, finish to book, and grab the glory and the money? I had to find out!
Kirkus Reviews: “At every diabolical twist and turn, Andrews’ impish sense of humor peeks around the corner to jack up the fun. Terrific characters, vivid settings, and a deliciously dastardly, cunningly constructed plot.”
There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura is the first English translated work by the author who is well known in Japan. The main (unnamed) character is in her thirties, and after experiencing burnout at her former job, returns to live with her parents. She signs on with a temp agency hoping for a stress free job, and begins a series of strange occupations which range from surveillance, to writing ad copy for busses, to sitting in a hut in the woods in a huge park, so vast that many people get lost and need her to find them. Things get more complicated and mysterious as she progresses through the jobs. Just like the small number of other Japanese fiction I have read, I was sorry when this audiobook ended. There’s something peaceful yet oddly fascinating about the mundane details of every day life. See – I cannot describe it. Just give it a try!
Raft of Stars by Andrew Graff is an adventure story that I could not put down. This one really transports the reader to a very different place. ‘Fish’ and ‘Bread’ as they call each other, are 10-year-old summertime friends from very different life situations. Fish is loved, yet has experienced a tragic loss, while Bread has dealt with years of abuse from his father. Fish knows how scared Bread is of his dad, and one evening has the feeling he needs to turn around and check on him after he leaves him at home. A gun goes off, Bread’s father is shot, and the two boys take off on an ill-advised quest to travel many miles through dense forest and by river, supposedly to reach Fish’s father and get help. A new, inexperienced sheriff and Fish’s grandfather set off to find them, while Fish’s mother and a local young woman begin their own search. All sorts of trouble ensues, from thunderstorms to rapids, and finally a deadly waterfall.
Three O’clock in the Morning by Gianrico Carofiglio feels a bit quiet and contemplative in comparison to some of the others on this list, but it still had a lasting effect for me. Due to an epilepsy diagnosis, Antonio’s teen years have been negatively affected by restrictions placed on him by doctors. His father finds him a new specialist located in Marseille. Trips from their home in Italy to see this doctor force the two, who have not been close after a divorce, to spend time together. As Antonio nears adulthood, his doctor who believes he has outgrown the epilepsy, gives one last test: stay up for two days straight to try to trigger a seizure. During that time, father and son explore the city and talk about everything from literature to love, and subsequently learn to love and respect each other. The title is from an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote:
“In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning.”
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
Saving my favorite for last! We meet Klara in the shop where, along with many other Artificial Friends (AFs), she is waiting patiently to be bought and taken home by a child who needs her. Klara is last year’s model, and worries she doesn’t have the features that will attract discerning kids, but Klara has gifts of perception and understanding that are beyond the usual abilities of AFs. Finally Klara is chosen by a very sick girl, and goes go live in a home where the mother’s attitude is puzzling. Slowly, Klara learns the truth about Josie and her late sister. You may feel that Klara is more human than any of the actual humans. The Guardian’s review stated: “People will absolutely love this book, in part because it enacts the way we learn how to love.” Love it I did!