The Glitch: A Novel by Elisabeth Cohen

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I gazed at the girl. There was something peculiar about her, about meeting her.  My Conch buzzed in an alert pattern. “Say hello,” it said, “To Shelley Stone.”

Shelley Stone has been running Conch from it’s start-up, a company that manufactures a device worn in the ear that gives advice, prompts much like one’s “inner voice” only better! She and her husband Rafe are raising two children, who of course were meant to be geniuses! Four year old Nova sings, plays soccer, is learning Chinese, likes to draw and if she isn’t showing any special gifts, well there is time. At the novel’s beginig she also shows a proclivity for vanishing. Do not be alarmed, this isn’t that sort of tragic story, but in that disappearance so much is evident by Shelley and Rafe’s reactions. Shelley may be a high flying, innovative powerhouse of a woman in a highly competitive tech career but she is completely absent from the present. Unable to find pleasure in anything but working, a worshiper of Mondays, pill popping to keep the energy to stay ahead of…well everything, controlling her entire existence in the world, and ‘planning’ happiness as if it can be ‘scheduled” she is about to meet her young self, in the flesh! Is this a scheme to bring down her technology, her career, her life? Could she really have crossed over into some alternate reality that made it possible to meet herself for a purpose? Maybe she is on the verge of a breakdown. More likely she is losing it and soon there are even bigger problems with the company. Just what is happening, why? Is she to blame?

What made me like this novel so much is daughter Nova, who just by being herself exposes the cracks in Shelley’s life. “Youtubing absense seisures”, that just tickled me! Shelley is clueless when it comes to her kid, forging ahead as if she can ‘will’ her child, as she has willed her great success with Conch, to be a model child. Even youngest, her son Blazer, isn’t free from exposure to a top education with languages and outings. Luckily she has a nanny to help assure her children will have bright futures! This novel is odd, Shelley isn’t the most nurturing woman out there, but isn’t it always more forgivable for a man to be all about his career than a woman? She talks to her children as mini-adults, of course they respond as children will, which is funny. Shelley is modern with a captial M but husband Rafe is sick of innovation, he just wants his wife, more time to be actualy hands on parents and some sleep! She just cannot let go of the hunger for success and wasn’t it Rafe who urged her to take this oppurtunity to begin with?

The Conch is an interesting idea too and not far fetched, come to think of it. There is something creepy about it, as if surrendering control is something so many desire, even if it’s just a voice in your ear or buzzing alerts. The idea that making money, launching a product on time to stay ahead even if it isn’t ready, even if it could be dangerous  is more important than the safety of customers is terrifying. Hmm, like most things we buy.

I often wonder about the person behind the public persona of the most successful people, women and men like Shelley. Surely no one can be that ‘together’ all the time. Oh their poor children, all that pushing and pulling to give birth to their best self! How much sacrifice is worth your sanity, safety? It’s about ‘pressures’ but here is hoping no one’s life veers into her sort of problems. Truthfully, Shelley got on my nerves, she is the sort of person that would have far too much energy in the mornings, Monday through Sunday. I could never abide people who can’t simply relax into a moment. For once it seems the husband (Rafe) has a far better insight into what the family needs. But will Shelley be willing jump off the mountain of success she has built? And then what? What would she do if she didn’t have Conch to consume her every thought? Will  her ‘younger self’ be a revelation, open her eyes to the dirty side of business?

It’s original but not the time trip I expected, still it’s a good read. People certainly go pretty far in this story to succeed, it’s much more manipulation. Motherhood, career, marriage, maybe she should have it all, but it’s not so easy. If only she would see things and people for who they really are, then maybe things would make sense. Maybe failure can be as much the way as success.

This is an advanced readers edition, and it won’t be out until May.

Publication Date: May 22, 2018

Doubleday

 

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Girl Unknown: A Novel by Karen Perry

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But that was when I first felt her shadow falling over me. The first time I felt the ripples of a new presence within my home, like a dye entering water, already changing it’s chemisty.

This is gorgeously written, it somehow manages to encompass how every one is changed by Zoë Barry crashing into Professor David Connolly’s life, claiming to be his daughter. It is not just a game of is she or isn’t she his daughter, it’s a reminder of the deep love he was once consumned by for her mother Linda, a name that burns his wife today. Surely he doesn’t still love her, afterall it’s Caroline who shares his life and that of their beloved children. Can he contain this knowledge until he knows for sure? A daughter! It’s about the existing children and how it could change the very dynamics of their place, the eldest no longer so. The daughter no longer his lone female child. Caroline catches him at his omission, is it a lie when you’re just trying to feel your way to the truth before devastating your family?

Caroline knows what Linda was to David, letting her in will unleash the past and cause rifts in their marriage but just how strong are they to begin with? Just what do you do when doing the right thing exposes your children to danger? What to do when your wife feels stripped of your love, robbed of all the truths she is no longer sure of? Soon, they begin keeping things from each other, looking into Zoë leads to discoveries about instability, but does that mean she can’t be trusted? David is letting the past seduce him, remembering just how alive Linda made him feel, a much less stable love than what he has with Caroline, who feels the distance opening between them. Who wonders how she measures up and is terrified she already knows.

Caroline has made her own mistakes in the marriage, but she is still punishing herself, and maybe this shame makes her susceptible to the manipulation of what is begining to feel like an interloper. Or maybe she is just paranoid, threatened by Zoë’s presence, blooming like a new passion in David, diluting the strength of love that should be reserved for she and their children. Where do the children, Robbie and Holly, rate in this revelation? Both react differently to Zoë, and there will be consequences- maybe fatal ones.

Reader, do you trust Zoë? What of the innocence of children? Do you place your faith in the bonds of marriage? Can a family simply expand to let someone in that may well have been robbed of a father all this time? I really enjoyed this thriller, it overthrew me and I honestly usually figure everything out long before I made sense of this one. What is disturbing is the quiet threat of such a situation. Throw monsters at us, killers, but it’s the possibilities of life altering moments that are far more terrifying than anything monstrous. What’s more disturbing than people who threaten the very life, the precious family you have created?

We soak in thoughts, fears, and hopes of both husband and wife. “All those years spent thinking about Linda, wondering what she might have been like, trying to imagine her- now I felt as if I had finally met her. And I didn’t like her. She unnerved me.”  And David, “Such a death is like a sudden pull in the heart, a brief awakening, and the realization that the lost lover’s life had continued all that time you were apart.” But what will Caroline’s resentment and the giddiness of David’s ‘awakening’ cost the entire family?

I think it’s time to check out more  under this pen name. Written by authors, Paul Perry and Karen Gillece, this is a smoothly written read and I never would have imagined two people wrote it together. Yes, read it!

Publication Date: February 6, 2018

Henry Holt & Company

 

The Immortalists: A Novel by Chloe Benjamin

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Maybe the prophecy did plant inside him like a germ.

Perhaps prophecy is like an infection, if you cling to it, empower it, and give it your lifeblood. The Immortalists is a question and an answer, do you believe or not? Does it make a difference? 1969, New York City and the Gold children (Daniel, Varya, Klara and Simon) seek a mystic to find out what day they will die. Not everyone is promised a long life, and some are far too short to make anything of. Is it self-fulfilling, poisoned by the lies of a fraud, or is it fate that leads the siblings on their paths?

Each siblings embraces their death date and makes life changing decisions, sometimes against logic, sometimes not fully believing yet afraid not to, and builds a life upon it. Actions pull some closer, and divide others. The baby of the family, Simon takes off with Klara to the West Coast, where he lives with the shadow of death chasing him. He knows time isn’t a guarantee, and must give life to his true self. Klara lives and breathes magic, she and Simon are the misfits, out of step with her siblings and the expectations their mother Gertie places upon the “Gold” name. There is madness in her otherworldly ideas, but one thing is certain, she could never plant herself in an average life. Aiding and abetting her brother to shirk duty, both Daniel and Varya point blame in her direction. Daniel is against the rishika’s prediction, as far is he is concerned it’s ludicrous, he has a plan and becomes an army doctor. Order and control is the key, and he knows no one control his fate except for him. Varya seems to be the most retreating of them all, still and waiting and the one with the longest fate, if the ‘foreseer’ is to be trusted. She puts her faith in the future and research into the aging process. She is also the character that felt out of my reach. Maybe because her story is last?

Benjamin did a wonderful job creating siblings who are different from one another. Simon and Klara have the most fire, and the wildest urges. They are somehow present and absent at the same time, fleeting beings. Daniel and Varya are solid rocks, but less alive. The meat of the novel is in the idea of thoughts, the threat of them, the force and power over us as we allow them to guide or sink us. It’s often true we remember the ugly things people say more vividly than we do the kindnesses, not quite the same idea here but the heavy stuff, it can poison or on the flip side, it can push us to greatness! How differently would the lives of the Gold children have been had they never gone to see the mystic? It’s fruitless to entertain the thought as much as it is to wonder at the direction any of our choices take us and yet what an idea to play with! How much power do we put in others hands, when it comes to who we are, what we become whether we cower and give in to the demands and expectations of others or stake our faith carelessly in the whisperings of ‘prophets’ (fraudulent, or genuine)? We can be just as directionless with our free will as we can in grasping at the visions of fortune tellers! I could go on forever and beat this thing to death, but we can be as dangerous as anything we put our faith in. We can let a thought born in our own mind paralyse us, stunt our growth as much as any ‘omen’ can.

All lives are self-fulfilling, in the end, aren’t they?

Throwing caution to the wind, scattering,  grasping every sparkling bit of life one can before your last breath, attempting to correct wrongs, dazzling the world with magic and flirting with the veil between past and presen, or turning to science to give life meaning, the Gold siblings have no idea what they are starting when their curiosity about a fortune-teller has them sneaking out into the night. The ending had me a bit bummed, again- it may well be my lack of bonding with Varya, but I do like it.

A unique novel that manages to be magic realism and yet not. It’s a freshly provocative story about psychic belief and family bonds. I really like this author,  Anatomy of Dreams was a fun book for me too and I can’t  wait to see what she ‘conjures’ next.

Publication Date: January 9, 2018

Penguin Group

G.P. Putnam’s Sons

 

 

The Tree House by Glen Haybittle

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‘Past tense, present tense, future tense- what does it matter? When you reach my age they all become muddled anyway. Differentiating tenses- it’s all just another form of housekeeping.’

Ten-year-olds Max and Ada have created an universe for themselves within a tree house in Paris when the Nazi’s arrive to occupy the country and cause a rupture in their private world. Both are doomed by the happenstance of their birth, Max the product of rape and Ada, Jewish. Nothing touches them in their treehouse, working spells, and giving birth to a pure love affair that will remain with Max for the entirity of his life. No one escapes the ugly realities of the world, as Max and Ada learn, but not even the nightmares a child conjures could ever compare with the horrors of man, the tragedy of a damned future.

Grandson Mark is called to be the keeper of his grandfather’s dark shame, and to join him on a journey to discover the end of his and Ada’s story, which Mark doesn’t fully believe. Then there is Max’s mother, who discarded him like an old coat- a woman he never really knew.  Just what is hidden in her past? His grandfather has always been different, has never really reached out to him before, a strange man who is keeping a mannequin in his garden, living in a shed with scraps like memories tacked the walls, he tells him “If I lose the past I’ll be homeless”. He is terrified of losing memories of Ada, all that he tells her in his mind has been an anchor to this world, as if living for them both. But to forget, no sin would be greater! Mark himself is floating off, unable to face day to day living, breaking out in a cold sweat at the thought of leaving the house, it’s nearly impossible to focus on his grandfather let alone consider helping him on his mission. In the agitated state Mark is in, it would be madness! How can he cross the English Channel, possibly the only and last thing Max will ever ask of him, when he can barely leave the home he lives in?

Both are damned by vanishings in their life. Mark’s in crisis, five years after one poor decision, “It was as if everything I knew about myself was coming to an end.” It cost him more than life on stage, in the spotlight- lead singer in his band. It cost him his beautiful girlfriend, a dancer named Katie. He is living in the ruins of his choice, with a fractured mind but maybe by helping his grandfather resurrect the past, he will find footing in his own future.

I could hear Ada’s heart breaking, there is terrible cruelty in our cowardice. To be damned by choices, seemingly cursed by the history in which we as children have no control over, is devastating. Not knowing is torture, you can imagine all manner of terrible things, but knowing is it’s own fresh hell. Max’s confusion and longing for his mother is as putrid a wound as his betrayal of Ada. Mark has his own shame, caged in himself, refusing to reach out and explain… They are painfully alike, so who a better caretaker of his grandfather’s past than Mark?

Sad to the end!

Publication Date: January 18, 2018

Cheyne Walk

 

Oliver Loving: A Novel by Stefan Merrill Block

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Spooky Action at a Distance:  it wasn’t only your family or the people of your town that were tangled up with you in that vexing physics.

A young man commits an act that sucks Oliver Loving, full of passionate unrequited love for one Rebekkah Sterling, into a black abyss of half existance. The is he, isn’t he there question plagues his family, and haunts the girl he never had the chance to love. His brother, his parents, the community and Rebekkah never truly move on from that tragic November night when a simple dance turned to nightmare. There aren’t enough miles to escape the gravity of Oliver’s bed-bound presence, but is there enough faith for a miracle?

A decade has come and gone, or remained a stillness as Oliver lives in Crockett State Assisted Care Facility, unable to communicate, with no way to determine just how much of his mind is alive. His mother Eve has never given up on him, his father is an absence though just as chained to that bed as his beloved son, his brother Charlie an escapee  living in New York, destined to return when a new medical test promises to be key in contacting Oliver. Will it bring Rebekkah back? Charlie has always known there was more to that ill fated night than she let on. Just what did she know? Why won’t she speak of it?

There is so much sorrow tangled in the before and after. the measure we give time that is just an illusion. The now, it is always now and what comes to pass begins at the same point as it ends. Each character is trapped in a destiny poisoned by choices, small fissures that appeared long before a gunmen chose to take lives. Lingering, so much lingers in this novel. There is devastation for Charlie in the hopeless longing his mother has (her attention riveted on his brother’s lifeless form), in his attempts to be the son Eve needs him to be the one his brother perfected and his father’s decision to absent himself from the family. There is something sickeningly casual in the way his father Jed sinks welcomingly into his dark sorry moods, unable to face work, Oliver, life… Eve has always had to be the solid presence, by default when Jed subtracted himself, and after the tragedy he becomes more phantom than husband and father.

The reader gets the full effect Oliver’s precarious existance has over the town, more importantly over his family and his first serious love, his only love. Just how did Oliver end up where he was that night? What led to the shooting? Secrets refuse to remain silent forever, but just who will reveal everything? How can Oliver possibly be the catalyst to answers, when he lies silent as death? It’s a novel about becoming, and wonder, the sheer wrongness of fates whims and love, always love. It is the whisper of thoughts and scream of actions, the seemingly randomness of terror when it lands upon bystanders. But none of us are bystanders, not really. Existenance isn’t a housebroken animal, an act is never on a leash, love and hatred can both be contagions and cures. I do realize I am running away with my thoughts here. It’s just the sort of book that reminds you there is no such thing as seperate, and yet could Oliver be any further from his loved ones?

This, I think, will be a different book to the old than it is to the young. At the end, I felt release and sorrowful happiness and yet it is not a happy book. What happens is horrific, unjust! I was so sad when I figured out the why of it all but it was beautiful too. People let you down and pull you up. Those in our lives hold on when they should let go and give up when they should fight- how flawed we are. The pause in the trajectory of Oliver’s life, tragedy is such a weak word, but there it is.

Publication Date: January 16, 2018

Flatiron Books

 

 

 

 

 

In Every Moment We Are Still Alive: An Autobiographical Novel by Tom Malmquist

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Livia touches my mouth and nose with hands that remind me of Karin’s testing a piece of fruit for ripeness.

Such a simple line and so painfully brutal knowing the future Tom and Karin envisioned is gone, that Tom is left to raise their infant daughter, Livia in the wake of his beloved’s death. The love of his life taken by leukemia (though taken sounds so mild compared to dead), and the begining of a beautiful love with his child. It’s a tug of war between grief and joy, a universe full of grace and mercilessness in the moments of one man’s life. Forbidden even to give a final kiss goodbye, Tom must find a way to breathe through the abyss of his grief and care for a child alone. At times feeling inept, smothered by loneliness and regrets and falling deeply in love with his child, while fearing that she’d have been better off with him gone and Karin the survivor. What child isn’t better off, to the minds of most, with their mother?

This isn’t pretty, and the writing is bare-faced, just as it should be. I began to feel the absence of his wife, Karin. Tom is a poet, but it seems the poetry is gone. Grief is a barren land, and in the cold, ugly stillness of loss all that’s left is brutal facts, and a child that anchors him with her helpless demands, a child that is both a memory of the woman he lost and a reminder that he cannot fall apart. How does one properly grieve while learning how to be a father, with the shocking reality that he is all his daughter has? As unmarried partners, the process is much more complex including how to prove Livia is his, how to handle the funeral arrangements, how to move forward when your life has gone to pieces. There is cruelty in the expectations, life has taken a bite out of you and now you have to deal with ugly details.

I was expecting pages of weeping, pain. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of pain, but shock more than anything. I think there is a stunted feeling here that expresses the frozen state after tragedy. There is this space you occupy for a while just to survive, and often it’s over the years where the sorrow escapes, like a slow bleed, that you are free to greive- under less watchful eyes, when everyone imagines you’re over it now- as if time dilutes the loss. It doesn’t, not really.

Unlike hollywood dramas, Tom has to ‘show up’ and can’t collapse. This is a take on the reality of everything that remains, everything that has to be dealt with and how life just doesn’t give you the time to feel sorry for yourself. The pain lives in the small thoughts and images, “Livia touches my mouth and nose with hands that remind me of Karin’s testing a piece of fruit for ripeness.”  Such a simple thing to notice, and devastatingly revealing.

Publication Date: January 30, 2018

Melville House Publishing

 

I Wrote This Book Because I Love You: Essays by Tim Kreider

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“I’ve often thought that the single most devastating cyberattack a diabolical anarchic mind could devise would not be on the government, the military, or the financial sector, but simply to simultaneously make every email and text ever sent universally public. It would be like suddenly subtracting the strong nuclear force from the universe: the fabric of society would instantly disintegrate, every marriage, friendship, and business partnership dissolved.Civilizations held together by a fragile wed of tactful phrasing, polite omissions, and benign lies, would sef-destruct….”

Boy and how, talk about chaos, could anything be more devastating to so many of us? Kreider had me laughing, nodding my head and saying ‘yup me too’. His cynicism is refreshing, his humor was a welcome escape from life, which as I  age isn’t always a thing I can muster optimistic enthusiasm about! Who ‘sort of gets married’ to a girl just so they can accompany her on a circus train into Mexico? Tim does! Who falls in love with people who are unavailable, well who doesn’t? “I knew a number of people who had believed themselves, at various times, to be engaged to Annie.”  I’m half in love with the women he’s had in his life myself, hilarious!

He had some ‘groupie action’, being a cartoonist may not be rock star level but hey, you never know,  with one “Elektra Bold” or Zoey, we’re not sure, it wasn’t her real name either. It was his younger days and here he was the ‘normal one’. He needed to be ‘undomesticated’, by a woman extremely free in her sexuality.  You’ll understand when you read his book! He talks about 9/11 and the bond we all had through blood lust, and the madness that followed. I laughed about his protesting, going with his friend who equally dislikes to protest. Not one for chanting “hey hey ho ho”, no matter how serious the subject, I was giggling like a schoolgirl. Not all of us can be wild-eyed revolutionaries, some of us just lack the OOMPH. Not everyone fancies landing in jail over their passionate feelings about the state of the world. Cartoons, there are always funny political cartoons that can be made!

He becomes a cat bachelor against his will, his longest relationship ever! Yes it’s actually funny reading about this bond he shares with his feline. Maybe you have to be a pet person? Against his will, don’t so many loves find us that way, animal and otherwise? Damn you, I wasn’t ready, I didn’t want this! You’re not my type! Worse when you are in love and keep it only in your own head, as Tim is guilty of. Or maybe it’s not love, what the hell do any of us know of love anyway?

Isn’t it beautiful to know humanity is sour, that the entire world is not composed of Pollyannaish types (oh dear, showing my age again)? We can’t all put a ‘positive spin’ on the miserable moments of life, and maybe we Americans are spoiled in being temporarily devastated by silly things but we own it! Don’t most of us take comfort in the fact we aren’t the only ones suffering? Funny how Tim’s searches on google, something so trivial, can let you know you aren’t the only one in the gutter looking up at those stars, maybe too lazy to stand up. Isn’t there beauty in realizing we are all just a hair away from falling apart? No? Searches on the internet beg to differ! As he says “Time will pass without mercy. We will die. It will suck.”  But we can have fun and laugh at ourselves or at Tim in the meantime.

Maybe it’s all psychology, after all, he was once a test subject as an infant thanks to his mother. Maybe we’re all born to either cling or reject? Paired with our opposites, who knows? Whether he is smushing ants or dissecting his relationships, he rips open his brain and spills thoughts all over the reader. Always self-deprecating, honest to an embarrassing fault and too much like all of us, but no way will we admit it, Kreider shares his love-life and more. A talent to watch and not just one for the boys!

Publication Date: February 6 2018

Simon & Schuster