Attachments: A Novel by Jeff Arch

Like everything else. Sudden or slow, ready or not. Everything ends.

Everything ends, but endings can also be the beginning for new stories or a catalyst for unfinished ones. When the Dean of a boarding school in Pennsylvania is clinging to life, he says two names, those of his former students- Piccolo (Sandy “Pick” Piccolo), and Goodman (Stewart “Goody” Goodman). To his perplexed son Chip, the association between his father and these men, one a local and the other a mystery, is lost on him. He wonders, how two men who haven’t been in his father’s life for decades could now, as grown adults, find his father so important that they would ‘jump out of their lives just because he asked.” It’s a complicated story, one that is full of secrets, betrayals and promises that not even Pick nor Goodman are fully aware of.

In 1972 Pick and Goody become unlikely best friends when they meet at boarding school in Pennsylvania. It also where they both fall in complete and total love with Laura Appleby, who is destined to come between them. The dean has been a strong presence in many students lives, but it is these three who have altered his own future. Laura decides she too will make her way to Mr. Griffin’s deathbed, unsure what it means for her own marriage. When they are all once again together, they will finally face the pain they caused each other and question the cost. Intentions, passion, regrets, it is about the secrets we keep, the paths we chose and what we destroy in the process. It is how we are present and how we disappear when those most precious to us are in need. Each carries the weight of life, for some it is lies of omission, and with sealed lips life goes on until silence becomes transgression. Henry has brought them together, it is time to confront the mountain of time between them to get at the heart of everything that happened.

Henry’s son Chip, at eighteen, is already feeling crushed by the burdensome ache of first love. Now with his father in a hospital barely alive, this new mystery has become a thread, one that if pulled may unravel what he thought he knew about his own dad. Worse, there are things Henry kept from Chip about himself. How does Laura, Goody and Pick fit into his story? How will Chip’s own broken heart help him understand the choices of veritable strangers or teach him about forgiveness and love? Each character’s voice speaks to the reader, getting to the heart of why they did the things they did, as best they themselves can understand. Laura, Pick and Goody’s turmoil about what occurred while they were young has never left them, and without unpacking those feelings openly it has grown into wounds. The tale asks us how we confront possibilities and if we chose to wreck what we have, are we happier in the end? Can there be second chances? Can we be forgiven our youthful mistakes, often made in fear or without malice, ill intent? How do we bridge time? Are we punished for our decisions? The story dips its toes in both past and present, because one cannot exist without the other. These are all the steps that have led them all to a dying man’s bedside.

It was a decent read. Who doesn’t reach a certain age and wonder how things could have been different or regretted the hurt they’ve caused? Secrets grow into beasts out of our control, a sort of snapping animal on a very short chain and you can’t ignore it forever. A tale about endings that have to happen in order for the birth of something new, even if it hurts everyone in the process.

Publication Date: May 11, 2021

SparkPress

The Charmed Wife by Olga Grushin

Ah, but love for a man is nothing like love for a child, it would say in a sly, silky whisper. It is more like the sun that burns bright in your eyes, is it not- and when the sun is gone and you close your eyes, defeated, its afterimage is blackness.

The afterimage of this kind of love is hate.

The Charmed Wife is a fairy tale for adults that is exactly as they were originally meant to be, tales of warning, betrayal, and brutal lessons. What is more brutal then love between a man and woman gone sour? Love when all the charm is gone and the shining sun of the ever after is eclipsed by dark, mean reality? At the start of the novel a mother is telling, yet again, her little girl’s favorite bedtime story, Cinderella. But the beauty of it, the happily ever after, perfect mindless pleasures feel like sour lies on her tongue and hence, the re-telling is born. In this story, hate “tight as a fist” has Cinderella quietly slipping out of bed in search of a witch and a spell. Her husband isn’t the darling Prince she married years ago, No longer can she bear the lies of storytellers, of fools. She is awake, she is painfully awake! She will brave the shadows and all things dark at the crossroads, a place of disorder.

Cinderella has earned her way, she has suffered, but it never is its own reward, suffering. Not for a woman, not even royalty. Where has her patience, her woe gotten her but at a cauldron seeking a spell to rid herself of her husbands anger, control, betrayal? There are no happy endings, there never were. Her marriage was a happy beginning but it has descended into misery, on a nightmarish journey she never would have taken had she known. This evil act though comes at a price, one she truly doesn’t want to agree to, but as all good little girls and women do, she can’t resist obedience. As the reality of her story becomes clear, of all the women who have shared her same dreary fate, she decides to up the ante. She want her beloved hubby dead. No longer is she the beauty that captured his heart, after the children she feels the pinch of exhaustion, the demands of motherhood and sleepless night, the absence Prince Roland, forever off on his travels. Roland, whose attention has been diverted by other women and no longer seems to be the devoted husband.

Here comes her fairy godmother, the meddler. But is she too late to stop the spell? I love the witch and the fairy godmother trying to sway Cinderella’s decisions. One demands she accept her lot and feeds her “placid wisdom” and the other snarls biting retorts about the idiocy of submitting, of closing one’s eyes just to keep peace.

Each character has a story, of wanting knowledge, not just love, to never be the subject of poisonous gossip, for love to be loyal and not betray them even if they one day look like a hag or lose their spark, for children they raise to remember and honor them, and more than anything for the courage to be bold, especially in their defiance. And our modern day storyteller, well maybe she too will realize a few ugly truths about herself in combing through her own ending.

It’s a clever, rich, re-imagined tale that doesn’t put all the blame on Prince Charming, the dope but truly explores generations of unhappy women.

AVAILABLE NOW

Publication Date: January 12 2021

Putnam

Other Fires: A Novel by Lenore H. Gay

He discovered what his body could do, while going out to discover the world. The titillation of almost getting caught doing something bad was irresistible.

This novel tells the story of a marriage already falling apart when, through an accident during a housefire, the husband Phil suffers a head injury and is diagnosed with Capgras syndrome. This delusion leads him to believe his wife is an imposter. Joss is already fighting to be supportive, caring for their two girls, longing for the order of their old life before her husband started accusing her of being the fake Joss, even if he was a liar and a cheat. Certainly Phil was failing his family before the nightmare, bored by the lack of mental stimulation fatherhood in the early years leads to, already reluctant to watch their girls, leaving it all on Joss’s shoulders. Then there is their daughter Terpe, already feeling like a freak at school with a weird name that doesn’t help, certainly a father who seems to be losing his grasp on reality isn’t going to fix her reputation, best she not tell anyone. It’s hurtful and confusing, will Terpe’s daddy ever get better? She is so much her father’s daughter, a scholar in the making. How come he recognizes her just fine, doesn’t think his own children are imposters, if he is suffering from such a syndrome? There doesn’t seem to be logic to his thinking and she’s too smart to let it go. She wants to understand but the adults make no sense!

The fire and it’s cause is a troubling puzzle for Joss, she chews on the reality that it could easily be one of Phil’s women, maybe a spurned lover? From the start she fights herself to be supportive of his strange condition but wants nothing more than to just end it, how can she give her love to the very man she has started to feel hatred and resentment towards? In many ways, his injury is a result of his philandering, forced out of their marital bed, sleeping separately. When she imagines the future, she can’t seem to figure Phil in. Caring for anyone with a serious illness or injury can be trying enough for a stable marriage, but with the added weight of betrayal and now his brutal rejection of her very identity it seems like an insurmountable obstacle. Add the burden of fixing up their home that suffered serious damage, a deadline for her book she has an extension for and won’t meet, she feels like her head will explode. Adam is the electrician hired to work on the wiring, and immediately they take to one another, sharing memories, conversations that stave off the loneliness consuming them both. Adam’s past is a festering wound from when his father physically abused him during childhood and now his mother is causing him worry and grief. His sleep tormented by strange, often frightening dreams and his waking hours a struggle to stay sober. Joss is an interesting, beautiful woman, one who has him longing, someone so much smarter, richer than him, but does she have her life together?

As Phil struggles with his own fuzzy thoughts, he knows that having their second child led to more responsibilities and demands in his marriage. Why did they have her? Then there is his own childhood that taught him how good lies felt. Who can he trust? Not false Joss, maybe not even his oldest daughter Terpe who could be ‘colluding’ with his fake wife. How can he trust himself, with his mind all over the place? It is the woman who visits him that has him remembering what he was up to before the accident, that has him recalling just when his real wife disappeared and the imposter took over. Does he really want to go back to that home, to a woman who isn’t his wife? Could there be a better solution?

Terpe is forced to deal with grown up situations when she sneaks in to see her father at the rehabilitation center, from then on her mother can no longer protect her from all the lies in their little family. Both her parents seem to be acting out and Terpe hates it! She is sick of being at the neighbors alongside her little sister, no one thinks she understands anything just because she is a kid, but she sees so much more than they know. That Terpe loved her daddy so much is interesting considering her didn’t put much time in, isn’t that part of Joss’s complaint? Then again, children try so hard with the parent who is often disengaged.

Will this family ever be able to overcome all their troubles, will Phil ever recover from his strange condition?

I like Terpe, she is the reason I kept reading. I wish Phil and Joss’s interactions went further, deeper. It was a great idea, that the husband who has been keeping his own secrets, faking it in his own way and an adept liar gets injured and accuses his wife of being an imposter- that could have gone so many ways. Who wouldn’t find it infuriating, struggle with the morality of it all? How can you just walk away when your spouse needs you, despite whether they deserve your help based on betrayal. I liked it, but mostly because I wanted to see how it ended for Terpe. I liked the ending but it would have been far more riveting had there been more confrontations between the spouses.

Published October 20, 2020

She Writes Press

The Harpy: A Novel by Megan Hunter

If anyone ever finds out, I know what they will conclude: I am an awful person. I am an awful person, and they- the finder- are a good person.

Can a person ever come out even in trying level the scars of love? Can you transfer the boundless emotional pain your beloved has caused you through their flesh? Before the knowledge of her husband Jake’s betrayal, Lucy spends her days caring for her two sons and being absorbed into their home like a second skin. It’s a peaceful afternoon, caught up in the routine of preparing her children their after-school snacks and starting dinner when the ringing phone jars her out of her thoughts. On the other end, David Holmes reveals to her that her husband Jake is sleeping with Vanessa. Vanessa… a much older woman, shocking to imagine, working in the same department at the university as Jake but “he was just being nice”, helping her settle in, that was the story if there was ever a flare of jealousy. Vanessa, so far removed from Lucy and her youthful, inelegant existence-how could he possibly… and with her!

Jake is tearfully sorry, ashamed, earnest in his bid for forgiveness and willing to do anything, never imaging how far Lucy will go. At the heart of her rage lives the harpy. It is monstrous, this pain! This isn’t how she imagined her life to be, becoming a sad woman, a joke. Will three times be enough(the agreed upon terms), three times he will submit to punishment? Could this be enough to move on, this ‘slip’ of Jake’s something they can bury in the past, that can one day mean nothing in the grand scheme of their life?

When another humiliation tears the scab in Lucy’s heart, it is a bone she isn’t content to chew. It is an explosion in her brain imaging the intimacy between Jake and his lover, thinking of the piles of lies. Jake will submit to one more hurt, one more time, and it is final. “She still thinks she knows what she is doing”. This is a painful story, the beast that burrows into marriage, as mean as a demon. How we contort ourselves in an attempt to repair what we ourselves have pulverized. How the victim becomes the perpetrator, as if betrayal can be erased by balancing out wrongs.

It is shocking to the end but the depth of the novel is the dissection of marriage itself. Marriage is a wasting disease, once malignancy sets in, be it other people or ourselves. It is a dangerous game to play, dishing out blame and punishment, because we have to factor our own brutality into the advances we make. Lucy is in control of the game, but maybe not herself. She is a woman scorned, hell hath no fury is hyperbole, put into action revenge is often misconceived. Oh this novel, it dredges the ugliest depths of pain and gives birth to the monster within. I felt for Lucy and was ashamed of what she starts to become. Jake is only human, with all the weakness that entails, someone you can resent and sympathize with- that is the real world. In love, it isn’t always easy to define who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong’, it’s far messier than that.

Definitely add this novel to your reading list and it must be noted that the cover is wonderful and fitting.

Publication Date: November 3, 2020

Grove Atlantic

Grove Press

The Dazzling Truth: A Novel by Helen Cullen

You never have to lose anything, or anyone, ” she often said, “if you just change the way you look at them.”

The Moone’s first meet in 1978 when both are students at Trinity College in Dublin. The thing Murtagh notices initially is Maeve’s tomato-red suede platforms, her beauty, her low pitched whine and her American accent. He doesn’t realize it yet, but this woman from Brooklyn is fated to be his wife. An actress on scholarship for the summer is about to fall for Murtagh, future potter studying ceramics, and her future husband. Something about the man softens her rough edges, and he has no idea how much she has endured just to get to where she is now standing. In short time, Maeve decides not to return to America, to make a go of schooling at Trinity for her final year and to invest her heart in Murtagh. It is the first time she has been free of her former self, here she can become something other than the troubled girl.

Murtagh would have her even if she were a complex puzzle missing all the vital pieces. He is besotted, even if she seems to push him away, mysteriously. He is going to learn how to love her, he won’t be put off, and it will be trial. Her truth will bond them closer, they will both be better for it.

They were Moones now and a whole new life awaited them.

They make a decision to move to a cottage on the island of Inis Óg, a chance Murtagh would be crazy to pass up. Even if it means Maeve has to alter her plans, so he can have a thriving pottery business. Through it all she sees her dream of the stage fading away, but from the first this cottage feels like home. She refuses to indulge her sorrows, but they do return. The island itself lends a moody atmosphere. She finds an outlet for her creativity, her love of the acting, but will it be enough? Of course Murtagh feels it’s important for her to have something of her own. Years pass…

2005 It’s Christmas Eve and Queen Maeve, as as Murtagh affectionately calls his wife, overseas their family’s many activities and traditions. Their children Nollaig and Siv (girls) and their twin boys Mossy and Dillon, are well tended by their mother who reigns supreme. Maybe it isn’t perfect, but it is a home of love, warmth. This morning as everyone awakens, Murtagh’s wife isn’t on her side of the bed. Surely if she slipped out for a walk, she’d be back by now. His nerves begin to rise as they look for her.

We start at the beginning of their love, and the many trials in between. The family crashes into a wall of grief, but Murtagh’s journey must continue on and his heart alters them all in unpredictable ways. Shaking the foundations of the island and his grown children’s world, his affections give rise to many torments. Maeve may well have had many periods when ‘the crow came to sit on her shoulder’ (I can’t think of a more fitting symbolism for depression) times that stole her focus away from everything in her life, but she knew her family better than they knew themselves, her beloved Murtagh in particular. The children suffer, through no fault of Maeve nor Murtagh’s, how can you lay blame on a disease that most of us don’t understand. It’s the illness, there are times it overtakes despite her best efforts to remain on an even keel. There are good times, there are bad times. ‘These thoughts run relay races in my mind’, and Maeve can’t always master them. Pills aren’t always the answer, so she attempts to expunge these thoughts through her own methods. Sadly, some ‘spells’ last longer than others, and it’s exhausting for her. It’s so exhausting pretending she is fine, hurting those she loves. It’s nothing new, it’s always been a part of her life, the very darkness that worried her parents when she first traveled to Dublin as a young woman.

Other strained relationships make more sense as the novel goes along. The beauty of the story is the hope of love, the refusal to abandon it. Loving people even when darkness descends, selfless love. We can’t cure all that ails us, anymore than we can save those we love from themselves, from their afflictions. But we truly never have to lose people if we can accept them, broken, lost, confused as they may be. Murtagh’s love for Maeve is never in doubt, not even at the end when it changes direction with the wind. It’s heartbreaking, Maeve’s dark crow times, how it affects the entire family and the struggles Murtagh confronts in trying to hold them all together. How he doesn’t always see what is in front of his eyes. It’s not about pity, it’s about one family’s journey. A story of loving differently, and how that challenges us all.

Publication Date: August 18, 2020

Harlequin

Graydon House

What’s Left Of Me Is Yours: A Novel by Stephanie Scott

I was raised by my grandfather, Yoshi Sarashima.

I lived with him in a white house in Meguro, Tokyo.

In the evenings he would read to me.

He told me every story but my own.

This was an unusual, beautifully written, debut novel based on the “wakaresaseya”, which translates to “breaker-upper”. It is a genuine business in Japan that ‘specializes in breaking up relationships by luring a partner into an affair or using incriminating evidence against said partner.’ The Japanese are more likely to retreat from personal unpleasantness and what is more heated than facing a partner you want to leave, whatever your reasons? It is so much easier to force your beloved to set the wheels in motion. When Satō hires Kaitarō “Kai”, a wakaresaseya agent, to seduce his wife Rina he doesn’t imagine that as Kaitarō’s subject she will become more to him than just a thirty-year-old housewife with a penchant for cheesecake. He will have two months to get the job done, collecting evidence that will give Satō the advantage he needs to divorce Rina, who doesn’t believe in it, and win custody of their daughter, Sumiko. Satō requires the agency to make his wife’s desire to leave her marriage so intense that she is willing to sacrifice everything.

The transaction is anything but clean and leaves Sumiko with a life built on the many lies her grandfather, a lawyer she is modeling her own future after, tells her about Rina’s death. Nothing is as he told her, with a phone call from the Ministry of Justice meant for her grandfather a series of questions about her mother’s death arise in her mind. With little answers in her grandfather’s files on her mother, she decides to make her way to the Shinagawa police station and so begins a story of crime and passion.

Rina’s life revolves around motherhood, with little happiness outside of it. When Kaitarō reveals his passion for photography, he has discovered the perfect way to breach her private world. Certainly her own husband isn’t forthcoming with insight into Rina’s heart, knowing and caring so little for her as a person. Rina is filled with the light of Kaitarō’s desire for her, no longer invisible as she was before meeting him. Despite the professional fakery he has mastered, Kaitarō isn’t immune to desire himself, and is finding himself caught in his own trap. Rina’s skill as a photographer, a passion she has hung up on a shelf to focus on marriage and motherhood, burns like a fire within her. Too, she seems to understand things about Kai’s past with a tenderness he has never known. With her, he is ‘slipping back into his own skin’. How dangerous love can be.

As desires of the heart get muddied, Kai begins screwing up his job and the client (Rina’s husband) changes plans. Rina must think like a mother, it all comes down to choices, it always has for her. Everything we do has consequences and it’s not always possible to put an end to what has been set in motion. Machinations always have a domino effect and Sumiko is living proof. The two important man in Rina’s life are deceiving her, and it will end in violence. What is choice? What is love? Does our intent change our ‘sins’? The horrors of the past cannot be erased, the truth will out, but who is the monster? When Sumiko tries to make sense from the traces of her mother’s past and the fleeting memories of her childhood, she uncovers that there is more to the story than just facts. The only solid fact is that she is the collateral.

Sumiko has been haunted by the idea of her mother, for the first time she will see her Rina and her tragic fate through the eyes of a lover, a husband and a father. What remains is what Sumiko herself must live with.

What’s Left Of Me Is Yours is a love story, but not just between Rina and Kai. The protective nature of Sumiko’s grandfather is an ache. In fantasies we always make the correct choices, we push forward with refreshing honesty, we don’t build “cocoons of silence”. The real love is born in the aftermath of appalling tragedy; not all love stories are romantic. This tale was a worm in my heart, beautiful and horrifying. I read the novel months ago and waited to review it closer to the release date and the heavy sorrows still linger. Beautifully written and asks uncomfortable questions about desire, love and family.

Publication Date: June 23, 2020

Doubleday

Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.

A Novel by Joyce Carol Oates

They’d loved mommy the most. Everyone who knew their mommy loved her. Yet it was their father whose respect and admiration they sought, precisely because John Earle McClaren’s respect and admiration were not easy to attain.

I am always blown away by Joyce Carol Oates because of her ability to strip every type of character to the bone. There isn’t a single thing she fails to expose, like an all seeing eye. As a writer, her fiction never lacks verisimilitude. Why do people behave the way they do? In Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars, it’s the influence of the father when he is present and how their lives spin off course when he is gone that alters their roles. In the McClaren family the children have always “contended for the father’s attention”, and it carries on well into adulthood. “Each family occasion was a test of some sort from which you could not exclude yourself”, the pain of trying to measure up to John Earle McClaren “Whitey”, makes the family a battleground of “shifting alliances”. They all suffer a human disaster of sorts, when Whitey witnesses a social injustice, one as a former mayor he would be wrong to ignore. The police don’t know that an important upstanding citizen is before them, things get out of hand. Lying in intensive care, unable to communicate he is left clinging to life, wondering what just hit him.

Clearly an imposing man, Whitey isn’t the character that pulled me in, it is Jessalyn, mother and wife who has never burdened others with her own needs, the woman who has been taken for granted by her husband (who certainly loves her) and their five children. Thom is the “Heir”, the one who knows everything the others don’t, the most like his impressive father who carries the McClaren name well. Virgil is nothing like his successful brother, “maddening” to the other much more responsible, self-sufficient, stubborn siblings. His hippy living infuriates them all, more so when coddled by their mother with whom he shares an easy intimacy. Naturally he fails his father and feels like an outcast among his siblings who resent him something terrible. Sophia is the steady hand, a PH.D. research scientist working on the cure for cancer. Whitey is beyond proud when bragging about this youngest daughter. A woman who seeks the admiration of others. Beverley resents her father’s love of Thom, but remains a ‘sweet suburban mom’, following somewhat in her mother’s shoes with the husband as the head of the family. The well behaved daughter, tirelessly raising children. Lorene is a school principal, a strong woman, someone to be reckoned with who keeps adolescent boys and girls in line, including her nieces and nephews. No longer a doting aunt with the children growing up. Also the sister who always has to be best, come out on top.

After the reading of the will, learning how the estate is to be divided among Whitey’s children and wife, there is turbulence within the family. What they feel they deserve, or don’t has them all reflecting on their father’s decision, and themselves. Equal is not necessarily fair! Every single one of them is falling apart without the eye of the father to fill their lives with expectations, as if he was their polestar. Jessalyn’s purpose has changed, without her beloved to tend to she is lost. It is a shock when she becomes involved with a man, exposing a class divide. Before Hugo comes a mangy, squint eyed tomcat first to steal her attention, no review is complete without mentioning Mack the Knife. The cat who makes them all question their mother’s sanity. Jessalyn is no longer wallpaper, she is suddenly behaving in a manner surely their father wouldn’t have approved of, and his will is proof he knew best how to manage her, to care for her when she obviously hadn’t a clue. Right? She is slipping, but it is this slow unraveling that helps her find her spine, that thing her daughters doubt she has.

The McClaren family is a wreck, but it’s as if through their father’s death they finally have permission to discover who they really are. It gets ugly, they have soaked in suppression for too long, living with the roles their father’s keen insight gave them. Whitey was a loving father but not everyone can live in the world the way he did, trail blazing with endless confidence as your fire. Where did that burning ambition and confidence get him in the end?

How the children react to their mother behaving as a woman, a sexual being, instead of a kept pet is painfully realistic. How do we survive our families, or without them? I could talk about this novel forever, the family dynamics alone bring up many topics. Jessalyn, what a fascinating story-line, I think many readers will recognize their own mother, or themselves in this tale. How different we are around our family, you want to know how resentments are born, how self-esteem sinks or an overabundance of confidence, misplaces pride, jealousies- here you go! I read this book months ago and wanted to wait closer to release date, and I am still thinking about it a. I know reading Joyce Carol Oates is an investment of time but I never put the book down without feeling like I just survived something. Whoa!

Publication Date: June 9, 2020

Harper Collins

Ecco

It Is Wood, It Is Stone: A Novel by Gabriella Burnham

This trip felt like a series of fever dreams from the start.

The University of São Paulo has offered Dennis a yearlong teaching residency in their history department. Bursting with excitement, sure this incredible opportunity could be the change he and his wife Linda need, Dennis is already decided, he just has to urge her to agree. The ‘happy news’ arrives at a time when Linda is feeling unmoored, knowing things must change, hungry to flee the stagnation of her life but is the place where Dennis had studied as a teenager really what she wants? It takes her a week, but she agrees to leave America for Brazil. Seven years married and Linda is floundering, São Paulo doesn’t feel right, she now finds herself dissolving into the stillness of her days. Having a live in maid is more of a disturbance in the atmosphere, the woman far more familiar and comfortable in the apartment than Linda. What is one to do with a maid? Linda and Dennis are not the sort of people to need one and if Marta is cooking, cleaning, and doing all the laundry then what is left for Linda to occupy her time? Where is her purpose?

Back home Linda’s world was shrinking, buried under losses like her career, friends and worse, the death of a loved one. Overwhelmed by memories of a past that has fled, she no longer felt present in her own body. Toying with the possibility of a clean break, she was already contemplating escape from this life that no longer felt like her own, even if it meant abandoning her marriage. But could she live without her center, Dennis? The job in Brazil can either be their salvation or the final straw for their marriage, and Dennis doesn’t even know it.

The discomfort of Marta in her home only makes Linda feel useless, her attempts at luring her into conversation, companionship are defeated. The help has their purpose, their routine, their place and Linda needs to embrace her own. Soon, fighting over territory in the home is pointless, Dennis is absorbed in his career and friendships at the university leaving Linda staring into an abyss of time. There is nothing for it but to journey outside their home and it is in her wanderings, her escape that Linda sees the woman, “I felt I already knew everything about her, as though I had imagined it all before.” Celia, who says her home is ‘the theater’.

Intimacy is immediate, Linda confides the truth about her feelings for Dennis, her earlier desire to end things before their move to São Paulo. It is erotic for ‘the shape she has taken’ to be understood by another. In Celia’s electric presence Linda’s skin is alive, her passions revived. This vibrant artist will show her the real São Paulo and encourage Linda to go mad. Without Dennis and his solid presence, it is Celia she turns to and whose life she gets drunk on. Celia resuscitates every cell of Linda’s being.

Marta is more affected by the people she works for than Celia realizes. Marta truly is the ‘vigilant eye’. Linda begins to learn the way of things in meeting the Provost and his wife Melinda, particularly how she should be behaving toward her maid. Instead of falling in step with the couple, she feels a further distance opening between the world Dennis is immersing himself in and their love. Their marriage will suffer.

The most interesting, layered relationship though is born between Marta and Linda. I began the novel feeling Marta wasn’t ever going to pique my interest, then her character emerged and I fell in love with her, longed for her story and Burnham delivered. Her past is the richest by far and I do not want to give away any of her tragedies in my review. Linda moved me too, when she first arrives she is detached, Dennis doesn’t even notice until she finds things to occupy her that exclude him. A familiar mistake between lovers who have been together a long time, a severing, a disconnect from seeing your beloved as more than just your partner. Gabriella Burnham’s debut is about the fault lines in not only a marriage and self but in a country, family and the classes. What happens when you lose all versions of yourself? Or like Marta, when your life is steered by the color of your skin, what others feel you deserve? No one understands love as deeply as Marta in this novel, and all the pain that comes with sacrifice. Marta and Linda collide and it’s what they both needed.

Gorgeous, yes read it!

Publication Date: July 28, 2020

Random House

One World

The Girl with the Louding Voice: A Novel by Abi Daré

50214741._SX318_SY475_

But I don’t want to born anything now. How will a girl like me born childrens? Why I fill up the world with sad childrens that are not having a chance to go to school? Why make the world to be one big, sad, silent place because all the childrens not having a voice?

Adunni’s mother once told her that an education is the only way for a Nigerian girl to have a ‘louding voice’. Without an education, a woman cannot speak up for herself, will never be able to support a life of her own, nor have any say at all in what happens to her body, mind and soul. After the worst day of Adunni’s life, schooling is a long forgotten dream and all hopes die. It is after a tragic loss that her father demands Adunni be a dutiful daughter and become a third wife to a much older man, the taxi driver Morufu. This is the only way she can save her family when her father cannot afford the rent anymore, bad enough he couldn’t afford to let her continue her education, but a threat looms and he could lose the roof over their heads. As a daughter, her bride-price will be enough to pay the community rent so that her brother Kayus and father won’t be kicked out. But in forcing Adunni, only fourteen years old, to marry an old fool- he is breaking a promise to her mother. She must do as she’s told, never in a million years would she see her father and little brother homeless, hungry.

Just like that she is married off and slaving away as a third wife, hated by the first, Labake. Her welcome isn’t warm, it is a cold threat, “When I finish with you in this house, you will curse the day your mother born you…”  To first wife, Adunni is a husband snatcher, there to birth him children and try to replace her. What good is a woman if she isn’t fertile? Yet, this isn’t the worst of what Adunni will suffer through. She will do her time in Morufu’s house, where he is king to long suffering women who provide him with useless daughters. She learns fast just what it means for a man to have the devil inside of him. Obey, or there will be beatings. If she runs away, then what will that mean for her family who are now well fed? Her husband is, after-all, considered a rich man in his village- who else has two cars?

Running away isn’t necessarily the road to salvation. A girl with nothing is reliant on the kindness of strangers and too easily fooled into situations as bad as the ones she escaped from. Ignorance and youth make it impossible to navigate the brutality of those who would use it to their advantage. It is a crime to run, therefore what other choice is there than to bow your head in respect, work your fingers to the bone and endure, endure all manner of abuse, endure others taking their cut from your servitude? If the man of the house comes sniffing around, you do your best to hide. Sexual advances are the least she has to fear! Sometimes it is the women who are the biggest monsters. Take your beatings, do your duty even though it will never be good enough, even though the woman of the house will take her heartbreak out on you.

Through her suffering, Adunni also uncovers the horrible stories of the girls who have walked this exact path before her. Despite the violence, Adunni remains steadfast that she must do everything in her power to find her louding voice. This requires outwitting those who have all the power, and pushing herself despite her exhaustion, fear, and the constant reminder that she is nothing and never will be. She mustn’t believe what the others tell her, that it’s best to accept her station in life and stop her flights of fancy, imaging she could ever be more than a workhorse for others. She must remember her mothers dream for her, and use her words as a guiding light in these darkest of times.

This novel is painful because it sheds light on what is happening in other countries. Girls are trafficked and forced into modern day slavery, a female child a commodity when one can’t afford to feed their other children, especially the male children. Daughters are sold to afford a better life for everyone else, and this is modern times! We take for granted the luxury of an education at it’s most elementary level. We fear having the opportunity to send our children to college, imagine not having the money for basic schooling. In this novel, Morufu’s hunger for an heir exposes how women are always the ‘curse’, the ‘failure’. His first wife’s animosity is a matter of her being ‘not right in the head’, to Morufu’s way of thinking, yet what drove her to rage, madness? Imagine the demands, the crushing weight of the pain all three wives endure, all because of old beliefs. A devil inside of him, indeed.

There is hope for Adunni through a sisterhood bond but other girls aren’t so lucky. It’s eye opening. It is a relief to know the freedoms of the Western World and yet trafficking of human beings happens here too so I am not getting on some high horse. Village life in Nigeria for Adunni is certainly not like our modern ways and superstitions still run rampant. Sacrificing goats in the hopes of birthing a son, killed for loving someone who was forced to marry another, marrying girls to old men so they can use their burgeoning fertility and have sons… it can feel like the dark ages, yet it is reality for many. Disposable girls, buried futures… but Adunni may just find her voice!

Publication Date: February 4, 2020

Penguin Group

Dutton

 

 

 

Indelicacy: A Novel by Amina Cain

45892263.jpg

“You’re different from when I last saw you,” she said.

“I married someone rich. Is that what you mean?”

She nodded. “It agrees with you.”

Vitória has been working since she was a child of twelve years old, years spent earning her keep, working her hands raw. Now a cleaner in an art museum alongside her friend Antoinette, she yearns for the freedom to think, write, exist for more than tidying up after the rest of the world. They spend their days dreaming of a time when Vitória can write and Antoinette will finally have a man to love, though sadly she is sure if she is lucky enough to marry her suitor will be dirt poor. Despite her ragtag life, Vitória finds pleasure in the small things, like the luxury of simply reading a book before bed at night. She has never felt she deserved anything, and even after her luck turns and she marries into wealth and comfort, she still imagines she is better fit to scrub the museum floors than peruse it’s paintings. She is too ashamed to face Antoinette, embarrassed by the easy wealth- after all, marriage was always her friend’s dream, not hers!

Through marriage she tries on being someone else, with creature comforts and time on her hands, will her writing unfurl? If it’s not love, then maybe rescue is enough. She will soon learn there are many ways a woman can be confined. She is much like a bug trapped in a jar, despite her windfall of luck. She finds time just as demanding, but now it’s about entertaining guests, decorating herself in the finest dresses and jewelry (a far cry from the ugly things she and Antoinette so hated). Struggling now with her husbands lack of faith in her intelligence, missing her dear friend she didn’t even say goodbye to, suspicious of the maid Solange who makes her feel like an impostor in her new life (there is no sisterhood bonding to be had there), the dream isn’t quite as she imagined. She enjoys the lovemaking, despite not being in love but is it enough? Vitória knows all too well what many women in her former life would give to be in her shoes. But would they too be as disturbed to learn pretty, expensive shoes pinch?

She is free, but has to ask her husband for everything, much like a spoiled child. She turns to dancing classes trying to flow with her new life. Luxury starts to feel so good, something to sink into and yet happiness eludes her still. She gets inventive in the bedroom and she tries to think of ways to become more worldly, to fit better into her husband’s world. After a time she finds her friend Antoinette again, which gets her thinking more about what she truly desires. So the cogs of her mind begin turning, is this the house she should be in or is there something else out there?

This is a novel about class which affords one opportunity or not. It is an exploration of desire, hope, and the chains of dreams. What does it take to get where you want to be? It’s distasteful to imagine someone marrying without love in their heart, but what if it’s a means to escape drudgery, poverty and hope to better your life? Is it really so shocking Vitória would prefer marrying a rich man over scrubbing floors and living with the threat of the streets nipping at her heels? Yet, gilded cages have their trappings too. It’s an old story. In both lives, she is looking for escape yet it should be easier with a full belly and money. The feminist theme swims throughout the chapters, she doesn’t feel she deserves a good turn, her writing is silly to her husband (what gravity could there be in her words, this slip of a thing, a poor, little female he rescued), that in a privileged life there is still a role to dress for, expectations and the sexual exploration (goes without saying). The shame, the shame for grabbing whatever she could.

I think the struggle I had was connecting with Vitória, I liked her friend Antoinette better. I think Vitória was distant which is strange because if I were to connect with any woman in this novel it should have been her. I actually would have liked more of Solange’s story, but it’s still well written. I liked it but the only fable, to my mind, was how fast the marriage happened.

Publication Date: Febraury 11, 2020

Farrar, Straus and Giroux