After being introduced to Thrity Umrigar via her last novel, The World We Found, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her latest book (neither could my mom, who promptly swiped my copy). The Story Hour hooks you from the beginning. Lakshmi, an uneducated immigrant woman from Indian who’s trapped in a loveless marriage, narrates her side of this story in broken English. She’s depressed and so desperately lonely that she tries to commit suicide. This event introduces her to the other narrator of the story, Maggie, the psychologist assigned to break through Lakshmi’s stony silence.
It’s a culture shock for Lakshmi, who has never interacted with an African American woman before. Meanwhile, this new assignment is somewhat of an annoyance to Maggie, who feels she was given Lakshmi’s case just because she’s married to a man from India. But the more the two talk to each other, the more each woman begins to change. For the first time in her professional career, Maggie feels like Lakshmi is getting under her skin somehow; she’s more drawn into Lakshmi’s story than she should be as a psychologist. Lakshmi doesn’t fully grasp the concept of therapy even though she knows that Maggie is trying to help her. She goes to Maggie’s house every week because that’s where Maggie’s practice is located, but so for Lakshmi, divulging her life to Maggie during this hour seems more like the beginning of a friendship rather than some kind of treatment.
Inevitably, that doctor-patient wall does come down. And I can’t say much more than that, because STUFF. HAPPENS.
The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna
Publisher/Year: Penguin, 2010
What it is: While he’s on assignment with a colleague, a journalist named Vatanen realizes he’s tired of his life. The two hit a hare while driving down a road in the middle of nowhere, and Vatanen gets out of the car walks into the woods to check on the hare. He finds it, but rather than returning to the car, he prefers to stay on his own and walks off on a year-long journey around Finland with the hare. Meanwhile, his wife and co-workers have no idea where he went.
Why I read it: I was looking for a book by a Finnish author in preparation for my trip. This one won out because it includes a stop in Helsinki, where I had a day-long layover.
What I thought: This is one of those cases of, “It’s not you, it’s me.” This book is an international bestseller. It’s charming and distinctly Scandinavian. But more than anything, this book brought Anton Checkov’s Dead Souls to mind because of the humor and over-the-top scenarios. Mix that in with a small pinch of some Confederacy of the Dunces humor, plus a solid dose of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and you have this book. And the thing is, I liked those first two books — sometimes a lot — but I could only take them in small doses. Same here.
I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections by Nora Ephron
Publisher/Year: Vintage, 2011
Source: Personal copy
What it is: A collection of memoir-ish essays — some of them very very short — about getting older.
Why I read it: I love Nora. She was great. I had this book for a long time and went back and forth on reading it when she passed away, but I ultimately held off. I read this on my flight back to the U.S. this summer.
What I thought: There were some essays in this collection that I really loved, including one that gave an interesting little back story related to When Harry Met Sally. I liked the humor and I’ll admit to liking the name-dropping. But. For such a short book, it pains me that the collection as a whole was so uneven! For every essay I loved, there were one (or two) throwaways that were either kind of pointless or just…dumb. It’s like she had half a solid book and then had to dig around for some filler. And that makes me sad because this was her last book.
Richard and Anne-Laure have been married for seven years and are now living in Paris with their young daughter. Anne-Laure’s friends warned her that something might happen around the seven-year mark, but she never believed it; she’s blindsided to learn that Richard has been having an affair. The discovery comes at an inopportune time for Richard, whose lover has just left him and moved to London with her fiance. Now he’s without his mistress, whom he shamelessly pines for, and without his family; Anne-Laure plays the role of happy wife in public while she figures out the next move, but she wants nothing to do with Richard behind closed doors.
Richard is an artist who has given up edgier art in favor of commercial success, and during his most successful show yet, he sells a painting that he once made for Anne-Laure that captured a special time in their lives. He immediately regrets this decision, although it becomes the catalyst for making him truly understand all that he has to lose. He desperately tries to win Anne-Laure back, but by then it looks like it’s too late: she’s just discovered the actual scope of his affair. It isn’t long before both sides of their family know what Richard has done.
Up until now, I was one of the few bookish people on earth who had never read anything by Rainbow Rowell. Eleanor & Park and Fangirl have been on my to-read lists for what feels like an eternity. Then during Armchair BEA, I was fortunate enough to win the audiobook version of Rowell’s newest novel, Landline, narrated by Rebecca Lowman. Sorry Eleanor & Park and Fangirl…you’ve been bumped yet again!
Unlike those other two novels, Landline skews towards more adult territory. The narrator is Georgie McCool (that is her real name), a woman on the brink of professional success. She and her best friend Seth have finally sold their idea for a television show, but the network wants the pilot and first few scripts right after Christmas. This means that she won’t be able travel to Omaha as planned with her husband and two young daughters to visit her mother-in-law. For her husband, Neal, it’s the last straw. Their marriage has been on shakier ground than Georgie realized, and Neal takes the girls to his mother’s house for the holidays without Georgie.
It’s a terrible wake-up call to Georgie. Without her family around, she can’t seem to function. She finds herself going more and more to her mother’s house, sleeping in her old bedroom and dragging herself to work. While she’s there, constantly trying to get a hold of Neal, she discovers a secret about her old landline phone: it magically allows her to call back in time and talk to the Neal she dated in college.
Earlier this year, I finally caved and signed up for Audible. I’d been eyeing the Claire Dane’s narration of The Handmaid’s Tale since before it was even available for purchase, and I was putting off reading anything by Margaret Atwood until I finally read what’s probably her most famous title. Well. It took me long enough, but I finally got my my introduction to Atwood/Claire Dane’s narration.
The book is set in the dystopian Republic of Gilead — America in the near future — where all of the former government officials have been killed off and a new totalitarian government has taken over. Women, once free to work and do as they pleased, are now living in a twisted theocracy. They all have roles in society, and the handmaid’s role, one of “honor” in this new world, is to breed. Offred — literally, “of Fred,” Fred being the commander she’s been assigned to for now — has lost her mother, husband, and child in the regime change. Her carefree friend from college tried to rebel against the new world order, and Offred has a sickening idea of what became of her and others who can’t or won’t follow orders.