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.
Towards the middle of my trip, when I got to the section that involved long train/bus rides, I decided to dip into this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I had preordered it back in the week’s before its release, slightly before the book’s buzz had reached epic proportions. Then the buzz continued, and I had a feeling it would win the Pulitzer even though I still hadn’t read it. And then the backlash started: Real™ critics found the book clichéd, and many disdainfully referred to it as a children’s book. Tartt’s treatment of people of color was all wrong. Readers came out of the woodwork to speak up with relief to discover they weren’t the only ones who hated the book. I tentatively skimmed over all of this — the positive buzz, the negative buzz, even descriptions of the book itself — so that I could eventually read the book with fresh eyes, but so much of it was hard to ignore.
The Goldfinch is about thirteen-year-old Theo Decker and a split decision he makes that will shape his future. On one fateful morning, he and his mother pop into The Met to look at a new exhibit, but a bomb goes off and his mother dies in the terrorist attack. By some miracle Theo survives, and in the gory confusion that ensues, he rescues a painting from the ashes — Fabritius’s “The Goldfinch,” which his mother adored — and stumbles back home (in shock and concussed) to wait for her. She never arrives, and when child services discovers that Theo is on his own without any other family to take him in, he’s temporarily placed with the Barbours, a wealthy couple on Park Avenue whose son Theo once went to school with. Because of something that happened in the moments following the explosion, he also comes to know a kindly and distinguished antique furniture restorer. Neither of them know it at the time, but the man will come to play a huge role in Theo’s future.
In 1913, the Jewish-Russian Treynovsky family leaves their country to start a new life abroad. Malka Treynovsky’s mother has family in South Africa, so she knows they’ll have a little help resettling. Malka’s father, however, has other things in mind and tricks the family into moving to America instead. All the rumors of great wealth and opportunity prove false, and the family moves into a tenement on the Lower East Side; their situation is just as dire as it was back in Russia. Everyone in the family, even the youngest children, must bring home money daily if they want to eat.
Little by little, the family falls apart. Malka is run over by a horse and crippled for life; already stretched too thin to take on another burden, her family abandons her. The man who accidentally ran her over, Mr. Dinello, takes her into his Italian Catholic home. It is there that Malka learns the skills that will change her life. Mr. Dinello sells Italian ices on Orchard Street, and Malka grows up learning all about the ice cream business. As she gets older, gets married, and builds her empire, she transforms herself into Lillian Dunkle, The Ice Cream Queen. She and her husband have lucrative patents and franchises, and through sheer determination, little homely, crippled Malka Treynovsky still manages to grow up and endear herself to the American public as a motherly Jewish-Italian icon; she even has her own television show.