If I'd only known precisely when this was going to happen (my interview with the very thoughtful and thorough Ms. Gamerman of the Wall Street Journal occurred months ago), maybe I would have put up a Potemkin Village post and written something particularly witty. It hasn't been a wit-filled time, though: I'm still recovering from the Most Unforgivable Fight Ever with the Sober Husband and his mother's week-long visit. It's probably just as well I didn't even try.
While I haven't been being witty or particularly productive in any way, I have managed to read some great books lately. Indeed, some of these books were so compelling that I skipped my usual Warcraft playing for a few days.
"The Revenge of the Spellmans" by Lisa Lutz, just out, is brilliant. The third in a series about clumsy, funny Isobel Spellman and her overly intrusive family, whose family business is a detective agency, this book has a sparkling wit. Isobel has pathos and problems, but plenty of Guinness and the vocabulary of a longshoreman keep her barreling along. I loved it.
More seriously, "Lost Paradise" by Kathy Marks was a gripping and disturbing read. Ms. Marks, an Australian journalist, was one of six reporters sent to tiny Pitcairn island to cover the recent landmark sex abuse trials. Cooped up on a island only a few miles wide, inhabited by only 50 residents, Ms. Marks had to face the stares and gibes of the Pitcairners daily, who told her that family problems were best dealt with privately and that she, like all reporters, was a liar. Ms. Marks is made of stern stuff and delves into the history of Pitcairn, settled by some of the Bounty mutineers and their kidnapped Polynesian mates, to derive some disturbing conclusions about how rape and child molestations came to be so prevalent and how the myth of Pitcairn Island as a perfect society came about.
"Beat Until Stiff" by Claire M. Johnson was an engaging and too-short murder story set in the culinary world. I loved the inside look at the upscale food world, which rang very true based on what chefs I know have told me. I also loved Ms. Johnson's heroine, Mary Ryan, and Ms. Johnson's impulse control as an author. There were so many points at which Ms. Johnson could have taken Mary into a more conventional direction, and I appreciated her restraint. I will definitely pick up Ms. Johnson's other works.
"The Senator's Wife" by Sue Miller: Ms. Miller is a deep thinker, indeed, who writes intelligent, lovely prose and creates realistic characters who are flawed but engaging. A couple, who got married and pregnant after barely knowing each other, move next door to the estranged wife of a famous Democratic senator. The younger woman becomes fixated on her older, glamorous neighbor.
"Safer" by Sean Doolittle was a particularly gripping read. I picked it up thinking to read the first chapter and didn't set it down until I'd read at least two hundred pages, and then only because the importunities of the children could not be ignored any longer. An academic couple move from Boston to a small college town in Iowa. After their home was broken into on the day they moved in and the wife was assaulted, the newcomers are warmly welcomed by the community and become involved in the local neighborhood watch. As they are settling in and feeling oddly at home, given how different their sleepy subdivision is from hectic Boston, the husband falls into a feud with one neighbor which begins to escalate. The problem is that his neighbor, a genial man and retired police officer, seems like the sensible and sane one to everyone, and our underemployed, overeducated professor is starting to sound crazy even to his wife when he rants about this.
This reminds me of my feud with the sociopathic contractor building a house near me, and how my own husband kept siding with the tiny psycho against his own wife. The man tried to sabotage my car, and what did my husband do? He returned the evidence to him. It's when you're in a real feud with an unsettled person that you realize that you're alone in a cold, harsh world. Your spouse fades off to the office, pleading the exigencies of work and suggesting that you're the one in the wrong, and you're left alone to seethe and fear for your own personal safety. Anyhow, a brilliant and gripping book which I recommend highly.
And finally, a book which gave me so much unexpected pleasure, "The Elfish Gene" by Mark Barrowcliffe. Who would have thought that a memoir about playing Dungeons and Dragons as an unpopular, bullied adolescent would be so delightful? I loved, loved, loved this book. Mr. Barrowcliffe has a sharp wit and an unbelievably unblinking and immodest ability to chronicle his most embarrassing moments and epic fails, such as how he took to wearing an Elvish cloak (made from polyester) around downtown Coventry until some soccer hooligans threw him into a fountain. Here's how he starts the memoir:
You may consider that you wasted your youth. Perhaps you spent it shooting pool in some smoky hall, locked in your bedroom playing the guitar or just partying hard when you should have been studying.Read, people, read. In a world where sociopathic contractors and work-loving spouses can torment a sensitive soul, where mothers-in-law come to visit just when you're not on speaking terms with your husband, and where you finally get mentioned in your favorite newspaper, but only after Murdoch has dumbed it down and you ended your subscription and no one read it anyway, we have the delights of literature to console us.
That is not a waste. That is not even the beginning of a waste. I'll show you a waste. When others were developing the ability to win a few bucks hustling in a local bar, to lead a singalong at a barbecue or just to speak to the opposite sex, what I got for my endeavours was a wizard with a frost wand.