Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

The plot of this one is a little creepy…Ingrid, mother of two young girls and wife of Gil, writes letters to her husband about their life together, places them strategically in his book collection throughout their home, and (apparently) walked into the English surf and drowned herself.  Eleven years later, Gil thinks he sees his wife and is injured as he tries to follow her, so the daughters, now in their early 20s, come to help Gil recuperate. Flora is a flaky art student, with only patchy memories of Ingrid and believes her mother may still be alive, while older sister, Nan, a responsible mid-wife, has clearer memories of a very melancholy Ingrid and thinks she did, indeed, commit suicide, all of which is hashed out at Gil’s bedside. Over the course of the letters, Fuller masterfully creates a complicated, often painful version of their life and marriage together, revealing the muddy, ugly underbelly of two very complicated lives. 

The Stranger In The Woods, the extraordinary story of the last true hermit by Michael Finkel

All I can say is, fascinating!! This is the true account of Christopher Knight, who walked into the Maine woods as a teenager only to be discovered 27 years later, as the middle-aged man who had been robbing a local camp and seasonal cabins for survival for decades. He lived in a tent!! In Maine!! As state trooper Diane Vance says early on, “A week of winter camping here is impressive, a month is unheard of.” Knight became a thing of legend throughout the camp ground stealing only what was useful; food, propane, coolers. Once discovered (clean-shaven in recently stolen blue jeans and Lands End jacket) he is completely honest about his past and crimes, then goes silent. That’s where the author comes in. Journalist Finkel is an outdoorsman who wrote letters and visited Knight in jail and proved the right temperament to earn his trust (to a degree) and peel away some of the layers of his strange story. While getting to know both Knight and the many families he stole from, Finkel maintains a great sense of humor about his subject, “Do you call the police to report that all the D batteries and a Stephen King novel have gone missing?” But to many he burgled, the thefts were no laughing matter, leaving many feeling violated and wondering if a mad man was living among them. Over the years, the camp and residents put up cameras and flood lights, but Knight never left a trace. In confinement, Finkel found him to be a modern day philosopher withstanding a dizzying amount of solitude and suffering. The outcome for Knight is not an easy or comfortable one, and Finkel draws an interesting portrait of the ultimate loner searching for peace.

The Twelve Lives Of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

This will make a great movie. The book starts off with Samuel Hawley giving his daughter, Loo, a gun for her 12th birthday…and she’s thrilled. I point this out because it says a lot about both characters, no-nonsense and tough. The two had been traversing the country for Loo’s entire life, since the (mysterious?) death of her mother, Lily, when she was just a baby. Finally, they settle in Olympus, MA, Lily’s hometown and Loo begins to learn more about her parent’s sketchy past. Chapters of present day Loo coming of age are interspersed with chapters about Harley’s life, told chronologically by the 12 bullet hole scars that riddle his body. Probably no surprise, we find Sam to be pretty much a thug in his early life. Left an orphan in his early teens he becomes a hired gun, always on the move (think hooker w a heart a gold), but yearning for a more stable life after meeting Lily, despite his past demons that keep him constantly looking over his shoulder. The author is so subtle, parceling out pieces of Hawley’s  past while keeping the suspense and tension up during his adventures. I loved the evolving relationship between Hawley and Loo as she grows into a young woman, her acceptance of her flawed family and their love and loyalty to one another.