Just back from vacation, where I could blissfully read, read, read! Found some goodies and then some.
Calypso by David Sedaris
I do a happy dance whenever my favorite writer releases a new set of his hilarious essays, even if I’ve already read a majority of them in The New Yorker. By now, fans have grown accustomed to his family; long-time (often exasperated) partner Hugh, with whom he shares a home in England and his kooky band of siblings who we’ve known pretty much since childhood. (If you’re a novice, start with Naked and read his books chronologically, if audio books are your thing he reads his own, all the better.) Many stories take place at The Sea Section, his recently purchased, long-dreamed of sea side home in his native Georgia, to bring his siblings together for special occasions…so long as he can call the shots and stay in the best room. He also returns to his life in England (there’s a great tale about his “pet” fox), wacky shopping excursions with his siblings in Japan and curious accounts from his wide ranging travels on exhausting book tours. While always witty, a common thread throughout focuses on the much darker issue of his sister’s suicide (Now We Are a Five), and how he and his family are coping. For all his levity, Sedaris is pretty much brutally honest regarding his sister’s mental illness, frustration and abandonment, while still wrestling with unimaginable guilt. As always, he presents an honest, ugly, very funny view of his world.
The Gunners, by Rebecca Kauffman
A coming of age story but, oh, so much more. Told primarily from the POV of Mikey, who’s pretty much been going blind his whole life (hmmm…what else has he been blind to?) who reunites with four friends from childhood, in town for the funeral of Sally, who mysteriously extracted herself from the group in high school and now, ten years later, has jumped off a nearby bridge. The Gunners was the name on the mailbox in front of an abandoned house where these misfits congregated in their youth, goofing off in elementary school and eventually boozing and smoking into their high school years. Living in a blue collar section of Buffalo, NY, all the “Gunners” grew up in ramshackle, often broken homes, together forming a tight bond despite teenage tensions and secrets…many, it turns out, having to do with Sally. The story alternates between flashbacks to these formative years and the present day funeral weekend, where we learn the aches and pains each have endured and survived into adulthood, while they try to make sense of Sally’s sad fate. Although it initially seems that Mikey and Sally had the strongest bond, it becomes apparent each had their own history and carry guilt that they feel contributed to her shunning the group in the end. I truly loved this story and all of these characters and the strength of their childhood friendship that ultimately created this beautiful, unusual family.
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
By the end of this novel I felt like I knew these characters so very well. At the start I thought it would focus primarily on Greer, a college student who, like many young women has strong opinions but is afraid to raise her voice. Best friend, Zee, a lesbian activist, drags her to a lecture by Faith Frank, a famous feminist whose words and image resonate fiercely with Greer, so much so that she seeks out a job opportunity upon graduating. We also get to know Cory, Greer’s long distance boyfriend, the boy next door growing up, whose life and relationship with Greer goes wildly off course when a family tragedy alters his world. Wolitzer takes us deeply into each character’s past and what shaped them, from family dynamics, well into adulthood. Amid the girl power there is also some good old catty deception at play and Wolitzer isn’t afraid to let the men show their vulnerability. A looming question, is doing the right thing for others all that noble if you give up on yourself?