Friday, August 12, 2016

A Few of my Vacation Choices

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

Written by the best selling author of Something Borrowed and Something Blue, this book was a little bit darker, though it did deal with the meaning of friendships and relationships in the same way.  Until the end I enjoyed it, but I found the end very unsatisfying - it just seemed to stop randomly without really wrapping up loose ends (maybe she's already saving things for a sequel?)

The book opens 15 years before the main action when Daniel, the older and much admired brother of Meredith and Josie dies in a car accident.  Fast forward 15 years and Meredith, who dreamed of being an actress, is a married lawyer with a daughter.  She chose the safe path so as not to put her parents through more trauma (they already divorced following Daniel's death).  Meredith is somewhat unhappily married to Daniel's high school best friend - having bonded over their grief.

Josie, always a little wilder than Meredith, is a teacher.  She has not settled down and is decidedly unsettled when a former boyfriend's daughter is placed in her classroom.  She also really wants to have a child and has decided to give up on finding a man and going the sperm donor route.  She thinks she wants an anonymous donor until she gets two offers - one from the last man she decides to meet before getting pregnant, who ends up being a good match, and her long time best friend and male roommate.  At the end she chooses the roommate's sperm with the approval of the boyfriend but we can't help feeling that will lead to no end of problems (which never get discussed when the book abruptly ends).  Josie must also deal with her guilt over the role she thinks she played in the death of her brother - and must resolve that with her now brother in law who also feels the guilt.

Mysteriously Meredith and her mother also long to meet the woman they thought Daniel would have married if he hadn't died.  Eventually the sisters meet him and that does lead to one somewhat uncomfortable though comical scene.

Not the greatest book ever, or even this author's best, but an amusing enough read for a lazy summer day.

As Close to Us as Breathing by Elizabeth Poliner

Coincidentally this book also deals with a family who must cope with the death of a brother in a car accident.  However, I liked this one much better - the characters were far better developed and therefore more interesting.  The book is primarily set in Connecticut in 1948 - at "Bagel Beach" where the Jewish immigrants have cottages.  It is here that Davy is killed by the ice cream truck.  The story is told through the eyes of his older sister, 12-year old Molly.  It jumps back and forth in time to the relevant summer, the present day and anywhere in between.  Molly paints a fascinating picture of the the summers at the beach with her mother, Ada, aunts Vivie and Bec, brothers Davy and Howard, and cousin Nina.  They are joined on the weekends by Molly's father and Vivie's husband, Leo.  Molly even paints a vivid picture of her father's bachelor brother, Nelson, Bec's non-Jewish and married lover and even the driver of the ice cream truck, Sal.

In the present day we learn early on that Molly has inherited Bec's house following her death, and that many of the other characters have also died, but it is only over time that we find out how everyone carried on after that fateful summer.

While there was not a lot of surprise action - we learn about Davy's death, though not the precise play by play, very early.  However, I found myself wanting to continue reading to see what happened to all the characters and how they dealt with the roles they perceived themselves playing in Davy's death.

In addition to an interesting character study it is a great look at Jewish Americans in the immediate post-war period - there are still essentially segregated beaches, they work in traditional jobs like the garment industry, they are very traditional, attending synagogue regularly, and they are just coming to grips with the news of the atrocities in Europe.  They are also suspicious of their Italian, Irish, and other neighbours.

I really recommend this book if you want to dive into the inner workings of a large and complicated family.

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

Given the hype this book received, I set myself up to be disappointed (a la The Goldfinch), however, it turned out that I was pleasantly surprised.  Though none of the characters was nearly as likeable as those described in the previous book, they were no less fascinating.

The premise of the story is that when Mr. Plumb senior died he set up a trust fund for his 4 children, Leo, Melody, Beatrice and Jack to be received when the youngest (Melody) turns thirty.  The kids took to calling it the "nest" - and though it was never intended to make them rich, with wise investment it had grown and each of the siblings had plans for the money.  However, months before they are to receive it, Leo, the eldest, drives while under the influence and causes an accident which severely injures a young waitress.  The kids' mother, who has discretion over the nest, uses it to silence the girl, wanting to avoid scandal for herself and her new husband.

Thus, we get to watch how the siblings deal with not getting access to the money - and the impact it has on their relationships.  We also see Leo try to squirm out of paying them back though each correctly suspects he has money squirrelled away somewhere.  And we see them turn their anger on their rather distant mother for spending their money.

Again not much happens - this is really just a study in family relationships and the impact that money (both found and lost) can have on them.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

This is a new novel by the Australian author who quite cleverly mixes together some romance, family drama and mystery.  In this book we learn very early on that something went terribly wrong when Erika and Oliver, and their friends, Clementine and Sam, go to a barbecue at the home of Erika's neighbours, Vid and Tiffany.  However, I could not guess what exactly had happened (not for lack of trying) and it wasn't revealed until quite late in the book - which meant it was hard to put it down.

In addition to trying to figure out this main story line, there were several others - the strange relationship between Erika and Clementine; Erika's relationship with her mother the hoarder, and with Erika's mother who was a social worker that forced the friendship when the girls were children; Erika and Oliver's difficulty in having children; Clementine's nerves about auditioning for a regular role in the Sydney symphony; the strain whatever happened at the barbecue had on Clementine and Sam's marriage and their relationships with their two children; the fate of the grumpy neighbour who lives on the other side of Vid and Tiffany; the secrets about her past that Tiffany is keeping from Vid and that may come out given current circumstances; and the impact whatever happened at the barbecue had on Vid and Tiffany's 10 year old daughter.

I don't want to reveal much more as it will ruin the suspense.  But, while this is by no means high brow literature, it is well written and definitely kept me interested.

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