Ever wonder if you're stuck in a rut with your ready? Still reading Tom Clancy even after he's dead? Let me tell you about my rut. Here are three novels I read this summer because of reviews or recommendations. Listen to the jacket flap synopses:
1. THE WORLD WITHOUT YOU by Joshua Henken. An American-Jewish family gathers at their traditional summer home to commemorate the death of a son and brother in Iraq a year earlier. But there are simmering problems. Mom and Dad are considering divorce. The youngest sister is now living an ultra-orthodox life in Israel with her husband and three sons, and the rest of the family tiptoes around their disapproval; one daughter has lived with her boy friend for 10 years and doesn't plan to get married: more silent disapproval. The other sister is desperately trying to get pregnant, even though her husband doesn't care much: more disapproval. And everyone feels unwelcome, unloved, misunderstood, you name it. In other words, the perfect dysfunctional novel. Henken writes with assurance, wit, and understanding, so it's very enjoyable. You get to fool yourself once again and sigh, "Thank God I'm not in THAT family."
2. MAINE by J. Courtney Sullivan. This one takes place in a single month, June, at a family beach retreat on the coast of Maine. It is now owned by the family matriarch Alice, a devout Catholic who has a secret tragedy in her past. Among the dueling and misunderstood visitors are her granddaughter Maggie who is pregnant and solo, Maggie's mother, the black sheep of the family who returns from California to help her daughter, and Anne-Marie, her up-tight daughter-in-law whose marriage is in crisis. A series of confrontations and recriminations ensues, and again we are relieved this is not our family, but we are happy to be willing voyeurs. Anne-Marie is the most fully developed character, a woman who wants to do everything right but manages to disappoint herself and irritate everyone around her. Yes, we all know someone like her...but not in our family.
3. SEATING ARRANGEMENTS by Maggie Shipstead. I enjoyed all three of my "rut" novels, but this one really proved entertaining. It's set in pure Cheever or Louis Auchinloss territory (a great place for readers to be) with near one percenters desperately trying to rise above their neighbors while decrying their larger homes and exclusive clubs while longing for them. Winn Van Meter, a successful Boston money manager, was educated at Harvard, joined and loved the best clubs, and became the snob his father raised him to be. Now Winn is approaching 60 and headed for his summer "cottage" on a fictional island off New England to give his pregnant older daughter away in marriage. His younger daughter is recovering from a romantic breakup and an abortion. Bridesmaids are taking over the house, and Winn is overwhelmed by the feminine. Add to that his growing lust for the sexiest bridesmaid and his desperate groveling to members of the vaunted Pequod club. All of this is fleshed out with wit, a little touch of pathos, a dead whale and a real understanding of the characters' strengths and flaws. The satirical targets, especially during this politcal season, are ripe for easy peeling, but they retain their humanity because we often identify with them.
ENJOY! AND EXPECT MORE DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY NOVELS NEXT SUMMER!