Saturday, April 17, 2021

A Quartet of Beauties ...

 This week I am sharing four of my favorite novels of the 21st century (so far!) with you ...


I don't remember who recommended this book to me (I should keep a list of these things - but, then I'd have to keep a list on my desktop of where the list is being kept, and then - well ... anyway), however, I am so glad they did! I also don't know how this book published twenty years ago escaped my attention; obviously, I wasn't paying attention!

Some authors have the unique gift of writing in a way that makes poverty - especially Great Depression poverty - seem almost beautiful. Truman Capote, Carson McCullers, Toni Morrison were/are all able to create a private, secluded world of hard scrabble and destitution that existed in a bubble of familial love and compassion and comraderie. Joe R. Lansdale, the author of The Bottoms, is that kind of author. Though the characters in this novel are dirt poor and the plot line is squalid and grubby on the surface, the author has put a 'spit shine' on the whole thing and it has sparkle and romance to it that perhaps it doesn't deserve, but, nonetheless it's there and it's a joy to live through. As Tom says in the opening of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, "The stage magician gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion."

The book is a narration by a very elderly man in a nursing home, as he reminisces about his youth in a small town in East Texas. It's a coming of age tale that involves family history and discovery, awareness of Jim Crow racism, violence, rape and alcoholism, and finally a serial killer. Though the serial killer follows the story through the entire book, it is - in no way, shape, or form - a thriller. It's no more a serial killer book than To Kill a Mockingbird is about child abuse. It's a strategic part of the narrator's history - but it's not the focus of the author.

I'm not going to write more about it, because I'm afraid that I will spoil it for anybody who decides to take my prodding recommendation and reads it. This is one terrific book.


Locked down and isolated on a long cold dark winter's afternoon? Have I got a book for you! Tana French's The Searcher was a welcome surprise as my first book of 2021 - and I'm taking it as an omen of good literary things to come in the coming year!

When you get right down to it, the advertising blurb for the book is quite misleading. It reads like an ad for a conventional murder mystery thriller. And, perhaps it is that superficially, but it's so much more than that. There is a murder mystery on which the story is hung; however, the story is one of loneliness, self-redemption, survival and compassion. Cal and Trey and Mort are three loners - all making their way with various degrees of psychological success for different reasons. As the murder mystery unfolds (and, trust me, the thriller part is non existent), they find each other, circle and learn to either trust - or not - each other.

The book is what I believe is called a slow burner ... it definitely has a forward thrust and energy; but, it's not hurried or given to leaps over logic to get to the next chase scene (spoiler: no chase scenes). It kept me completely engaged, but not through the artifice of the murder mystery (which is quite believable in itself). Rather, I found myself wrapped up in the people involved and interested in how each of their personal stories would resolve (or not).

I don't believe this was a best seller or got a lot of press coverage in book reviews which is a shame. It should have more readers who are less partial to pulp genre novels and more prone to books about the human condition. 


One of the most evocative and engrossing books I've read in a long while. If you follow my reviews, you know I rarely give 5-star reviews - to me, a 5-star review signifies an almost perfect book and there are
darned few of those around. This, I found to be one.

I will admit, it took me 50-75 pages to get really intrigued by the premise. There are lots of characters, disparate locations and time eras - and until your mind clicks in on who is who and when and/or where they are living it can be a bit of a challenge to keep up. But, once, all comes together, it's quite easy to bridge the time and geography and protagonists' leaps.

What is is it about? Well, it's about the small things in life: war, love, life, art, ambition, loyalty. In this book, those words are not contranyms. All of these things make up the lives of the people in "The Muse," and yet, they - as major plot points - remain in the background.

What we learn about are the sudden and unimportant joys and the exquisite and ultimate horrors and supreme disappointments of the characters. When first starting the book, I found myself doing what I do in all books - deciding who is good, who is bad, who is suspect, who is possibly dangerous out of ignorance. But by the middle of the book, I cared for each of them. They did not all have "good" traits - but neither did they try to be exploit their bad ones. They simply tried to get through their lives as well as they could.

When reading this book, I would encourage readers not to "think" too much - let the book engulf, encircle, and wash over you. I had figured out who one of the main characters was long before it was revealed in the book - but, I was so wrapped up in the story-telling, it didn't stop me from crying when the author chose to divulge it.

Ms. Burton's "The Miniaturist" was one of my favorite books of 2016. Now, this book, though written in 2002, has become my favorite thus far of 2021

For those able to allow a book to spill over them, rather than race to get through it, I can't recommend it highly enough. Although I have been known to tear up at Folger's Coffee Christmas tv commercials, I'm not really one who is easily brought to tears. This book made me cry several times - not out of sorrow or because something sad happened - simply because the beauty of the language overwhelmed me.

I opened this book with no expectations. As I am a fairly fast reader, I was halfway through it when I realized: whoa! This is something special. Something not to be glossed over. This is something to be savored. So I started over, and read slowly, relishing every delicious word combination and whimsical improbable possibility.

I only wish I had discovered Duchess long before the book was written and I was made aware of her. She is a magical, enchanting, and devilishly clever wordsmith who has the ability to envelope her reader in genuine love and compassion and the care that would come if the reader were one instead of one of thousands.

I can't even begin to say what this book is. It's not a novel. It's not a biography. It's not a roman à clef. It's not a book of humor. It's not a self-help book. It's not a celebrity expose. It's not the story of survival and emotional courage. However, it's all of those things.

If treasures like "Sometimes I tie your words in linen with a little lavender and mint and use them as a poultice for my weary old heart" and "If you find yourself feeling embittered, roll around in a barrel of kosher salt until encrusted, and then set yourself in a collander to drain" or "A lot of people go very Martha Graham when dancing on their enemies' graves. Me, I like flamenco. I want the souls of the dead to feel it" excite and thrill you and make you smile, rush out and get this book!

It's less than 200 can easily read it twice in once sitting. And, when you read it, you will want to read it again!

It wouldn't be fair to complete this without thanking Geri Degruy for recommending this book to me. It is definitely my favorite book of the year thus far!  

¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*´¨)
(¸.•´ (¸.•´) Tristan




1 comment:

Buttercup said...

Four great reviews. Thanks! Right now I'm rereading All the Light We Cannot See for a virtual book group on Monday. I've also got a new Icelandic mystery going that's got me very absorbed, The Darkness Knows. It's not very Buttercup, but I love those dark Scandinavian mysteries. Thanks for all of your comments. So appreciate making a new blog friend.