Summer Book Reviews: Part 1 of 3

Summertime is always the best of what might be.
— Charles Bowden

There's something exhilarating about summer reading. The days are longer. School's out and there's the freedom to pick what you want to read. It's the season of lazy. Of endless possibility. The books stacked everywhere shouting, Read me next!!

Here's the first wave of summer book reviews:   

THE PISCES by Melissa Broder

Thirty-eight-year-old, Lucy, is trying to finish her doctoral thesis on Sappho when she and her boyfriend break up after eight years. Although the breakup was Lucy’s idea, the boyfriend’s seamless reentry into single life sends Lucy into a tailspin. She moves out to Venice Beach, California to dog sit at her sister’s beach house. After several sloppy and sad hookups with men, Lucy meets a merman (yes, a male mermaid) while sitting on rocks near the ocean. The story of their love affair is juxtaposed with Sappho’s love life and the Greek gods and their myths. It’s a unique narrative. Lucy’s emptiness and her desire to fill it up with (false) attention and devotion is rendered with humor and sadness.    

Favorite line(s): Fill the hole. That was the sad part of Sappho's spaces. Where there had been something beautiful there before, now they were blank. Time erased all. That was the part nobody could handle. Some people tried to shove things in them: their own narratives, biographical crap. I was pretending that nothing had ever been there in the first place, so that I wouldn’t feel the hurt of its absence. I wanted to be immune to time, the pain of it. But pretending didn’t make it so. Everything dissolved. No one really wanted satiety. It was the prospect of satiety—the excitement around the notion that we could ever be satisfied—that kept us going. But if you were ever actually satisfied it wouldn’t be satisfaction. You would just get hungry for something else. The only way to maybe have satisfaction would be to accept the nothingness and not try to put anyone else in it. 


I devoured this book one Tuesday when my own writing was too labor intensive. “An American Marriage” is all about voice. Silenced, wise, preachy, angry, every character seemed written by different authors—that’s how wonderful it was presented on the page. I especially loved the male voices—more impressive since the author is female. Yes, this is a story about a marriage, but more importantly about what to hold onto when you’ve changed either by choice or circumstances. 
And I loved that the ending wasn’t predictable. 

Favorite line(s): Atlanta is where I learned the rules and learned them quick. No one ever called me stupid. But home isn’t where you land; home is where you launch. You can’t pick your home any more than you can choose your family. In poker, you get five cards. Three of them you can swap out, but two are yours to keep: family and native land.

And: I don’t believe that blood makes a family; kin is the circle you create, hands held tight. There is something to shared genetics, but the question is, what exactly is that something? It matters that I didn’t grow up with my father. It’s kind of like having one leg that’s a half inch shorter than the other. You can walk, but there will be a dip.

YOU THINK IT, I’LL SAY IT: Stories by Curtis Sittenfeld

I loved this book! Everything about it. The writing is smart and funny. The characters are quirky and flawed in all the right ways. Finishing it made me want to run out and buy everything Sittenfeld has ever written. I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t read any—and she has quite a few bestsellers. And she’s young and so, so talented. I guess I kind of hate her, maybe? The dialogue in “You Think It, I’ll Say It” is worth the price of the book ($27). Each of the ten stories considers the “extraordinary coincidences that make up a life.” The jacket copy tells us Sittenfeld “writes what we’re all thinking” and she does it with such astonishing aplomb that sneaks up on the reader. There’s the suburban wife in “The World Has Many Butterflies” who imagines, wrongly, that she loves the husband of a friend and he loves her too. And a woman running into an old high school nemesis while both are on their honeymoons and unable to hide from one another in “A Regular Couple.” Or when Sylvia, in “Do-Over,” meets for dinner the high school heartthrob she’s secretly been pining for all these years and ruins the night talking about her anal fissures and the election of Donald Trump. Yes! It’s that amazing.

Favorite line(s): This should read my favorite line(s) where I laughed out loud.

Graham nodded toward another guest and said, “Anne Pyland.” 
“Anne is an interesting case, because every other time I interact with her, I either get a kick out of her or I can’t stand her. So in the end, even though she’s better and worse than most people, she’s average. When she’s in a bad mood, she doesn’t hide it, and I’m not sure if I’m jealous or appalled.”
Again, Graham nodded. "Rob Greffkamp."

"He's wondering how many drinks he needs to consume before he can forget his moral ambivalence about working for Halliburton." From across the room, Rob Greffkamp let loose with boisterous laughter, and Julie added, "And he's optiistic that he's at least halfway there."


TRULY MADLY GUILTY by Liane Moriarty

It’s raining nonstop in the Sydney, Australia suburb where “Truly Madly Guilty” is set. Moriarty teases the reader with hints of a tragedy that occurs at a neighborhood barbeque. The chapters jump back and forth from present time to the day of the barbeque. After the first 200 hundred pages, this reader’s impatience reached critical overload. Just get to IT, I wanted to scream. The story centers on three couples: Clementine and Sam, Erika and Oliver, and the barbeque’s hosts’, Vid and Tiffany. There’s stale marriages, infertility issues, questionable parenting, a mean neighbor and a ton of sexual innuendo. I picked “Truly Madly Guilty” up because I loved, “Big Little Lies.” This novel takes a long time (over 500 pages) to get to the big reveal and the reader has to wade through so much—an upcoming audition, unhappiness at a job, a weird lecture series pertaining to the tragedy, etc.—that by the time the reader finds out what really happened at the barbeque it seems anticlimactic. I loved Erika’s hoarding mother, but she only occupied a small part of the narrative.

Favorite line(s): So this is how it happens, a part of her thought as she rocked and begged. This is what it feels like. You don’t change. There is no special protection when you cross that invisible line from your ordinary life to that parallel world where tragedies happen. It happens just like this. You don’t become someone else. You’re still exactly the same. Everything around you still smells and looks and feels exactly the same.

And: It was interesting that fury and fear could look so much the same.