Summer Book Reviews: 2 of 3
This round of summer reads takes us from New Haven to New York City, Vermont to Tangiers, and to an abandoned house on a dilapidated street in South Buffalo. There is so much to admire in all three of these novels--lovely writing, vivid characters, and interesting stories.
WHITE FUR by Jardine Libaire
This novel hummed with life. Set in New Haven, CT and New York City in the 1980s it felt nostalgic to revisit life before cell phones and social media. Characters listened to radios, stared out windows and up at ceilings and picked up ringing phones attached to kitchen walls. It almost seemed poetic. To think that I actually spent a chunk of my life living in pre-Apple, pre-social media times left me homesick for those simpler times. What isn’t simple is Libaire’s writing. Episodic scenes are brimming with descriptive beauties. For instance, “In her yard, the lawn furniture is draped in snow, like a dead person’s memories.” Or this one, “The room groans like a cruise ship forever changing direction, seeking the sun.” And, “Trash is collected in the bottom of the chain-link fence like spinach in teeth.”
“White Fur” is a love story between Jamey, the rich boy, and Elise, the girl from the projects. No one makes it easy for these two, especially Jamey’s family. And if love stories aren’t your thing I bet you’d like this one. It’s totally unpredictable and refreshing in its underlying sentiments.
Favorite line(s): Sunrise behind them, and they’re passing another town in Iowa. This place a blink of fellowship, people and buildings and animals—folks meandering around this fine morning, sunlight caught in their hair like dewdrops, all believing that where they are is where life begins and ends, even if they know better. The gravity of any location pulls citizens to its heart, organizing people by abstractly spiritual geography.
TANGERINE by Christine Mangan
Told in alternating chapters from characters, Lucy and Alice, “Tangerine” is the story of former college roommates who part after a tragic car accident one snowy evening in Vermont. Set in the 1950s, Lucy spends her life savings to sail across the Atlantic to Africa one year later to reunite with Alice in Tangiers. Shakespeare’s, “What’s past is prologue” sets the tone of the narrative as Lucy tries to convince Alice to leave her husband and travel the world with her. There are sinister characters lurking around the dusty, dirty medinas and alleyways. But none so menacing as the main characters. Who to trust? Who to believe? Joyce Carol Oates in a blurb for the novel wrote, “As if Donna Tartt, Gillian Flynn, and Patricia Highsmith had collaborated on a screenplay to be filmed by Hitchcock.” You decide if she’s right.
Also, as an aside, the characters in this book never eat but drink quite a few gin martinis and hot mint tea.
Favorite line(s): I coveted the easy way she had, and I desired that: her way of being. I wanted it for my own. And there were days when I almost felt it—when, emboldened by her nonchalance at the world that, already, even in my young years, seemed so cruel, I was able to withstand the shadows, the anxiety that so often plagued me. And so there were days when I never wanted to part from her, when I felt that my whole being depended upon my close connection with her. And there were days when I hated her, resenting myself, resenting her, for this reliance, this symbiotic relationship that we had formed—though on the darkest days I wondered whether it really was, whether there was anything that I had to offer her, and whether what she offered me wasn’t more a crutch than a benefit.
THE GUNNERS by Rebecca Kauffman
In a dilapidated neighborhood in south Buffalo the summer before second grade, six kids take over an abandoned house once inhabited by a family named The Gunners. The novel jumps back and forth in time in telling the story of Mikey, Sally, Alice, Lynn, Jimmy, and Sam and their heartbreaking and sometimes funny family lives past and present. After high school, they all go their separate ways but return to their hometown for the funeral of one of the characters. This novel would make a great play since it is strong on dialogue (it zings and soars on the page) and light on description. I loved everything about this book. Narrated by Mikey, who is going blind, “The Gunners” is a beautifully written meditation on secrets and forgiveness, friendships and family. There is a question raised about what someone witnessed that never really is explained but the reader is given enough clues to know what probably happened. Riddled with a multitude of wonderful lines it was hard to pick just one—and one that wouldn’t give away too much of the story.
Favorite line(s): They furnished the main room of The Gunner House with items found on the side of the street: mildewed mattresses, throw pillow with cigarette stains, three-legged patio chairs, eyeless baby dolls, an artificial Christmas tree in such a tangle it took days to reassemble. They hung a flashlight from the center of the ceiling in this room, and it was in here that they invented jokes and games and secret languages, made plans, made trouble, bad-mouthed their parents, played cards, gambled, told stories, plotted against bullies, bickered, made up, luxuriated in boredom, and dreamed for the lives they would one day live, far from Lackawanna.