How To Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman (October 2013)

how-to-be-a-good-wife-emma-chapmanChapman has written a novel that reminds me of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper.  I suppose it also reminds me of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones.  It’s quite a good book, I couldn’t put it down.  How To Be a Good Wife is creepy in a slowly oozing sort of way.  It’s not slow, I don’t mean that — it moves along quickly enough.  I just mean it’s scary, but not in the monster jumps out of closet suddenly way.  There is no graphic violence.  There was physical harm in the main character’s past, but it is not described in detail.  The harm is mostly psychological, and it is a harm that is primarily part of the female experience: the roles we play as young women, as wives, as mothers.  The novel is about how hard it can be to be believed, and how quickly our experiences can be trivialized.  There were two junctures in the novel where I thought, “but why aren’t you doing the obvious?!”  But I believe now that the failure of the main character to do some key things to save herself, while not rational, is realistic.  We make choices.  And it’s not always about saving ourselves, when our freedom and vindication and attainment of justice means, for someone else, destruction.  There are many questions that linger after finishing this novel, in the best sense.  I can see this being a great read for book clubs.  Advance Readers Copy provided by BEA.

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Arranged by Catherine McKenzie (2012), And Laughter Fell From the Sky by Jyotsna Sreenivasan (2012)

arranged laughterAfter taking a months-long hiatus to read mass market romances, none of which sufficiently compelled me to write reviews, I’m back —  and able to publicly admit what I’ve been reading.  I’m not sure why I dove head first into arranged marriage as a topic.  But two books from 2012 that I had put on my mental “to read” list, while I debauched my brain with other fare, just happened to be on that subject.  And they are very different from each other.  McKenzie, a Canadian, wrote a novel about two Anglos, frustrated after years of unhappy alliances, choosing on a whim to contact a marriage service.  The writing is quite good, and for those of us who have ever encountered a therapist, the therapy sessions are LOL, and insightful.  A surprise partway through the book piques additional interest.  I now want to read McKenzie’s earlier novel, Spin.    I am just now finishing Sreenivasan’s novel, and I can’t claim to have gobbled it up so thoroughly as Arranged.  Well, I am reading it quickly, it has drawn me in and kept me going, but it’s kind of in spite its problems rather than because of its virtues.  First the virtues:  the story of two Indian Americans from different caste backgrounds living in Ohio, is fascinating.  Whereas Arranged described an ultramodern twist on an ancient tradition, so twisted from the original that it has little in common with any tradition; And Laughter Fell From the Sky illucidates that ancient tradition, albeit with some changes in favor of greater rights for women than existed even just several decades ago.  Equally interesting are the differences among the Indian immigrant characters, whether because of caste, gender, generation, or personality.  It’s probably human nature to think of cultures different from our own as monolithic.  This novel is a good antidote to that sort of thinking.  Now the problems:  Things happen that make you say, OK, that never would have happened in real life.  For realistic fiction, it’s not very realistic — the dialog is off, and often stilted, and coincidences abound.  And I just don’t like the main female character.  With 45 pages to go, maybe she’ll redeem herself.  But I think it’s too late for me and my affections, who find the character so shallow a guppy would suffocate in her personality.  I love the guy.  But why said guy would love the girl is beyond me.  Nonetheless, I have enjoyed the foray into arranged marriage.  Especially since I am safely ensconced in a love marriage of my own.

Comet’s Tale by Steven D. Wolf (Oct 2012)

This memoir is above all about living with a sudden and unexpected disability and chronic pain.  It is almost as fully an account of how much a dog can ease pain and disability, both psychically and practically.  And it is also an illustration of how tragically a change in physical wellness can nearly rip to shreds the health of family relationships.  In the end, “Wolf” and his dog save each other and their family.  I kept thinking throughout the book how easily I or someone I love could get disabled.  “Wolf” was a triathalon athlete at 42 when his condition reared it’s ugly head.  I understand a little better now what being cut down in your prime can mean.  I’ll be looking into long-term disability insurance.  I’m also now in love with greyhounds.  My husband isn’t yet sympathetic, but I think, like “Wolf”, he just needs to meet one, to look into her doe eyes and see the quiet, calm intelligence.  They’re incredible dogs.  At least Comet certainly was.  There were about 40 pages in the middle of the book that I thought could have been more heavily edited.  But the overall read was worth it.  Galley provided by Algonquin Books on NetGalley.com

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