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.

City of Women by David R. Gillham (Aug 2012)

Image This is a fabulous read.  This is not typical “women’s fiction”, nor is it what I feared I’d find in “WWII fiction”: a story filled with war strategy.  What it is is a beautifully written drama that gives the reader a tangible feel for what aspects of living on the home front in Berlin, emptied of most men, may have been like.  The characters and their moral quandaries are complex, and will appeal to readers not only of historical fiction but of mysteries.  The focus is on women: the dynamics of their relations with one another.  But there are several important male characters, and a romance.  So, really, this is the sort of book that should have broad readership.  Highly recommended.  Advance readers copy provided by Penguin.

Holding Our World Together: Ojibwe Women and the Survival of Community by Brenda J. Child (Feb, 2012)

I’ve been listening to the audio version of this book, and although it has something of an academic bent, I can recommend it for general consumption because it’s essentially a social history and easy to follow. The narration is pleasant and unobtrusive. There is something additionally interesting about hearing Ojibwe names for things spoken, and not just written. After a while I knew what some of the words meant without translation, and that was kind of cool. Some of the history recounted will sound familiar, because it happened to all North American Indian nations: broken treaties, forced relocation, attempted genocide, allotment, extreme poverty. Child gives many anecdotes (I wished there were more statistics; maybe the printed version has tables I missed in the audio) that flesh out these aspects of Ojibwe experience. And she does it without political vitriol or rhetoric. The facts speak for themselves. And there were a few surprises: the cooperative nature of early relations with settlers; what really went on with the push to send Ojibwe children to boarding schools; and the ways gender roles changed after the Federal government got involved in Ojibwe wild rice collection. Speaking of which, all I learned about wild rice and maple sugar collection got me interested enough that I contacted the Ojibwe (http://www.lldrm.org/fisheries/foodsales.html) to find out if I could buy some of their rice and syrup. The book is repetitive in places, and sometimes tries too hard to frame the information within an academic argument. But the book inspired me to reach out beyond it’s paper walls. I’d say that’s a compliment to the author and the eye-opening experience she helps the reader live.

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