As spring finally arrives, I am reflecting on my recently read books, and have been enjoying the pleasure of reading a couple of favorites for the second time. I’m always glad when they are as enjoyable, or even better, the second time around.
Just finished The River Swimmer by Jim Harrison–it is classic Harrison style, a collection of two novellas. I liked the first one, The Land of Unlikeness, best. It is about a sixty year old academic who returns to the family’s Michigan farmhouse to look after his aging mother. It is set near Big Rapids, Michigan where I spent my first year of college and not far from a vacation cabin owned by my parents. The second short novel, The River Swimmer, was a little too imaginative for my taste but full of Harrison’s wit and insight into humanity.
Next was Housekeeping, a well reviewed literary novel written by Marilynne Robinson, and published in 1980. I had read Gilead and Home by the same author. Housekeeping can be described as a quirky story of an unusual family. As it opens, two sisters who had been orphaned upon their mother’s suicide, are being cared for by two elderly aunts who are not up to the task. They await the arrival of the little girls’ transient sister, Sylvia.. When Aunt Sylvia arrives, she takes over ‘housekeeping’ and caring for the nieces, but is hardly competent. Robinson paints a vivid portrait of a home, village, and family going through tough times. Sylvia is mentally ill, and her odd methods of housekeeping have effects on the young girls as they grow up essentially taking care of themselves. It kind of reminded me of Grey Gardens the movie about a reclusive mother and daughter, related to Jackie Kennedy, who lived a reclusive life in a crumbling mansion with numerous cats.
Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan is a ‘re-reading’ of a favorite short novel by one of my favorite authors. O’Nan manages to weave an engrossing story into 146 pages. I was reminded of how much I like this book when I read about it as a favorite of an author who listed favorite books in a recent newspaper interview. I have found that O’Nan’s books stand up well when reading them a second time, and I have not been disappointed. This one is the story of the last day in business for a Red Lobster restaurant in New England. O’Nan who has been called “the bard of the working class”, made me care about the restaurant manager and his ‘family’ of workers, on this last day of business one December.
Flat Water Tuesday by Ron Irwin is due out in June of this year ( I was send an advance copy). It’s about a group of students on the rowing team at a prep school in the east, specifically designed to be a rowing school. Members of the rowing team are deeply affected by the decisions they make. It is dark, yet hopeful at the same time. The story told reflects how making a wrong choice can change lives forever, but still some choose to carry on and live anew. Those who liked Dead Poets Society might want to give this one a try. The writing is excellent, the plot is intriguing, if a bit depressing.
Overdressed, which is subtitled: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, by Elizabeth L. Cline is an expose of the fashion ‘industry’ and gives insight into the world of factory produced clothing which is manufactured around the world in ‘sweatshop’ conditions for low wages. It causes one to stop and think about what and where clothing is purchased and what overseas, cheap production is doing to our economy.
Since one of my favorite Wisconsin authors–Kathleen Ernst–appeared at the local library, I was tempted into re-reading her latest mystery novel set in Door County, Wisconsin. The Light Keeper’s Legacy was much better the second time around because I was better able to picture in my mind the setting and details of the lighthouse after seeing Kathleen’s power point presentation. Kathleen is truly a Wisconsin treasure, and her mysteries set in state parks and historical sites are a great boon to encouraging visitors to the areas. She also writes books for the American Girl series and has written Meet Caroline which is about the newest doll in the collection.
The other “re-read” is The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure–again prompted by Kathleen Ernst because she mentioned, during her presentation, that she loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and that she and her husband are visiting the ‘Laura’ sites. I loved McClure’s book as much or more than the first time I read it. If you’re a ‘Laura’ fan and haven’t read it, you are in for a treat. It’s an enlightening and entertaining romp through ‘Laura World’ and the Little House sites.
Finally, I read The Reserve, by Russell Banks. It is set in the late 1930′s in the Adirondack Mountains at a remote summer enclave which belongs to a wealthy family. There is a love story, a murder mystery and plenty of interesting characterizations. The setting of the book allows the reader a glimpse into the 1930′s and the lifestyles of the rich and those associated with them.