Wendell Berry enjoys the earth and things that grow. He loves the beauty and messiness of small communities. And he prefers the ways of peace. In these he is much like a Hobbit. He is also passionate about keeping things local. Berry writes with these values running through all his works of fiction, and Jayber Crow is no exception. His voice is patient, lyrical, and filled with wagonloads of wisdom. Continue reading
Bernadette Fox is beloved by her 15-year-old daughter, Bee, and despised by the other mothers at Bee’s private school. Her Microsoft-employee husband is a legend at work and is seldom home, though they once had a vibrant relationship. Bernadette, who “does not like people”, has hired a virtual assistant in India to take on the most basic tasks of her life: scheduling dentists appointments, ordering clothing online, and anything else that can be done from a distance. And now her assistant has an even bigger task. Bee has been promised anything she wants if her grades in middle school are top marks, and she has delivered. A trip to Antarctica is the thing nearest and dearest to Bee’s heart, so Bernadette asks her assistant to take care of the details. The assistant agrees. But for someone who does not like to leave home, a trip to Antarctica is an overwhelming thought. And then, Bernadette goes missing. Where is she? How did she disappear? Where did she go? Her husband and daughter are left wondering and grieving. Continue reading
Emerald Torrington’s twentieth birthday is the last day of April, 1912, and a small but elegant dinner party is planned. Nearby, a terrible train accident has occurred, and a horde of rather unsavory survivors of the accident seek shelter at their English country manor, Sterne, interrupting the festivities. The birthday party members are determined to carry on with the dinner even though the passengers need tending to, and nothing seems to go well with either the party or the survivors. The survivors are hungry and tired while the diners endure many disruptions to their plans. Then the night turns stormy, and things become even more disastrous when the youngest and oft forgotten daughter decides that it is the perfect night for her Great Undertaking. Both comical and mysterious, The Uninvited Guests, by Sadie Jones, is a story of fortunes, secrets, and love of many kinds. Continue reading
I first read Garlic and Sapphires quite a few years ago and could hardly put it down. Ruth Reichl was a restaurant critic in the 90′s for the New York Times and before that for the LA Times. But people were starting to recognize her when she went out to dine. The result was better food, better service. While this might be an amazing experience for her, what about the average diner? Would a normal person receive the same kind of meal and treatment? Reichl wanted to rate restaurants for the average reader who looked forward to dining out as a special experience, but she found it difficult to do so. Her solution was to dine out in disguise. In various incarnations, she visited the restaurants she was to review and discovered things about them and herself that sometimes surprised her. Continue reading
British retiree, Harold Fry, has received a note in the mail from a friend he has not spoken to in 20 years. Queenie is dying of cancer and is in hospice care. Harold composes a reply and tells his irritable wife, Maureen, that he is going out to mail the note. When he arrives at the mailbox, he decides that he will walk to the next box instead. But when he arrives at the next one, he keeps walking and thinking. Soon he decides that if he can walk the 500 miles to where Queenie is in the hospital, she will be able to wait and not die. He believes he can heal her by walking to her. So, with nothing except Queenie’s letter and his wallet, Harold begins a pilgrimage of sorts. Along the way, he meets people who call up deep memories and change his life. Meanwhile, Maureen is also at home with her thoughts and memories and having a life-changing experience of her own.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is a thoroughly lovely novel, both heart-rending and joyous. While the central idea that Harold can save his friend by walking to her is absurd and delusional, Joyce paints Harold not as a lunatic but as an older man with many regrets, hurts, and things for which he wants to atone. The characters he meets along the way each call up a memory in Harold that he has buried in a life that he has sought to keep unnoticed. These characters faintly recall Pilgrim’s Progress but take on their own unique purpose and flavor. Meanwhile, his wife, Maureen, is at home waiting. But she has developed a friendship with a neighbor who encourages her to bring her own memories and hurts into the foreground. The journey and the waiting are absorbing and sweet.
I am a better person for having read Joyce’s novel. It is gorgeous in its melding of the ordinary with the bizarre. The characters are rich, and it is impossible not to like Harold. Sympathy grows toward Maureen and her neighbor, too. At the end, I let out a good, long sigh, a sure sign that the finish of a story is satisfying. More than any other novel this fall, I recommend The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It is true
Moose Tracks Ice Cream with Caramel Sauce and Whipped Cream
Make your way through every flavorful step of the journey with Harold.
Coming of age can be a challenge. Now, imagine coming of age as the earth slowly reaches its end. Karen Thompson Walker’s novel, The Age of Miracles, explores the life of Julia, a girl on the cusp of adolescence, on a planet that is rotating more slowly each day. The slowing causes shifts in the earth’s environment that wreak havoc with plant and animal life as well as gravity and time. Days and nights become longer each day, and the world struggles to adjust to a continually changing clock. But Julia is an adolescent in this dying world, and she is not immune to the ordinary trials of her peers in less apocalyptic times. Growing up, love, and humiliation are still a part of life. Ordinary events take on more meaning in this world that is slowly ending. Parental fighting, friendship, first love, and loss all feel simultaneously familiar and foreign as Julia experiences them. Continue reading
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is the story of a Nigerian man of the Ibo people. Okonkwo desires power and status. His father was weak, and he does not want to follow in the footsteps of his father, so he works hard and earns wealth and titles. For many years, Okonkwo is one of the most respected members in his village, but an unintended tragedy forces Okonkwo to leave his village for seven years. While he is with his mother’s people, white Christian missionaries begin evangelizing the land, and some in the tribe convert. When Okonkwo finally returns to his village, he is enraged by what has happened to his people. Continue reading
What does it mean when people want what they want? What does it mean to know the difference between what is right and to actually want what is right? Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter answers these questions with an exquisitely-conceived novel. Film producer, Michael Deane, knows the answer to the first question. He has spent his life pursuing his own wants and appealing to others’ baser instincts to follow their own desires. He has made himself rich by feeding their desires and controlling their lives. In contrast, Pasquale, a humble inn keeper in a relatively unknown town on the Italian coast of the Mediterranean Sea, learns again and again what this second question means. When he was little, Pasquale’s mother told him that the smaller the difference between knowing what is right and wanting to do what is right, the happier he would be. Not fully understanding it until adulthood, Pasquale struggles with this difference. Continue reading
Now, before you embarrass yourself by saying, “Good Lord! Has Linda gone off her rocker and started reading a Christian Erma Bombeck?” let me assure you that I have not, most definitely not. I would sooner have my eyes gouged out and fed to the slithering snakes that inhabit every version of hell I can imagine. While the title of the book may be, in my opinion, a little hokie and misleading, the book itself is beautiful, brilliant, witty, and incisive. Continue reading
Fifteen-year-old Tara disappears in the woods in England one May and is assumed dead when she does not reappear. Twenty years later, Tara returns to her parents home on Christmas Day wearing dark glasses and looking for all the world as though she has not aged. When asked what happened and where she was, Tara responds that she was carried off by magical people into another world she could not return from until the moon, among other things, was in the right place in the sky. Is Tara telling the truth, or has she been traumatized to the point of madness? Continue reading