Monthly Archives: April 2017

The Devil and Webster by Jean Hanff Korelitz

The best-selling author of Admission returns with another college campus novel.  Naomi Roth is appointed the first female president of Webster College  (a fictitious school, but think NESCAC).  Until her appointment, Naomi was a Webster professor; she is Jewish, a feminist,  a once upon a time protester, and a single mother. Her only daughter attends Webster.  One of Naomi’s first challenges at the college that has moved away from its old money male administrated image is the gathering group of students protesting in the center of campus at what is known as “The Stump.”  Students (including Naomi’s daughter) form a tent city, (a la Occupy Wall Street) and while many are going to class and continuing their studies, the protest grows teeth.  Naomi, ever the educator, believes in discourse and sees this as a teachable moment, so she provides for portable bathrooms and heating stations.  She invites the students to discuss their grievances, but they refuse, much to Naomi’s puzzlement and ultimate frustration.  She learns the protest stems from a favorite African-American professor not earning tenure.  Issues surrounding tenure are confidential, so Naomi cannot share the reasons behind the denial.  The leader of the protesters emerges as Palestinian student Omar Khayal and his profile adds another element to the growing tensions between students and administrators.

While somewhat satirical, The Devil and Webster brings up some great issues about education, free speech, confidentiality, parenting, dissenting and personal bias.  She presents these issues without bias–this is a novel about the process of standing up for what you believe in, or not, using the setting of a college campus.  The novel is not about advancing an agenda, so at least for this reader, no hot buttons were pushed, but my curiosity and fascination were engaged.  Hanff Korelitz plays with the reader through scenarios and characters who, when we delve deeper, are game changers.  The whole picture is not what I expected but was very interesting to sort out.  A truly topical great read!

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Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

Waking Lions

WOW!  That is my first reaction.

Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen is a fantastic and timely novel. The story begins when Eitan Green, an Israeli neurosurgeon, is driving home from a lengthy shift in the ER.  Instead of going straight home, he decides to take a night-time drive in the desert in his SUV, following the same road the people of Israel walked when they left Sinai for the promised land.  As he is admiring the moon, Eitan hits an Eritrean refugee. There are no witnesses.  Eitan gets out of his car and checks the man.  Though still barely alive, this man will die, and cannot be saved.  His moral dilemma:  stay and call for help and comfort this man when he dies, and thus confess to the crime and risk losing his career, his family and the highly successful life he built; or, drive away. Eitan drives away.

The next morning, as his wife (who happens to be a police detective) leaves to deliver their two young children to school, a woman comes to the door.  She tells Eitan she knows what he did-she witnessed him run her husband over with his car and tells him to meet her at ten that night.  Eitan withdraws a large sum of money, tells his wife he has a late shift, and meets the woman.  She does not want the money; she wants Eitan to help her in a medical clinic, tending to refugees who have not received needed medical care.  The commitment is for more than one night, prompting Eitan to lie to his wife and his work to cover for where he is.  Eitan becomes more and more intrigued by this woman and the work with the refugees, despite his fear and arrogance.  How long will Eitan be able to maintain this secret double life?

In an interview with The Guardian, Ayelet Gundar-Goshen says on an earlier back packing trip in India, she met an Israeli who hit a local Indian and didn’t stop. Gundar-Goshen wanted to pose that situation to the reader:  would you stop?  Most of us would say “of course.”  What makes this novel even more interesting, is that the reader can answer this question at several points during the novel, as more information is revealed, in a “what if this is also true?” style.

There were a few tabbable passages, and one in particular that I would like to share:

And Semar, who looked at him with gaping eyes, like a chicken in a kibbutz coop looking at a fox.  As though he was someone to be feared.  People generally assumed that someone like him had made a choice somewhere in the past.  For example–at a crossroads.  One road turned right.  The other left.  If he turned right he would choose evil.  If left–good.  The directions themselves weren’t important.  What was important was the crossroads; that is, the existence of the moment when a person stands before two clear, opposing paths and chooses one over the other.  Of course, at that moment, he may not necessarily know that a turn to the right will end in a life of evil and a turn to the left will lead to a life of goodness.  But he knows he is choosing.  And that when he reaches the place he finally reaches after many days and kilometers, he can look back and pinpoint the moment it all began.  He can say there.  It happened there.

Waking Lions would make an excellent book group selection. I highly recommend it to all readers, regardless of your genre preferences!

 

 

 

 

 

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Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

                             SWIMMING LESSONS by Claire Fuller

Swimming Lessons is a cleverly written novel about Gil, a slightly eccentric, charming, dazzling…and philandering English professor.  Perhaps you know the type.  Wonderful to be around but you wouldn’t want to date him!  His wife Ingrid died over a decade earlier, presumably by drowning while swimming in the ocean.  One day, Gil thinks he sees Ingrid, and tries to follow her, falling and seriously injuring himself.  His adult daughters, Nan and Flora, return home to help him recover and either find Ingrid or come to terms with her death once and for all.  Now for the clever part:  Ingrid wrote several letters to Gil about their relationship and left these letters behind in Gil’s generous collection of books.  Miraculously, Flora finds them in chronological order!

This is British author Claire Fuller’s second novel.  Her first, Our Endless Numbered Days, is high in my to read pile after talking to one of my colleagues about Swimming Lessons.  She said Our Endless Numbered Days begs to be discussed.  I would argue that Swimming Lessons is discussion worthy as well.  I was drawn to this novel because it kept popping up as a best book of the month selection on the book websites I faithfully troll.  What kept me reading were Ingrid’s letters.  I wasn’t a fan of Gil’s; I saw his unsavory methods a mile away, but I also can picture his allure as Ingrid talks about how she fell for him and ultimately married him.  The ending shares some family dynamics that are truly touching and make the whole book worth it.

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The Girl Before by JP Delaney

The Girl Before Cover

The “girl” is Jane.  She needs a fresh start after a personal tragedy, and looks to rent a nice but affordable place.  She is introduced to One Folgate Street, a house designed by Edward Monkford,  a famous architect who makes his tenants apply to live in this minimalist and dweller sensitive home.  Jane’s application is competitive and includes an exhaustive survey with some just this side of odd questions, and is chosen.  After signing a comprehensive contract, she moves in.  The house works with a bracelet Jane wears, design to identify her and anticipate her.  No struggling with groceries and door keys, and that is simply the preliminary initiation to what One Folgate Street can do.  It almost seems too convenient, efficient and economical to be true.  Then Jane meets Edward.

The “girl before” is Emma.  She is recovering from an assault and needs a fresh start, a new home.  Together with her fiance, Simon, she moves into One Folgate Street.  There is some comforting allure to the clean space and the rules one must follow-an ordering that Emma desperately needs.  There is also some attraction to Edward.

The Girl Before is another great new thriller.  It is like The Life Saving Magic of Tidying Up collided with Girl on the Train.  I’ve got to say, the temptation presented is tantalizing! At the end of the endless winter here in Falmouth, the house in need of a good decluttering, me in need of some sunshine…the idea of living in a beautifully ordered clutter free house that anticipates my needs seems pretty wonderful to me too.  Perhaps a little vicarious living…the tension builds as Emma and Jane are sucked deeper and deeper into the house and it’s maker’s game. Both Emma and Jane make some dumb choices–I kept thinking there was a way they could live in the cool house without being a fool–but that doesn’t dim the story.   I read peeking out behind my covered eyes.  (Another weekend the family was glad I discovered Whole Food’s crock pot kits!)

This is the first novel written under the pseudonym JP Delaney, who in private life is a British advertising agency creative director with several other books under his belt. (see New York Times February 3, 2017 for more.)  I am not sure which he considers his day job at this point, but I am pretty sure I would buy anything he advertised.  Delaney really has a finger on attraction and desire.

Fresh starts and new chances, deals that seem to good to be true, suave, addictive characters…and becoming a movie directed by Ron Howard!  The Girl Before makes a great addition to your “Hold” list!

And coming in 2018…

book cover of  The Perfect Wife

 

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