Just one glance at the cover of Tangerine by Christine Mangan when it was a “to be published” and I was hooked! Do you ever see covers and know you just have to read the book? Coupled with the fact that this is a debut novel, I had to get my hands on Tangerine as soon as it was published.
Tangerine is a kind of “Catch Me If You Can” novel that opens with a man being pulled from the sea near Tangier. It will take much of the book to figure out who he is, who killed him, and why he was murdered. Get ready for a tantalizing mystery…
Our narrators are Lucy and Alice, college roommates who graduated from Bennington College in Vermont in 1955. The two bonded as freshman, connected by their respective losses of parents. They grew very close at Bennington, but something happened that last year to tear them apart. Now, in 1956, and the two estranged friends are reunited in Morocco where Alice lives with her new husband John, a wealthy man who seems to adore her and at the same time control her in a less than savory manner. Lucy tries to rekindle her friendship with Alice, attempting to right past wrongs. If you have an inkling that Lucy’s motives are not completely redemptive, you are not alone. I did too. Alice is somewhat receptive to Lucy. She has not quite acclimated to her new Moroccan life, both finding her way as a wife and struggling with the heat and hustle of the city. Both factors make her a near recluse.
With chapters alternating between Alice and Lucy, and delving into both their past and the current murder mystery at hand, readers who enjoy a good thriller will be entranced.
Short stories. Do you read them? My husband loves them. He believes they are just enough before he goes to sleep, or perfect when work is busy and he is distracted. My mother rarely to never reads them; she is a non-fiction and good novel bibliophile. I am somewhere in between. I err on the side of novels, but appreciate indulging in a good short story. Give me Flannery O’Connor any day, or the more modern writings of Katherine Heiny and even Tom Hanks. I’d let someone have the appointment before me if there is a New Yorker in the waiting room.
When Curtis Sittenfeld (one of those authors I devour as soon as a new book comes out) published You Think It, I’ll Say It, I have to admit a tiny bit of apathy in not finding a novel between the covers, BUT…I did find some really engaging short stories that I thought about, and that lived with me for the duration of the book and beyond. Sittenfeld enjoys talent for sarcasm, and even a little bit of snark for the interpersonal situations people find themselves in, the choices they address, the relationships they engage in and endure. She also can assume credit for some spot on humor. (See last line of first story.)
My take: I liked these well written stories and the characters. I quickly read cover to cover, and not a story here, a story there. Sittenfeld does say what the reader might think on his or her most eloquent days. The one draw back for me (and it is a reflection more of me than the quality of the writing) is the amount of sex in the stories. While not gratuitous, and while it could be argued that it is essential to the plot and endings, I could have done without it. If that doesn’t get in your way, give You Think It, I’ll Say It a read.
Other novels by Curtis Sittenfeld:
I recently was talking with a friend about memories-the good, the bad, the forgotten – and our conclusion was that often, one can remember the one bad part and overlook the sixteen good parts. Funny how that is. And unfortunate. With extended family, I really like to pass the best memories on to our children: shine the best light on each other.
And so it goes in Next Year in Havana. Marisol is headed to Cuba from Coconut Grove to sprinkle her grandmother’s (Elisa) ashes, and meet Ana, Elisa’s best friend from childhood. A travel writer, Marisol decides to squeeze in an article or two for the magazine while she is away. When she arrives in Havana, she is picked up by Ana’s grandson Luis, who becomes both her guide for the week and a love interest. Figuring out where to spread Elisa’s ashes means Marisol must peel back the layers of Elisa’s story and her love affair with Pedro before she and her family flee to Florida during the change in power between Batista and Castro.
The novel is told from Marisol’s present day point of view, and the view of Elisa back in 1952. Amidst the family history, Cleeton shares the physical beauty of Cuba and the courage and fear so prominent during the revolution. The romances in each decade mirror each other, further demonstrating the challenges of these clandestine affairs.
Next Year in Havana is somewhat autobiographical; Chanel Cleeton writes what she knows. I learned more about Cuba, grew to understand the courage needed to raise and protect a family, to fall in love, and to leave what you love to survive. The expat memories from Florida are romanticized, but done so to respectfully preserve the memories of a generation and to honor a heritage that, though tied to the land, lives on wherever her descendants settle. If you like historical fiction with a little amorous enchantment, head south with Next Year in Havana.
White Houses may be categorized as historical fiction, but it is a love story…the love story of Lorena Hickok and Eleanor Roosevelt. Their relationship has been fodder for speculation for years. Ken Burns says we cannot prove they were any more than friends, but author Amy Bloom, who read the remaining 18 boxes of correspondence between the two women, says there was much more to these two women and their friendship.
White Houses takes place over a weekend after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Eleanor and “Hick,” as Lorena is nicknamed, are together at an apartment as Eleanor begins to grieve. Hick looks back at her upbringing, remembering her cruel and impoverished childhood, her early years as a journalist, the years she and Eleanor were together, and the years they were separated.
Told from Hick’s point of view and based on the thousands of letters she and Eleanor wrote to each other, this novel is almost more of a meditation on the different kinds of love and friendship than an imagined memoir or tell-all. There is a wisdom that can be applied to many relationships: platonic, intellectual, romantic, passionate. We benefit from our own understanding and assumptions about Hick and Eleanor, Franklin, his mother, Missy, Lucy, the Roosevelt children. Truly, one of my favorite parts of historical fiction is starting with what I know and being changed by the emotion and characterization of a novel. I love when historical fiction sends me back to the stacks for a biography or documentary, or to good old Google, as White Houses did.
Bloom is a talented writer, with beautiful prose that provokes at every turn. Her style mimics Hick’s personality effectively. I recommend adding White Houses to your TBR pile.
Photograph from The Boston Globe
Photograph from Getty Images
I hope, readers, you will indulge me for one more “wife” book blog post. If it was summer, I’d say toss this psychological thriller in your beach bag or bring it up to camp for a late evening read. Since it is almost March, add it to your carry-on or curl up with The Wife Between Us this weekend.
Richard, the handsome, charming, attentive, successful hedge fund manager. (Also maybe too controlling and scary.)
Vanessa, divorced from Richard, lives with her Aunt Charlotte, is hanging onto a job at Saks and trying to prevent Richard’s next wedding. (Comes off as jealous and crazy, but I didn’t doubt she was on to something.)
Nellie, a fun, beautiful preschool teacher, engaged to Richard. (The wife between them)
As the wedding plans progress, Vanessa tries to warn Nellie about Richard’s true nature, and protect her from her pending nuptials.
What I liked: a plot with twists, turns and surprises, characters who are not the player the reader is lead to believe they are (read unreliable narrators) and a great ending that I did not see coming. Hendricks and Pekkanen collaborate seamlessly; I couldn’t tell where one stopped writing and the next started. I’ve started and given up on other books in the “wife” psychological thriller genre; this is a novel to keep reading, all the way to the end.
It seems like there has been a recent glut of “wife” books in the psychological thriller genre, but for this reader, that is not such a bad thing. Last weekend I cruised through The Wife, the latest novel by Alafair Burke. Burke, the author of twelve other novels, is a graduate of Stanford Law and currently a professor of law at Hofstra. Her legal experience and expertise are definitely valuable to her story line.
Angela meets Jason, an NYU economics professor, while catering a party in East Hampton. There is an attraction, and Angela finds Jason is just what she and her young son need. (Genre tip: these fellows are always billed as too good to be true, so suspect some lies!) Six years later, they are married and living in Manhattan; Jason has become a superstar in the field of economics. Angela and her son want for nothing. When an intern accuses Jason of sexual harassment and a former employee comes forward with her story, the public scrutiny threatens to reveal a past Angela hoped to keep secret, forcing her to choose between her privacy and her husband’s freedom, which goes hand in hand with her current lifestyle.
I found The Wife compulsively readable and entertaining. Great plot, fast pace, somewhat unreliable narrator which took a few chapters for me to suspect, and a satisfying wrap up at the end. Worth the read.
One of the reasons I am quick to be the parent to drive to volleyball relates to the two or more hours I then get to sit in an overstuffed leather chair sipping coffee, munching Big Sky granola and reading. This past Sunday, that was me, and The Woman in the Window was my book. There is something to be said for reading psychological thrillers in public places.
The narrator of this novel is the “woman,” Anna Fox. Anna is a psychologist who lives in a Brooklyn brownstone. She is agoraphobic and has managed to have everything she needs delivered to her house. Even her therapist and physical therapist visit her at home. Anna, a psychologist herself, spends her days dispensing online advice, playing online chess, watching black and white movies (which her life seems to mirror), and drinking Merlot by the case. She frequently keeps tabs on her neighbors with the help of a telephoto camera lens. One day, she thinks she sees her new neighbor stab his wife. In an attempt to help her, Anna calls the police and then goes outside. She gets to the park and then passes out from a panic attack. When she wakes up, no one believes there was a murder-not the doctors at the hospital, not the police, not her neighbors. They introduce Anna to the person she thinks was stabbed but who is in fact, very much alive. The catch: it is a different person from the wife Anna met.
If you enjoy a good psychological thriller, give The Woman in the Window a look. There are great twists and unexpected turns. I flew through it over the weekend, finishing it in the volleyball waiting room with three children (someone else’s) jumping and running around me. I didn’t even know they were there until I closed the book, my jaw on my lap.