Book Event

Saturday, August 30, 2008

You can't go home again (or can you?)

Pregnant, ashamed, and tired, grad student Willi Upton returns home to Templeton where she knows she can recuperate in the only place that never changes. Templeton (read Cooperstown), however, is failing to cooperate. Glimmy, the town's answer to the Loch Ness Monster, dies and surfaces in the middle of Lake Glimmerglass. Her hippy single mom is dating a conservative preacher and joins him in prayer for Willi's soul. The dumb jock heart-throb who never left town after high school is wooing her with words like "hegemony."

While she waits for her married archeology professor to call and profess his undying love for her and their child-to-be, her mother proposes a research project. Willi knows that she is twice related to Marmaduke Temple, founder of their town. She had always been told that her father was one of three random men at a hippy gathering, but her mom revealed that this was a tale concocted to preserve his identity. She challenges her daughter to read letters and genealogical archives that pertain to her family and deduce her true biological roots. The only clue her mother gives her is that, like Willi, her father also had family ties to Templeton's founder.

Lyrically written, The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff makes the small upstate town of Templeton the main character of this novel. Groff explores the history of Templeton through its residents' stories; including those of the original Native Americans, settlers, town characters, and literary figures. In the end, Willi learns how to redefine the meaning of family, and how to finally embrace change.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A New Design on Life

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan is one of those novels that makes one reflect upon the role of women, and the degree of progression that has occurred over the last 100 years or so. Even though his name is in the title, this book isn't about the great American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Well, it is and it isn't. The focus of this historical novel is on Mamah Borthwick Cheney, a woman Wright had fallen in love with after designing a new home for her and her husband Edwin. Wright is more than just her lover, he is the catalyst that ignites a fire within her to embark upon a whole new life. A life where she has the freedom to have a career of her choosing and her own identity, instead of just being Mrs. Edwin Cheney. It is an age of modernization as Wright tries to usher out the old classical style of architecture and introduce one that is more natural and practical. Meanwhile, Mamah Cheney is trying to bring in a new era where women are able to have a spouse and career of their choosing. Unfortunately, neither one of them has an easy time as the constraints of society try to force them into the conventional way.

Mamah Cheney makes the difficult decision to leave her husband and children to attempt a life with Wright and to also fulfill her dream of translating books. No matter how you feel about her choice, one has to emphasize with her as she anguishes over not having her children by her side and having to face the vicious attacks from Victorian society. For those of you who don't know what happened to Mamah Cheney, I won't reveal it. But suffice it to say that the tragic events that occur make this story all the more heartbreaking.

Nancy Horan deftly weaves historical fact with dramatized events to create this slice of one woman's personal fight against a society resistant to change. For other stories with similar themes, The Awakening by Kate Chopin and "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman are both worth investigating.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

What Was Lost... and Found

What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn

This quirky, quick read is part mystery and part commentary on alienation and mall culture. In 1984 England, Kate is a a ten year old orphan living with her disinterested grandmother. A loner, her only friends are Adrian, the 22 year old son of the local newsstand owner and Theresa, a bright but troubled schoolmate. Most of her spare time is spent being a "girl detective," trying to solve mysteries and prevent crimes (rather unsuccessfully in her own assessment.) With her faithful stuffed monkey by her side, Kate turns her attention on the Green Oaks mall, where she is sure she will have her big break. Staking out the bank and watching people, Kate writes everything she sees in her ever-present notebook, into which we are given a glimpse. Then Kate disappears. Flash forward to 2003, where the story turns to the lives of two disaffected employees at the Green Oaks mall. Lisa, Adrian's sister, is unhappy in her relationship and in her job at a mega-music store. Her brother, who was the main suspect in Kate's disappearance, has also vanished and only contacts his sister once a year via mail. Kurt is a security guard at the mall who, in the middle of the night, starts seeing a little girl with a stuffed monkey on his video monitor. The two pair up in an attempt to find the girl and instead must face the past and decide on whether they will keep living lonely, unhappy lives.

At times laugh-out-loud funny, at times heart wrenching, this novel is an outstanding debut by Catherine O'Flynn. Especially recommended to anyone who has ever worked in a mall.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bershert (It was meant to be)

Ayelet Waldman's Love and Other Impossible Pursuits begins at "happily ever after" and slowly unravels towards grim reality. Emilia Greenleaf, a young lawyer, is used to getting what she wants, and she wants Jack, a partner in her law firm. Since she realized that he was her "bershert," she had no ethical problems with seducing him away from his beautiful obstetrician wife and their precocious five year old son. Now Jack and Emilia are married and live in an expensive townhouse off Central Park West. But her life is no fairy tale. She and Jack lose their baby Isabel after her first day at home. Her stepson William wants nothing to do with her and is driving a wedge between her and Jack, much to the delight of the scorned wife. She is furious that her parents are reuniting after thirty years of hatred fueled by Dad's indiscretions. And Emilia has a secret that is too horrible to tell anyone, especially Jack. Can a marriage based on romance and magic adjust to the real problems of life? Read it and find out!