What I Want To Read: Spring 2019

There are so many books that I am looking forward to this season. Below you can find a few of my top picks. If you read any of them, let me know!

White Elephant by Julie Langton

Having lived a peaceful apartment existence for most of my life, I’ve never given all that much thought to co-op fights and real estate drama until my mother joined the board of her building. What I hear about her meetings and interactions as a board member, have me longing to buy a condo. White Elephant is about a couple who build an obnoxious house (hence the name white elephant) in a small town. The house dwarfs the houses around it and the occupants have a hard time trying to sell it, so they end up cutting down the maple tree on the property of one of the neighbors in the hopes that it will make their house easier to sell. Of course, drama ensues in the town as people start taking sides and the intricate relationships of the people who live in this house and their interactions with neighbors come spilling to the surface. It’s one of those small-town stories with lots of tension in it.

Women Talking by Miriam Toews

A few months ago I had an intense conversation with my mother after coming across the details of this novel which is based on a true story. Women Talking is the story of eight Mennonite women who have been drugged and assaulted by men from their community. It takes them months to figure out what’s going on. The attacks take place as they sleep at night and they bear evidence the next day of violent sexual assault and trauma. Banding together to figure out whether they can escape their insular community and seek punishment for the men responsible, they are daunted by their illiteracy and lack of knowledge of the world outside. They also don’t know how to protect their kids from the same assaults that they’ve suffered. Toews is a talented writer, and the book is getting great pre-publication reviews, though the reviews on Goodreads indicate that it’s a polarizing novel. There are more than a few one-star reviews scattered among the five-star ones. 

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Jaswal Kaur

I read Jaswal Kaur’s first book, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, and I loved it. It was one of Reese Witherspoon’s book club picks – about this woman who starts teaching older Punjabi women creative writing when ostensibly they are there to learn how to speak English. Meeting in the middle, she gets them to start telling stories about their lives. In the background of their meetings, women in the community are being attacked, and the young teacher/writer starts investigating who might be committing the crimes against the women. This one is about three Punjabi sisters who have grown up in England with their mom. They didn’t get along when they’re growing up, but their mom is dying and she makes them promise that they will make a joint pilgrimage to India to perform last rites for her. One of the sisters is a struggling actress, another sister is the principal of a school, and the last sister is happily married to a wealthy man. The novel is all about them making this journey together, learning more about each other, and learning about their mother and family secrets. I’m excited to read this one.

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

Susan Choi’s latest novel is about what happens over several years in high school when the first love between two enamored freshmen is interrupted by the attentions and manipulations of a charismatic drama teacher and their peers. It takes place in an unnamed American suburb in the early eighties at a highly competitive Performing Arts High School. The students struggle and thrive in a rarefied bubble, and there is reportedly a twist that turns the course of the novel on its head. 

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

Sara Collins’s new novel takes place in a variety of locales, among them a Jamaican sugar plantation and Georgian England. It’s about a servant and former slave accused of murdering her employer and his wife. The comparisons for this book were ones that I liked a lot; Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood,  The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. It’s also a courtroom drama. The woman accused of the crimes doesn’t remember committing them, can’t recall what happened. I read an essay by the author because I was curious about her perspective and I’m very particular about the slavery novels I choose to read. But she wrote this intriguing essay about how a lot of slave narratives are so concentrated on the urgency and the emergency of the situation that they present situations in a way where you don’t get to see people’s humanity. It’s usually about a cause or proving right or wrong. She also talked about her influences growing up. The way she wrote about this dovetailed with the way I think about how slave narratives are usually written and why I’m picky about them. Her piece resonated with me, so I’m curious to see what she does with her novel.

Patsy by Nicole Dennis Benn

I am super excited about Patsy because I read Nicole Dennis Benn’s first book, Here Comes The Sun, and loved it. Here Comes The Sun was set in Jamaica and was about the lives of four women who are trying to make it in a world full of sexual violence and misogyny. Patsy is set in the United States. It’s about a young Jamaican mother who is finally granted opportunity beyond her wildest dreams when she’s granted a visa to visit America. The only problem is that she has to leave her daughter behind, and she is haunted by the fact that she knows she doesn’t plan to return home after what is supposed to be a short visit. When she gets there, however, she’s in for several disappointments. Her And it’s dual perspective. So it’s also about the daughter who is coming to grips with her own sexuality and her own identity and coming to terms with the fact that her mother has abandoned the family. You know I just I loved her first book. I was going to read anything else that she wrote. 

The Ditch by Herman Koch

The comparisons for this one are The Couple Next Door, The Woman in the Window and Eileen by Otessa Mosfegh. Koch’s work is very dark. I read The Dinner by him, and if you’ve seen the book and read the movie, you know the book is much more disturbing. Here, he’s writing about the Mayor of Amsterdam who is at a New Year’s reception and sees his wife toss back her head and laugh. This sets off something with him. He previously wasn’t present with his family when he was home, but now he becomes super attentive and interested in what’s going on. He is sure that something’s going on and he’s always trying to prove it. His new-found attentiveness and loyalty to his family produce some problems and it’s just all about it possibly unraveling and undermining his marriage. Koch’s books are well written and you learn a lot about a lot of different things. His characters aren’t necessarily likable people. I low key hated everyone in The Dinner. But it was an extremely thoughtful, provocative and compelling book. 

The Summer Demands by Deborah Shapiro

How good does this sound? A woman is about to turn 40, she’s just had a miscarriage and she inherits a summer camp that she used to visit as a child. She and her husband move onto the property planning to revitalize it, but they realize someone is squatting in one of the cabins. The couple and the squatter start spending time together. As the novel progresses it’s all about the relationship they have with this woman over the summer and what she wants from their relationship. 

The Body Lies by Jo Baker

Jo Baker wrote Longbourn, a Pride & Prejudice adjacent novel that focuses on the story from the point of view from the Bennett family servants; what their lives were like. You hear about the Bennett family but it’s mostly how they are as employers and how the servants interact with them as they go about their duties. I loved Baker’s writing so I was delighted to see that she has a new novel out. The Body Lies focuses on a woman who accepts a job at a university in the English countryside. She’s fleeing from a violent assault that took place in London. She takes her young son with her while her husband finishes the year at a teaching position in London. As she’s teaching a creative writing course she recognizes herself as a character in the work of a troubled student who seems to have fixated upon her. Increasingly terrible things are happening to her through this work. The comps to this are The Lying Game and The Witch Elm, both books that I loved. Judging from the jacket copy of her previous books, she never writes the same book twice as they are all very different. She has a couple of other books that look as if they would be a good read, but I am excited to start with this one.

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