The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka – This was a very short book, only 129 pages long. The subject matter involves Japanese women who came to the United States to get married to men they’d never met before, having been set up by a matchmaker. The author chose to use the first person plural, which became tiresome quickly. There was no clear plot to grab onto, only lists of possibilities.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander – Most stories in this collection focus on Judaism and how religion plays a part in many characters’ lives. My favorite of the eight stories was “Sister Hills”, which concerns two women who founded a town in Israel. When one’s infant daughter is dying, she symbolically sells it to the other woman to trick the evil eye. When the daughter is grown, the woman who bought her, having lost all three of her own sons, comes to claim her. I also enjoyed “Camp Sundown” and “The Reader”.
Emblem by Richard Hoffman – Poetry is so far out of my comfort zone, but I’ve been making an effort lately to read more of it. I prefer very concrete, narrative poetry, and a few of the poems in this collection matched this criteria. My favorites were “Husband” and “An Old Story”.
Liebestod: Opera Buffa with Lieb Goldcorn by Leslie Epstein – Leslie was my professor at BU, and I picked up his latest at a reading at Newtonville Books. There were many funny moments, with a Quixote-like main character who is 104 years old. I fear I missed many of the cultural references, however, as I know little German and even less about Opera. It was an enjoyable ride with a well-drawn narrator.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey – This was very much a retold fairy tale. In the 1920s a barren couple move to the wilds of Alaska to start a new life, and a mysterious child shows up on their property. She slowly begins to trust them, but will never stay overnight in their cabin, instead insisting on staying in her own home in the forest. The explanation for the girl’s existence turns out to be a mix of mystical and horrible, but I won’t give it away. The descriptions of Alaskan beauty and isolation are very well done.
Other People We Married by Emma Straub – This was a very readable collection and it mostly held my attention. However, the author tends to bring her characters to the ledge, then end when they are just about to do something destructive or exciting, completely killing the tension. There aren’t characters arcs, only slice-of-life vignettes. One story that stood out from the others was “Abraham’s Enchanted Forest”, about a teenage girl growing up at a roadside attraction run by her eccentric, elderly parents. But again, in this story the ending pulls us from the brink, and instead of leaving as she planned, the girl retreats to her old life.
The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers & Sisters Reveal About Us by Jeffrey Kluger – This nonfiction book was a hybrid of memoir and pop psychology. The chapters are structured around the author’s history with his many siblings. Topics include divorce, blended families, gay siblings, how older siblings influence younger ones, and how family dynamics are affected when an older sibling raises the younger ones. There is a chapter on only children and twins, as well. It was an informative read, though not exactly what I expected.
The Odds by Stewart O’Nan – This slim novel was similar in many ways to the only other book I’ve read by O’Nan, Last Night at the Lobster. Both take place over a compressed timeline (one weekend, one day) and take place in a unique location (Niagara Falls, a seafood restaurant). Of the two, I prefer Lobster. Odds concerns a couple, Art and Marion, who are on the brink of bankruptcy and divorce. To Art the divorce is only a pretense to protect them financially, but to Marion it is real. Both have been unfaithful. But by the end of the book, everything seems to work out, which I found unrealistic considering the odds they are up against. Though perhaps this was O’Nan’s intention.
Heft by Liz Moore – At first I didn’t like the author’s writing style – substituting an ampersand for the word “and” was distracting and unnecessary. But I was able to move past this quirk and get into the story itself and really enjoyed it. Arthur is a 500 pound hermit who lives in a Brooklyn brownstone. Kel is an eighteen-year-old high school senior who is being scouted by the Mets. The narration alternates between the two. They are connected by Kel’s mother, Charlene, who Arthur had an affair with when she was his student (he was a college professor). I was a bit disappointed by the ending, as I would have loved to read the scene that takes place just after the curtain falls. And in the end I still did not entirely believe Arthur’s voice – it was not befitting an academic. Kel’s, however, was wonderful and absolutely believable.