A Reliable Wife — Review by Chris

In A Reliable Wife, something is going to happen. There's no doubt about that. The question, however, is what?

Well, let's just say that even if it's what you think it is, it's not — not in the hands of Robert Goolrick.

James Truitt is a private man in a small town, where everyone knows everything. Every winter, people succumb to the slow madness of the blinding snow and numbing cold.

He advertises for a wife in a big city newspaper. He receives a number of replies, and he chooses one — Catherine, a plain woman who calls herself "simple" and includes her photo.

Only the woman who steps off the train is not the same woman in the photo.

Catherine is in the wilds of the Midwest at the turn of the 20th century for her own reasons. You know she is up to something almost from the beginning — and after the first few moments Truitt and Catherine are together, you wonder exactly what it is.

Goolrick has an amazing way of blending the story of two people, their lives apart and together, into a deftly tight tapestry of color and texture. Neither is what they appear to be, and yet they cannot be more than themselves. Until....

This story captures the endless winter of the Midwest in great detail, the isolation yet stifling connectedness of a small town, the loss and regret, the hope and anticipation, the surprising willingness to change and be changed.

The characters are vivid and crisp, their stories are bleak but hopeful, sad yet tinged with possibility, colorful yet monochromatic to themselves and their discouragement. I saw possibility in the first chapter and was hopelessly hooked by the second. I had no choice but to see the story through. Just when I thought I was clever (and I was, at least about the storyline), the author tossed in a few curves.

In the end, you will be satisfied by the story and characters, the setting and the surprises — and the parts you knew would happen like that after all.


Penny Vincenzi's Windfall

Keep your eyes peeled in October for what Amazon calls "perhaps Penny Vincenzi’s most riveting family saga yet."

What if you were given a chance to step out of your life? Would you step back in? Cassia Fallon has that opportunity in Windfall, Vincenzi's newest release due on this side of the Atlantic October 1.

So far, Carole and I have enjoyed the author's other books, including the Lytton trilogy, Sheer Abandon and The Dilemma. I'm saving Almost a Crime for my end-of-summer read, a reward just before school starts.

An upcoming Vincenzi is a cause for celebration, and I'm making room on my bookshelf right now.


David Sedaris is Coming to Town!

I recently discovered a writer who has made me laugh aloud more than once, and whose books I enjoy without fail: David Sedaris.

I heard him first on The David Letterman Show (thanks, Stadium Pal!), then stumbled across an audio recording of an essay of his I read about Christmas in the Netherlands:
A Dutch parent has a decidedly hairier story to relate, telling his children, 'Listen, you might want to pack a few of your things together before going to bed. The former bishop of Turkey will be coming tonight along with six to eight black men. They might put some candy in your shoes, they might stuff you into a sack and take you to Spain, or they might just pretend to kick you. We don't know for sure, but we want you to be prepared.'

Sedaris has an enviable way of making honest comments that stop the reader in her/his tracks. I read Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim and found myself reading passages out loud, and quickly shared it with Carole — his description of his mother's contempt for people who own more than one home (and the family's consideration of doing just that) was quote-worthy:
She laughed and swatted him with a towel, and we witnessed what we would later come to recognize as the rejuvenating power of real estate. It's what fortunate couples turn to when their sex life has faded and they're too pious for affairs. A second car might bring people together for a week or two, but a second home can revitalize a marriage for up to nine months after the closing.

His work is a literal joy to read, and these nuggets of humor are so tightly woven into his essays that every entry is a gem.

If you have a chance, read his stuff — and now that he's promoting his latest book, he very well could be coming to a town near you. I hope to see you there!


Significance of Today

"'On Friday, June 12, I woke up at six o'clock and no wonder; it was my birthday, But of course I was not allowed to get up at that hour, so I had to control my curiosity until a quarter to seven...soon after seven, I went to Mummy and Daddy and then to the sitting room to undo my presents. The first to greet me was you, possibly the nicest of all.' Anne Frank, June 12, 1942, The Diary of A Young Girl. Had she lived, today would be her 80th birthday.

And spare a good thought as well for Miep Gies, who helped hide the Franks, found and kept the diary safe until Anne's confirmed death, and then gave the world this treasure. She celebrated her 100th birthday this year. Not that Politicians, comedians and beauty queens aren't relevant, but if you have that tattered copy of Frank's diary tucked away on a shelf since high school, pull it out and give it another read."

(Hat Tip to maatkare for leaving this quote on Big Hollywood today.)

I think I will pull out my copy and give it another read. Also visit Anne Frank's tree here.


Drood — Review by Chris

Charles Dickens' final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, was left unfinished upon the author's death.

But what if it wasn't just a novel? What if there was some truth to the tale?

Dan Simmons imagines that very possibility in his latest tome, Drood. Readers familiar with Dickens' last work will find recognizable elements throughout Simmons' story; I confess my Dickens background is a little light, so, for me, the story was a complete surprise.

The book begins a few years before Dickens' death. Dickens life is in shambles: his wife has been sent away in favor of another who has caught his eye, his health and well-being are compromised by a terrible train accident that robbed him of his peace, he is in pain and is feeling the hot breath of mortality on his neck.

Wilkie Collins, as narrator, has an intimate view into the life of Dickens. They are friends and co-workers who know each other's secrets. Wilkie Collins is a reliable narrator, which is an invaluable element of this book. Without a trusted tale-teller, the tale would be too fantastic and amazing for the reader as it snakes above and below Dickensian London, with dead men, drug addiction, scarabs, mesmerism, train wrecks, illicit love affairs and a lime pit.

The story is compelling and full of surprises. With each chapter is a new revelation, richly imagined and described with a clarity and detail that brings the tale alive to the reader. One does not just see the underbelly of London, but smells and touches it. Class division, a foreign concept to Americans, is alive and well in this book.

The tale is fabulous, but it would have been limited to words on a page if not for the lively characters. Collins brings to live an amazing cast, from the poor pension-free and disgruntled police detective, to the bodyguard whose final experiences literally shocked me into bad dreams, to the lady with the green skin who calls into question the narrator's very fiber of being— or does it?

In the end, who to believe? Dickens, who appeared to have no reason to mangle the truth because there was no real benefit to him? Collins, whose very reality begs the question be asked in the first place? An unpublished story that makes Collins' waking life seem like a fantasy? I do not need an answer. What I need to do is re-read Drood and see what I missed during my sleepless nights of reading as I rushed to a finale I could not have anticipated in my wildest dreams.

Then I need to get my hands on a few novels by the authors in question and enjoy them with a different perspective. Maybe Drood is fiction, but it's real enough for me.


Good News About Janet Evanovich and Stephanie Plum!

I have been pacing myself for the past year, after discovering Janet Evanovich's plucky, crazy bounty hunt — er, bond enforcer.

Last June, I sat in the emergency room of my local hospital, waiting my turn and learning about Stephanie Plum, Joe Morelli, Ranger, Lula, Connie, Vinnie — the whole gang. I started at the end (at the time), with Fearless Fourteen, thanks to the sympathetic Cindy, who sent me a book that could capture my attention, despite being in the middle of one of the busiest trauma units in the region. By the end of the first chapter, I was in love.

A month later, when I had even more time on my hands (don't ask, it will sound like a Stephanie Plum novel!), Carole brought me One for the Money. I have worked my way through each with great amusement, finishing Ten Big Ones just last night. It was late, I couldn't put down the book and I nearly awoke the household with my laughter.

Each one becomes my favorite, but Ten stands out for me. Carole had cryptically mentioned that some characters from earlier books returned in subsequent tomes, and I was a little apprehensive. (You should see who Stephanie encounters!) However, I was thrilled that it was the case.

Then I discover Finger Lickin' Fifteen is set for publication in less than two weeks. May I say two words? Woo and Hoo!

I have a few numbered novels to finish, plus a few between-the-numbers books, so I have my hands full until I get to Fifteen. Until then, just look for the woman who is laughing in the corner, Evanovich novel in her hands. That will be me.