A Novel Bookstore–Laurence Cossé

Why do good books always have to end badly?

Cossé creates a great premise:  a bookstore that only carries good books, that bucks publishing trends, and that operates collectively through a secret committee to select titles.  At the root of this bookstore a dynamic duo, a man with bookseller experience and a woman with a love of literature, tons of cash, and deep sadness that the bookstore might fill.  Enter third party beautiful, young, damaged sociology student to disrupt the picture.

The idea that people love books and that they want to read good books is a fantasy most readers enjoy.  Of course, readers picture themselves as reading good books, not the trashy, empty-headed readers the Good Book avoids.  I mean, we all read some of the trashy stuff once in awhile, but………

If you’re French this book was probably even more fun as you would recognize all of the authors.  I’m more of a trashy reader, so I did not.

Cossé tells a love story, a mystery, and makes social commentary while making the launching of a bookstore seem like wildly engaging stuff.  She’s tremendous.

Here’s what was so awful.  Francesca (yes, Dante reference) is a plot device so calculated that I raged at her fate.  She is a mysterious heiress with the unhappy marriage and a suicide daughter who swoops in and makes the Good Book possible.  Don’t we all need one?  She’s also the woman who connects on a deep level with Ivan, the itinerant bookseller, and who lets him go to love another woman.  He is the man too dumb to get it.  Yes, like Francesca, she is forced to see her love(s), but never be fulfilled.  And it drives her mad.  Until she “takes her leave.”

Cossé is a woman.  What is this about?  Why the tragic middle-aged woman for whom there is no redemption?  Was this the only way to extricate herself from the plot?

Like The Corner of the Veil, Cossé presents us with a hopeful image of our culture that is then returned to status quo.  Rather like reading a book and then closing the cover.

Finished 8/27/12

The House of Lost Souls–F. G. Cottam

Scary books are not my thing in general, but this one appealed to me as a change of pace.  Four ethics students visit Fisher House and one commits suicide and three are on suicide watch shortly after.  Paul Seaton, from Dublin, is called to meet with the special ops brother of one of the students, Nick Mason.  Paul’s story with Fisher House is unveiled slowly as the two share stories and the reader is drawn into the world of post WWI Western civilization, devastated and hardened by the sheer volume of deaths.  Jazz, too much wealth, talking film, changing power for women, and interest in the occult collide with the world of 1980s London and 1990s politics.  Another suicide, that of photographer Pandora Gibson-Hoare, becomes the key to unlocking the power of Fisher House, which is set on the isolate Isle of Wight.  Cottam creates a world so twisted and secretive that I thought at one point that he was never going to be able to deliver an ending sufficiently chilling to match the build up.   I was incorrect.  Don’t read before bed if you’re suggestible.

Finished 8/18/12

A Corner of the Veil–Laurence Cosse

The impossible has happened:  God’s existence has been irrefutably proven.  By a former priest in a flash of inspiration.  Experts are awed by the proof’s brilliance and spiritually awakened.  Secular believers are moved to change their lives.  Those in power are moved to fear and repression.

The novel never details the proof, but instead plays with the ways in which various individuals respond to it and to its possibilities for humankind.  Many come out of this exploration looking terrible, which is itself interesting because the one thing we’re really told about the proof is that God incorporates evil and good, all choices, but that God wants us to choose the good so we can all, God included, continue.  It’s a Trinitarian proof, which presents a huge problem for a post 9/11 world (the French original was written in 1996 and this translation was done in 1999), but, perhaps because Cosse is French, she anticipates the issues Christianity would face with Islam.

A fun and quick  read for anyone interested in religion and human nature.

Finished 8/14/12

 

Wedding Season–Darcy Cosper

This novel is the product of a post-50%-divorce-rate world.  Joy’s parents are divorced and remarried and divorced again.  Both are set to remarry during the current wedding season, as are fifteen of her other friends and relatives.  That many weddings in one season would make the staunchest romantic blanche, but Joy does not believe in marriage.  We see glimpses into the fights and the disillusionment with both of her parents that follow their divorce, which give us insight into this belief.  Joy has found, at a wedding no less,  a man who also disbelieves in marriage.  They cohabitate and seem generally happy.  Their sex life is ok, she says.  They seem like warm toast together:  comfortable, but not too exciting.

Enter the ultimate aphrodisiac:  another woman in the form of Ora Mittelman, vampy memoirist who has done and seen it all and has no problem searching for the right guy under another woman’s nose.  After many weddings, a fight with one of her friends over her belief that marriage is stupid and outdated, and agonizing over what is going on between her man, Gabe, and Ora, Joy agrees to marry Gabe.  Why?  We’re not sure.  We don’t even see the actual proposal.

The why is illuminated for us by Joy’s lesbian best friend, Henry, who tells her not to marry Gabe because she is doing it for the wrong reasons, to keep at bay the fear that Gabe will leave.  Joy, Henry says, believes in marriage more than the rest of them, which is why she can’t marry.  Whatsit?   Because then when the relationship dies, because it will, she will be crushed.  Hmm.  She seems crushed already.  She is too fearful to ask her significant other about a woman with whom she thinks he is having an affair, she alienates her friends to bolster her own belief that marriage is for the deluded, and she created a company that does ghost writing, including ghost written love letters.  Seriously.  Therapy anyone?

The novel is fun in its humor, but the ending left me unsatisfied.  I didn’t need a happy ending, although Cosper tries to give one.  I also didn’t need a BS ending about liberation and freedom from someone who clearly is burdened with some major childhood issues.  Cosper wants a character who stays true to her principles, but misses a lesson in her own story–that principles can change as a person grows.  There is no real growth for Joy, which is sad. (Sorry, couldn’t help it).

Fun until the last three chapters.

Finished 8/13/12

Housewrights–Art Corriveau

Lily Willard is a tomboy and the apple of her daddy’s eye.  School is out for the summer and Lily’s father had decided they need a bigger house for his wife, daughter, and five sons.  Lily is angling for her own room, but this ambition takes a backseat when she meets the housewright and his twin sons, Oren and Ian, who live in a caravan.  Lily teaches them to read and to ride and they teach her about building and are her companions for the summer, at least until they’re caught skinny dipping.  Then it’s off to Hallie’s house for tea parties and dolls to re-establish Lily’s femininity and respectability while the twins are whipped so hard they’re scarred–one on the buttocks and one on the thighs, which is the only physical sign that distinguishes them.

They finish the house and Oren tells Lily he’ll be back for her.  Scene change to Lily grown up and the town librarian.  In walks handsome stranger asking her to help him write a letter to, you guessed it, Lily Willard.  He begins courting her in earnest and  building her a fantastic house.  Lily begins writing letters to find Ian, who had been lost (literally) in WWI.  She locates him in a hospital in Boston and he returns to their home, where they all live together.  Ian is shell-shocked, but he can communicate with Oren without words and the three live a harmonious existence until one night at a Grange dance they waltz together and the town interprets their lives as not normal and begins shunning them.  Luckily, Hallie’s banker husband has run off, probably with the pretty male clerk who quit the week before, and Lily soon sets up Hallie and Ian.  Life is downhill for Oren and Lily from there.  Hallie interrupts their harmony, insists on civilizing them, and is jealous of their intimacy.  Eventually a wall is built down the middle of the house, after which Ian and Hallie buy a house from Sears, major slap in the face for the housewright, Oren, and so on.

Housewrights is beautifully written and probes questions of identity and love set in a the rigorous society of a small town.   A wonderful quick read.

Finished 8/11/12

Thirty-three Swoons–Martha Cooley

I read Cooley’s first novel, The Archivist, and admired the way she layered three different stories.  She uses a similar motif in Thirty-Three Swoons, which tells the stories of Camilla Archer and her niece Danny, their deceased parents, and a Russian director killed by the Communist government he supported through its rise, Seva Meyerhold.  The device for this interweaving is Meyerhold’s and Camilla’s doppelganger, a seemingly spiritual force that ties Meyerhold, Camilla’s father, and Camilla together.

Camilla’s father was a brilliant perfumist who married her mother after a long relationship just shortly before her birth, which her mother did not survive.  Camilla is haunted by her father’s inaccessibility and his favoring of her cousin, Eve, with whom Camilla and her father lived following her mother’s death.  Eve’s father, too, was inaccessible, and her mother dead.  There is a stepmother, but she is a vague presence in Camilla’s recollections who did not fill the gap either girl felt.

Enter family complication #3.  Eve, a good deal older than Camilla, became pregnant with no-one-knew-whom, and gave birth to Danny, whom she then seemed incapable of giving the closeness she lacked from her own parents.  Camilla and her husband, Sam, become surrogate parents until, unable to agree to have their own child, they amicably divorced and he had a son with his second wife, all of whom get along swimmingly.  Enter Stuart, Camilla’s gay best friend, and you have the full cast of characters.

Camilla co-owns a theater memorabilia shop with Sam, who runs a photography book business, and Stuart owns a book shop.  All of this leaves them with flexible schedules and interesting conversation set pieces.

So what’s the problem?  Eve has recently died of a sudden onset of spinal meningitis and Danny is not coping well.  She pushes Camilla to answer questions about her father to which Camilla has no answers.  Camilla herself is struggling with her feelings about Eve and her role in her demise.  Meyerhold’s double begins playing with Camilla’s dreams and brings to the forefront her unresolved feelings about her father while telling the reader about Meyerhold and how he ended up being executed by a firing squad after spending months in a Soviet prison.

There’s plenty of guilt to go around.  Camilla suspected Eve had spinal meningitis, but stayed quiet at Eve’s request.  She helped her terminally ill father commit suicide.  She ended her marriage because she refused to become a mother.  Her birth killed her own mother.  And Meyerhold’s double did not stop him from committing the errors that led to his death.

I know little about theater, which is a unifying theme, but the interwoven stories of guilt and mistakes that make a family should seem familiar to anyone who did not grow up in a bubble.

I look forward to Cooley’s third novel, but hope she experiments with a new device to express her keen insight into troubled hearts.

Finished 8/6/12