Monday, February 25, 2008

Guess what's just about to be out in stores?

I don't know about you, but I can't wait. I loved Joshilyn's first two books, Between Georgia and gods in Alabama. She's a great writer. If you haven't read her books, run to your local indy bookstore asap and get them. You won't be able to put them down.

The girl who stopped swimming

About the book
(from the author's own website)

Laurel Gray Hawthorne needs to make things pretty, whether she's helping her mother make sure the very literal family skeleton stays buried or turning scraps of fabric into nationally acclaimed art quilts. Her estranged sister Thalia, an impoverished Actress with a capital A, is her polar opposite, priding herself on exposing the lurid truth lurking behind middle class niceties. While Laurel's life seems neat and on track--a passionate marriage, a treasured daughter, and a lovely home in suburban Victorianna--everything she holds dear is suddenly thrown into question the night she is visited by the ghost of a her 14-year old neighbor Molly Dufresne.

The ghost leads Laurel to the real Molly floating lifelessly in the Hawthorne's backyard pool. Molly's death is inexplicable--an unseemly mystery Laurel knows no one in her whitewashed neighborhood is up to solving. Only her wayward, unpredictable sister is right for the task, but calling in a favor from Thalia is like walking straight into a frying pan protected only by Crisco. Enlisting Thalia's help, Laurel sets out on a life-altering journey that triggers startling revelations about her family's guarded past, the true state of her marriage, and the girl who stopped swimming.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Water for Elephants

After a couple of months of being sick and unable to follow a book, this morning I read Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen. Such an interesting choice, and quite serendipitous, as it got me right back into craving books and enjoying the prose of a spectacular new writer with a marvelous story to tell.

Sara Gruen mines fertile territory in Water for Elephants: the chronic miseries of advancing old age and the terrible years of the Great Depression, when people wandered the country in search of work, their homes and failed business left behind. She introduces us to hobos, grifters, and circus workers with a historical knowledge that shows she did a massive amount of research prior to writing this book.

As the novel begins, Jacob Jankowski is an old man in an assisted living home, his memories sparked by a nearby visiting circus and a creeping helplessness that assaults his aging body: “Age is a terrible thief. Just when you think you’re getting the hang of it, it knocks your legs out from under you and stoops your back.”

As he falls into fitful dreams, the past emerges. Stripped of everything after his parents’ untimely death, the twenty-three-year-old fails to sit for his veterinary exams at Cornell, grief-stricken and robbed of home and future, the country bartering in goods instead of money. He runs from Cornell, blinded by the loss of his future and sets out to get as far away as possible.

Hopping a circus train in the dead of night that by belongs to The Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, Jacob hires on to care for the show’s menagerie, his advanced training in veterinary medicine a ticket into this bizarre world. Uncle Al, Benzini Brothers circus owner-by-default, is a ruthless businessman who cares only for his reputation, engaged in a quest for fame to rival the great Ringling Brothers.

Star performer Marlena, an equestrienne running a liberty horse performance, adores her animals and is quick to notice Jacob but circumspect in her actions. Her mercurial husband, the trainer August, is obsessively jealous and given to unspeakable cruelties toward man and beast. Jacob does his best to protect the animals from their harsh existence, especially Rosie, an elephant purchased to replace Marlena’s lead horse.

Jacob is increasingly attached to Rosie, empathizing with her plight at August’s hands and helpless to change the situation. Because of his growing affection for Marlena, Jacob suffers August’s increasing affronts, caught in a cycle of inevitable violence, certain of a reckoning.

Related in the somber tones of the Depression, the novel addresses the hardscrabble and often unscrupulous practices of a traveling circus, the rowdy carnie atmosphere and the antiseptic corridors of the assisted living home, all viewed through Jacob’s perspective, as he rages helplessly against the decrepitude of old age and the secrets of the past: “In seventy years, I never told a blessed soul.”

In prose both poignant and infinitely tender, Jacob dwells in both worlds, revealing the wounds of the past and the sorrows of the present. In a devastating denouement, as inescapable as the indifferent world that turns a blind eye to the vagrants of the ‘30s, Jacob’s spirit retains the essence of his kind nature, a man who cannot be broken by circumstances. All is redeemed in a coup de grace that will leave the reader richer for having met this raggedy tribe of miscreants and lost souls.