Week ending July 26, 2013
Bender, Aimee. The Color Master: Stories. Doubleday. Aug. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9780385534895. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385534901. SHORT STORIES
In the title story of two-time Pushcart Prize winner Bender’s new collection, an apprentice learns from a master color artist how to mix naturally pigmented particles to create a pair of shoes that look like rocks or a gown that resembles the moon, sun, or sky. This is not a simple formula. The apprentice can only attain mastery when she allows her own emotions and experience to inform her art. Bender herself has absorbed this lesson. In another story, we root for the ogre’s homely wife just as we bond with the oddball teenager whose “friends” ditch her at the mall. These plucky characters hold their own against the world with humor and grace.
Verdict Stories that blend elements of folklore and legend with contemporary domestic situations engage us from the start, without straining credibility because they are told so well. The voice is assured, and the (often comic) timing impeccable. Readers of Bender’s previous work (Willful Creatures; The Girl in the Flammable Skirt) will welcome this new book, and first-time readers will discover a writer who is well worth getting to know. [See Prepub Alert, 3/25/13.]—Sue Russell, Bryn Mawr, PA
Bock, Dennis. Going Home Again. Knopf. Aug. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9781400044634. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385349697. F
After writing two acclaimed historical novels on the ravages of war—The Ash Garden and The Communist’s Daughter—Canadian author Bock focuses on marriage and divorce in contemporary society. Narrator Charlie Bellerose is a Canadian who has successfully established language schools in different countries. Separated from his Spanish wife, Isabel, and 12-year-old daughter, Ava, Charlie leaves their home in Madrid and returns to his native Toronto. There, he gets caught up in the destructive realm of his self-absorbed brother Nate (not exactly Charlie’s evil twin but close) during his acrimonious divorce. Charlie also experiences a disturbing revelation from the past after being reacquainted with his first love, Holly.
Verdict Recommended for readers looking for a well-written novel about contemporary family problems, told from a distinctly male point of view. [See Prepub Alert, 2/4/13.]—Leslie Patterson, Rehoboth, MA
Conley, Susan. Paris Was the Place. Knopf. Aug. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9780307594075. $26.95.; ebk. ISBN 9780385349569. F
Conley’s debut novel (after her award-winning memoir The Foremost Good Fortune) is the winding and emotional journey of Willie Pears, who has agreed to teach poetry at a Parisian detention center for immigrant girls seeking asylum and in danger of deportation. It is the height of the 1980s, and Willie has been in Paris for six months. Uncertain as she tries to launch a new life, she has the help of her best friend, Sara; her charismatic brother, Luke; and a potential new love interest, Macon, who is the lawyer for many of the girls at the center. When Luke is struck with a mysterious illness and Gita, one of the girls at the center, faces an uncertain future, Willie begins to come into her own.
Verdict With its Parisian setting (the author spares no details), Conley’s simple family story about a woman discovering her own strength will primarily appeal to fans of women’s fiction and Paris lovers alike.—Mara Dabrishus, Ursuline Coll. Lib., Pepper Pike, OH
Solomons, Natasha. The Gallery of Vanished Husbands. Plume: Penguin Group (USA). Aug. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780142180549. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101629604. F
When she turns 30 in 1958, Juliet Montague has been an aguna for several years after her husband, George, abandoned her and their children. The term is used by her Anglo-Jewish community to describe women whose husbands leave them. Being an aguna is akin to being an outcast, and because she will only be freed from her marriage if George seeks a divorce, or dies, Juliet has resigned herself to her tainted standing. Rather than let the label define her, Juliet uses her somewhat single status and the freedom it brings to propel her into a career in the art world. When she first chances upon Charlie Fussell, a young painter, Juliet has no idea that sitting for Charles will inspire numerous other portraits and thrust her into London’s art scene.
Verdict Solomons (The House at Tyneford) creates in Juliet a detailed character portrait of a woman who exhibits strength and poise under less than ideal conditions. Each chapter tells the story of one of Juliet’s paintings and of important events in her life, and readers will respond to the realistic and beautifully flawed characteristics assigned to her.—Natasha Grant, New York
Rush, Norman. Subtle Bodies. Knopf. Sept. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9781400042500. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385350457. F
Old friends reunite at a funeral in Rush’s latest work, a basic plot here given lighthearted treatment. Chief among the group is Ned, coming from California to the East Coast and trailed by his wife, Nina, who mildly resents having been left behind but is mainly interested in continuing their attempts to conceive a child. The deceased is Douglas, a charismatic figure around whom the group coalesced at college in the 1970s, united by belief mostly in their superior intelligence but also encompassing vague political and theatrical forces. Douglas had resided on an estate in upstate New York, where, in addition to friends, various representatives of the international media appear to capture the elegiac ceremonies. Nina arrives and immediately immerses herself in the lives of Ned’s gang as the novel unfolds in a humorous and unfunereal fashion, played out against the run-up to the Iraq invasion.
Verdict This novel has the verbal play and digressions one might expect from Rush, author of the major works Mating and Mortals, but is briefer and more accessible. Readers will be immediately drawn into the acutely rendered world swirling around Ned and Nina. [See Prepub Alert, 3/25/13.]—James Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Lib.