Books Read in 2007
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Fourteen-year-old Lily Owen, neglected by her father and isolated on their South Carolina peach farm, spends hours imagining a blissful infancy when she was loved and nurtured by her mother, Deborah, whom she barely remembers. These consoling fantasies are her heart's answer to the family story that as a child, in unclear circumstances, Lily accidentally shot and killed her mother. All Lily has left of Deborah is a strange image of a Black Madonna, with the words "Tiburon, South Carolina" scrawled on the back. The search for a mother, and the need to mother oneself, are crucial elements in this well-written coming-of-age story set in the early 1960s against a background of racial violence and unrest. When Lily's beloved nanny, Rosaleen, manages to insult a group of angry white men on her way to register to vote and has to skip town, Lily takes the opportunity to go with her, fleeing to the only place she can think of--Tiburon, South Carolina--determined to find out more about her dead mother. Although the plot threads are too neatly trimmed, The Secret Life of Bees is a carefully crafted novel with an inspired depiction of character. The legend of the Black Madonna and the brave, kind, peculiar women who perpetuate Lily's story dominate the second half of the book, placing Kidd's debut novel squarely in the honored tradition of the Southern Gothic.
The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
This is the soulful tale of Jessie Sullivan, a middle-aged woman whose stifled dreams and desires take shape during an extended stay on Egret Island, where she is caring for her troubled mother, Nelle. Like Kidd's stunning debut novel, The Secret Life of Bees, her highly anticipated follow up evokes the same magical sense of whimsy and poignancy. While Kidd places an obvious importance on the role of mysticism and legend in this tale, including the mysterious mermaid's chair at the center of the island's history, the relationships between characters is what gives this novel its true weight. Once she returns to her childhood home, Jessie is forced to confront not only her relationship with her estranged mother, but her other emotional ties as well. After decades of marriage to Hugh, her practical yet conventional husband, Jessie starts to question whether she is craving an independence she never had the chance to experience. After she meets Brother Thomas, a handsome monk who has yet to take his final vows, Jessie is forced to decide whether passion can coexist with comfort, or if the two are mutually exclusive. As her soul begins to reawaken, Jessie must also confront the circumstances of her father's death, a tragedy that continues to haunt Jessie and Nelle over thirty years later.
The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates
From Publishers Weekly Oates is not only on her authentically rendered home ground in this sprawling novel set in the city of Niagara Falls during the 1950s, she is also writing at the top of her form. Her febrile prose is especially appropriate to a story as turbulent as the tumultuous waters that have claimed many lives over the years. Widowed on her wedding night when her new husband, a young minister and latent homosexual, throws himself into the falls, Ariah Littrell, the plain, awkward daughter of a minister, henceforth considers herself damned. Her bleak future becomes miraculously bright when Dirk Burnaby, a handsome, wealthy bon vivant with an altruistic heart, falls in love with the media-dubbed Widow-Bride. Their rapturous happiness is shadowed only by Ariah's illogical conviction over the years that Dirk will leave her and their three children someday. Her unreasonable fear becomes self-fulfilling when her increasingly unstable behavior, combined with Dirk's obsessed but chaste involvement with Nina Olshaker, a young mother who enlists his help in alerting the city fathers to the pestilential conditions in the area later to be known as Love Canal, opens a chasm in their marriage. His gentle heart inspired by a need for justice, Dirk takes on the powerful, corrupt politicians, his former peers and pals, in a disastrous lawsuit that ruins him socially and financially and results in his death. Oates adroitly addresses the material of this "first" class action lawsuit and makes the story fresh and immediate. "In the end, all drama is about family," a character muses, and while the narrative occasionally lapses into melodrama in elucidating this theme, Oates spins a haunting story in which nature and humans are equally rapacious and self-destructive.
The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
From Publishers Weekly Feisty Marietta Greer changes her name to "Taylor" when her car runs out of gas in Taylorville, Ill. By the time she reaches Oklahoma, this strong-willed young Kentucky native with a quick tongue and an open mind is catapulted into a surprising new life. Taylor leaves home in a beat-up '55 Volkswagen bug, on her way to nowhere in particular, savoring her freedom. But when a forlorn Cherokee woman drops a baby in Taylor's passenger seat and asks her to take it, she does. A first novel, The Bean Trees is an overwhelming delight, as random and unexpected as real life. The unmistakable voice of its irresistible heroine is whimsical, yet deeply insightful. Taylor playfully names her little foundling "Turtle," because she clings with an unrelenting, reptilian grip; at the same time, Taylor aches at the thought of the silent, staring child's past suffering. With Turtle in tow, Taylor lands in Tucson, Ariz., with two flat tires and decides to stay. The desert climate, landscape and vegetation are completely foreign to Taylor, and in learning to love Arizona, she also comes face to face with its rattlesnakes and tarantulas. Similarly, Taylor finds that motherhood, responsibility and independence are thorny, if welcome, gifts. This funny, inspiring book is a marvelous affirmation of risk-taking, commitment and everyday miracles.
Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas by Mari Sandoz
A narrative of striking richness and power; it is simultaneously intimate and strange, like something overheard in someone else's tongue and mind, and it conveys the feel of a life relentlessly driven, and in the end extinguished, by unknown forces for reasons only dimly understood.
The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve
A pilot's wife is taught to be prepared for the late-night knock at the door. But when Kathryn Lyons receives word that a plane flown by her husband, Jack, has exploded near the coast of Ireland, she confronts the unfathomable-one startling revelation at a time. Soon drawn into a maelstrom of publicity fueled by rumors that Jack led a secret life. Kathryn sets out to learn who her husband really was, whatever that knowledge might cost. Her search propels this taut, impassioned audiobook as it movingly explores the question, How well can we ever really know another person.
Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach
In the cloud-washed airspace between the cornfields of Illinois and blue infinity, a man puts his faith in the propeller of his biplane. For disillusioned writer and itinerant barnstormer Richard Bach, belief is as real as a full tank of gas and sparks firing in the cylinders...until he meets Donald Shimoda--former mechanic and self-described messiah who can make wrenches fly and Richard's imagination soar.... In Illusions, the unforgettable follow-up to his phenomenal bestseller Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach takes to the air to discover the ageless truths that give our souls wings: that people don't need airplanes to soar...that even the darkest clouds have meaning once we lift ourselves above them... and that messiahs can be found in the unlikeliest places--like hay fields, one-traffic-light midwestern towns, and most of all, deep within ourselves.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Garbiel Garcia Marquez
The story follows 100 years in the life of Macondo, a village founded by José Arcadio Buendía and occupied by descendants all sporting variations on their progenitor's name: his sons, José Arcadio and Aureliano, and grandsons, Aureliano José, Aureliano Segundo, and José Arcadio Segundo. Then there are the women--the two Úrsulas, a handful of Remedios, Fernanda, and Pilar--who struggle to remain grounded even as their menfolk build castles in the air. If it is possible for a novel to be highly comic and deeply tragic at the same time, then One Hundred Years of Solitude does the trick. Civil war rages throughout, hearts break, dreams shatter, and lives are lost, yet the effect is literary pentimento, with sorrow's outlines bleeding through the vibrant colors of García Márquez's magical realism. Consider, for example, the ghost of Prudencio Aguilar, whom José Arcadio Buendía has killed in a fight. So lonely is the man's shade that it haunts Buendía's house, searching anxiously for water with which to clean its wound. Buendía's wife, Úrsula, is so moved that "the next time she saw the dead man uncovering the pots on the stove she understood what he was looking for, and from then on she placed water jugs all about the house."
With One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel García Márquez introduced Latin American literature to a world-wide readership. Translated into more than two dozen languages, his brilliant novel of love and loss in Macondo stands at the apex of 20th-century literature.
The Full Cupboard of Life by Alexander McCall Smith
From Publishers Weekly Precious Ramotswe is on the case again in this delightful fifth installment in the bestselling No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, this time assisting the self-made founder of a chain of hairdressing salons who wants to unearth the real intentions of her four suitors, each possibly more interested in her money than her heart. As fans know, though, sleuthing takes second place to folksy storytelling in McCall Smith's wry novels. This time around, Mma Ramotswe is distracted by her long-prolonged engagement to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, Gaborone's best mechanic; it seems she will never be married, despite her fiancé's honorable intentions. He installs an extra large seatbelt in her car to keep her safe (she is quite comfortable with her "traditional build," despite the new, slender fashion of modern woman), but an altercation with another mechanic and the prospect of a charity parachute jump keep his mind off matrimony. A drive for decency motivates Mma Ramotswe and her friends-among them Mma Potokwani, the imperious matron of the local orphan farm, and Mma Makutsi, assistant at the Ladies' Detective Agency and founder of the Kalahari Typing School for Men-and Smith's talent is in portraying this moral code in a manner that is always engaging. As readers will appreciate, Mma Ramotswe solves her cases-more questions of character, really, than of criminal behavior-in good time. Traditionally built ladies living in the African heat don't tend to hurry, and, at the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, there's always time for another cup of tea.
The Bleachers by John Grisham
High school all-American Neely Crenshaw was probably the best quarterback ever to play for the legendary Messina Spartans. Fifteen years have gone by since those glory days, and Neely has come home to Messina to bury Coach Eddie Rake, the man who molded the Spartans into an unbeatable football dynasty.
Now, as Coach Rake’s “boys” sit in the bleachers waiting for the dimming field lights to signal his passing, they replay the old games, relive the old glories, and try to decide once and for all whether they love Eddie Rake – or hate him. For Neely Crenshaw, a man who must finally forgive his coach – and himself – before he can get on with his life, the stakes are especially high.
For One More Day by Mitch Albom
The story of a mother and a son, and a relationship that lasts a lifetime and beyond. It explores the question: What would you do if you could spend one more day with a lost loved one?
As a child, Charley Benetto is told by his father, "You can be a mama's boy or you can be a daddy's boy, but you can't be both." So he chooses his father, and he worships him -- right up to the day the man disappears. An 11-year-old Charley must then turn to his mother who bravely raises him on her own, despite Charley's embarrassment and yearnings for a complete family.
Decades later, Charley is a broken man. His life has been crumbled by alcohol and regret. He loses his job. He leaves his family. He hits bottom after discovering his only daughter has shut him out of her wedding.
And he decides to take his own life.
He makes a midnight ride to his small hometown, with plans to do himself in. But upon failing even to do that, he staggers back to his old house, only to make an astonishing discovery. His mother -- who died eight years earlier -- is still living there, and welcomes him home as if nothing had ever happened. He tries, with his mother's tender guidance, to put the crumbled pieces of his life back together.