In the past few weeks -- I've been reading some truly terrific books and just want to drop in here to recommend each of them to my Puddlefriends. Once again, I have umm… no negative things to say about my last three books. I can't help it! I just pick good books, I guess!
First, a memoir called Townie, by Andre Dubus III.
He's become a favourite author of mine, and I just wanted to find out a bit more about his actual life. Wow. This memoir is as exciting and interesting as any book of fiction, I honestly could not put the thing down. In a nutshell, Dubus grew up in and around Haverill, Massachusetts -- a mill town, rough and tumble. His fun-loving, party-hosting bohemian parents separated when Andre was young, leaving his mother to tend with the child-raising duties. The real challenge for Andre was in coming to terms with the sheer amount of times he was getting beaten up at school and on the streets. It became a source of constant frustration for him. Then his sister gets raped. Andre longs for vengeance. And one day, his brother is so badly beaten up by a town thug, that Andre can't take it anymore. He decides that the only way to win is to fight back, and he develops a strict, almost insane regimen of working out in his basement. Pushing weights -- bulking up to take on the world. Or at least this particular part of Massachussetts. Fighting becomes a lifestyle, and he is soon on the delivering end of the punches. He describes in vivid detail how a life of violence can overtake the inner life of reasoning. Fighting becomes an addiction for him. But at his core, fighting was always about righting a wrong. The problem is, the better he became at brawling, the more he became an instigator. And all the while, he was denying himself the freedom of a better means of expression. Namely, writing.
The book delineates the lifelong process of how writing became Dubus's new religion. It is a pitch-perfect look at how one man exchanged his skill at putting fists to faces for putting pen to paper.
Then I read another writer that can do no wrong for me. Sarah Waters. Tipping The Velvet. Her first novel, and yet, the last of hers I read. I've read them all now, in pretty much reverse order. Good news though, if you find yourself in a similar predicament. She will have a new one coming out this year, and you can see it, HERE.
This thing is saucy. A critic from The Daily Telegraph called Sarah Waters "a kind of feminist Dickens" but, considering that the title itself is a euphemism referring to the act of oral sex between two women [as in, with no else in the room]… hmmm, I think her similarity to Dickens ends pretty much before the first page. It's set in Victorian England, but other than that, this is nothing like Martin Chuzzlewit! Young Nancy Astley leaves her small-town life as an oyster-shucker [nope, no typos there] to take up with Kitty Butler, a singer-entertainer who impersonates men. Nancy is fascinated with Kitty, and meets her backstage. The admiration is mutual, and they become a team, traveling the music halls of the day and falling madly in love with each other. The amalgamation is short-lived though, due to Kitty's reticence at the lifestyle involved. Remember, this is Victorian England… no stereo system anywhere is playing Melissa Etheridge quite yet! I find that the best books are always the hardest to summarize in a review, because too much can be given away, about the story. Suffice it to say, Waters does succeed at showing us in Tipping The Velvet, that the truest things about love do, at times, transcend gender.
A ripping good book.
I then moved forward to the Civil War era, with All Other Nights, by Dara Horn.
Jacob Rappaport, a Jew, enlists as a recruit in the Union Army to escape an arranged marriage orchestrated by his father. Basically, he runs away from home, and is assigned a mission to assassinate his own uncle [on the Southern side] who is plotting to assassinate President Lincoln. His success takes him to a further mission, in which he falls in love with the very woman, a spy, whom he has been commissioned to betray. This meticulously researched and exquisitely written story is an examination of the limits of loyalty. Will Jacob ultimately serve the cause, a nation that is itself divided in its interests, or will he respond to the person that brings the truest tear to his eye. We often throw that phrase about: Blood is thicker than water. But this book answers a deeper question: Is love thicker than ideology?
I can think of worse ways to spend a February than in the presence of three great books, such as these.