Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
Review by Janine Walsh
Recently I read two novels that had something in common - their narrators were unreliable. This was not because they were being untruthful, but because their grasp on reality was fragile due to the fact that their brains were damaged.
In Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante, Dr. Jennifer White's best friend has been murdered and she finds herself a suspect. But there is a complication. Jennifer is suffering from advanced Alzheimer's dementia and half the time she can't remember that Amanda is dead, never mind if she was involved in her murder. Told completely from the point of view of Jennifer's deteriorating mind, you suffer with her as she slips further away from herself and those she loves. Your view of reality is hers - fractured, unsure and changeable as she has good days and bad days. While the murder and its solution is interesting in itself, it is only one aspect of the novel. It is also a fascinating look into the mind being lost to a horrible disease and a study of relationships - what binds people together and tears them apart.
S.J. Watson's Before I Go to Sleep opens with Christine waking beside a man she doesn't know, only to discover she is a middle age woman- not in her twenties like she remembers. The man, Ben, explains he is her husband and that she is suffering from a strange type of amnesia as a result of an accident. Every night when she sleeps she loses the past 20 odd years of memories. Christine soon discovers that unknown to Ben she is seeing a Dr. Nash who is trying to help her regain her memories and that she keeps a secret journal. As she reads her entries, Christine realizes that Ben may not be telling her the whole truth. Is he trying protect her from painful memories or is something more sinister going on? Knowing only what Christine does, the readers finds themselves on a roller coaster ride trying to figure out what is really going on and who to trust. This page turning thriller is hard to put down.
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
Review by Marcia Blackman
As the novel opens we are immediately drawn into the thread of the story. The two Allen brothers are covertly burying their father. Why are they so secretive and what caused his demise?
Equally involving is the story of the McAllen family. Laura is a city bred woman who has been transplanted to a farm on the Mississippi Delta. Her back story with her future husband Henry, his father Pappy and his brother Jamie is compelling and the story only gets better as we meet the other characters in the story. Jamie’s friendship with Ronsel Jackson, a black sharecropper, is based on their shared war experiences. Jamie has turned to alcohol for comfort and Ronsel is faced again with southern bigotry after having equality during his war service. Although they should not be friends in their circumstances, they find common ground.
Told in alternating chapters by Laura, Henry, Jamie, Ronsel, and his parents, Florence and Hap, the story of deep mindless prejudice and cruelty unfolds with a chilling inevitability. I could not choose which character’s viewpoint was better. All were so fully formed and compelling. And the ending left me speechless…I did not see it coming. The writing is exceptional, the story always forceful.
Highly recommended for all readers. There is so much to discuss here and this would make an excellent choice for book groups.
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
Review by Donna Ballard
On October 14th, millions of people all over the world disappeared. One minute they were there and the next they were gone. If it was "The Rapture," many evangelists were disappointed to learn that they were still alive while agnostics, atheists, and Muslims were among the missing. Children had to cope without parents, friends were separated, and the survivors were left to try and sort out their emotions. Three years after this horrible event, the town of Mapleton held a parade commemorating "The Departed Heroes' Day of Remembrance and Reflection " to aid its residents in their quest to move on. The speeches were disrupted, however, by a demonstration by the Guilty Remnant, a group of white-robed, cigarette smoking devotees whose mission was to make everyone continue to grieve. As the townspeople of Mapleton spin out of control, they experiment with religous cults, and face painful truths as they try to manufacture some semblance of normality.
Tom Perrotta, noted for making suburbia represent the universe, has written the best 9/11 novel yet in The Leftovers, even though it technically does not deal with 9/11. Using "The Rapture" as a metaphor for the randomness of the attack on the World Trade Center, Perrotta makes the reader experience the plight of those who were left behind and are charged with the obligation to keep on living.
The Gap Year by Sarah Bird
Review by Donna Ballard
Cam Lightsey gave up her hippy chick counter-culture house in Sycamore Heights to raise her daughter in the staid, but educationally superior Parkhaven neighborhood. It was just one of the many sacrifices that she would make for Aubrey, but it was certainly worth it to know that her little girl would finally escape to college in a few days. Cam was all that Aubrey had for parents, as her father left the family to become a "Nextarian" (read Scientologist) when their daughter turned two. Still he managed to finagle a trust fund from the Nextarians that would at least cover her first year at a very good school, if only she would go to the bank with her mother to claim it.
Aubrey, a seventeen year old band geek was a good student, an obedient daughter, and a girl totally sick of her programmed boring life. Forced to march out on the hot field by her band teacher, she first faints then throws up on the school star quarterback. Miraculously they begin a friendly relationship that morphes into something else, radically changing her life and goals, much to her mother's dismay.
The Gap Year, by Sarah Bird, alternates between Cam and Aubrey's voices, each telling the same story with radically different views. Exploring the mother-daughter relationship with skill and compassion, Bird examines the pain of letting go and the struggles to find oneself and begin an independent life.
I must confess that Ms. Bird wrote one of my all-time favorite books, The Mommy Club, in the early nineties. The Gap Year has the same quirky romantic quality to it, combined with the poignancy of growing up, both on the child and the adult levels. This is a very satisfying read.
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