Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel

Cover image of Goodbye for NowIn Laurie Frankel‘s second novel, Goodbye for Now, there are many moments that will bring a tear to your eye, but not a single sappy sentence. I loved it. When an advanced reading copy came in the mail last week, I bumped it to the top of the TBR pile and read it in two days. To shower some of my highest praise on this book: Goodbye for Now reminded me of Laurie Colwin.

Although I haven’t read Laurie Colwin’s Happy All the Time;  Shine on, Bright and Dangerous Object; Family Happiness; and Goodbye Without Leaving in years, they remain among my favorite novels of all time. Although they were about relatively privileged New Yorkers in their late twenties and early thirties, the novels made the domestic lives of these smart, witty people, who were also down-to-earth and kind to each other, so irresistibly appealing that readers were drawn in and forgave them any faults, wanting only the best for them all. Throw in computer technology, social media, and improved  forms of electronic communication and you’ve extended the boundaries for a contemporary comedy of manners with family, friends, colleagues, and beyond. In Goodbye for Now, the author’s tweaking of the geek-boy-meets-geek-girl theme and the characters’ philosophical musings on digital afterlives (when we die, our Facebook pages remain) add to the humor and the pathos of the characters’ everyday lives.

The main characters in Goodbye for Now live in Seattle, not New York, but Sam Elling and Meredith Maxwell seem as made for one other as Laurie Colwin’s couples did (Sam’s new online dating algorithm doesn’t go wrong.) Here’s Sam, a lonely software engineer, meeting Meredith for the first time, having tried his newly developed software on himself:

The next step for Sam, of course, was to try it himself. He wanted to know if it worked. He wanted to prove that it worked. But mostly, he wanted it to work. He wanted it to search the world and point, to reach down like the finger of God and say, “Her.” How good was this algorithm? First time out, it set Sam up with Meredith Maxwell. She worked next door. In the marketing department. Of Sam’s own company. For their first date, they met for lunch in the cafeteria at work. She was leaning against the doorframe grinning at him when he got off the elevator, grinning helplessly himself.
“Meredith Maxwell,” she said, shaking Sam’s hand. “My friends mostly call me Max.”
“Not Merde?” Sam asked, incredulous, appalled with himself, even as he was doing so. Who made a joke like that–pretentious, scatological, and French–as a first impression? Sam was awkward and off-putting and a little gross.
Incredibly, Meredith Maxwell laughed. She thought it was funny. She thought Sam was funny. But it wasn’t a miracle. It was computer science.

Both in their early thirties and unattached, Sam and Meredith (forever known to Sam as “Merde”) fall in love so easily and undramatically that when events conspire to have them moving in together, it makes perfect sense to start the living-happily-ever-after part of their lives right away, now that the wonders of computer technology and Sam’s programming genius have brought them together. It’s best not to know much more of the plot in advance because serendipity and bolts from the blue play a major role in how the story goes, so I won’t say much more here, except that the theme of loss runs through the novel starting with the sudden death of Sam’s mother when Sam was only thirteen months old, leaving Sam’s father (also a software engineer) to miss her for many years and Sam with a hole in his life where his mother should have been and no memories of his own stored up.

I hope Goodbye for Now won’t be marketed as a romantic story for women, because there’s so much more here…about grieving, marriage, friendship, artificial intelligence, and (of course, as in all the best novels) the motives of the human heart. Male readers of male authors who write humorous yet sharply observed novels and sometimes touching novels like Jonathan Tropper, Nick Hornby, and Tom Perrotta, should also like Goodbye for Now. (Look! There are model airplanes on the cover, not shoes or a thin, pale white woman in a dress.) If you are a reader of either sex who likes novels by Meg Wolitzer (Surrender, Dorothy), or Carolyn Parkhurst (The Dogs of Babel), or Laurie Colwin, you should also pick up Goodbye for Now as soon as it comes out.

Goodbye for Now
Frankel, Laurie
Doubleday
Aug. 7, 2012
978-0-385-53618-9
288 pp., $25.95 U.S./$30.oo CAN

Disclosure: I received an advance reading copy of Goodbye for Now from Doubleday through LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewer program.
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Finding Family, New & Old: So Far Away by Meg Mitchell Moore

Cover image of So Far AwayFor Meg Mitchell Moore‘s second novel, So Far Away, she has created historical diary entries from an Irish immigrant maid’s found notebook, as well as believable contemporary characters ranging in age from 57-year-old archivist Kathleen, to Kathleen’s 30-something friend and coworker Neil, down to 13-year-old Natalie, who travels by bus from her suburban Newburyport home to Boston to visit the Massachusetts Archives in Boston on her own. She brings a crumbling notebook filled with handwriting too spidery for Natalie to read that she found hidden away in her basement – which turns out to be a gripping personal account from a Bridget O’Connell Callaghan (writing in 1975 as an elderly woman) about her position as a young maid just over from Ireland in a Boston doctor’s household.
Natalie (whose parents have separated and haven’t been showing much interest in her life) is investigating her family history for a school project and as a way of escaping bullying classmates who are tormenting her with malicious text messages. Kathleen, living alone with her dog Lucy after losing her teenage daughter years ago, becomes concerned about Natalie, but isn’t sure whether or how to intervene.
The author skillfully brings together several different story lines – historical and contemporary. Readers who liked The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards, A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve, or novels by Laura Moriarty or Joanna Trollope, will also like this moving novel about how easily families can break apart and how hard it can be to create new ones.

So Far Away
Moore, Meg Mitchell
Reagan Arthur (Little, Brown)
May 29, 2012
978-0-316-09769-7
$25.99

Disclosure: I received an advance reading copy of So Far Away from Little, Brown through NetGalley, but plan to purchase my own hardcover copy at an author signing at the Mattapoisett Free Public Library this month. Additional disclosure: I’m friends with the author’s mother-in-law, but I don’t think that influenced the review!

Other opinions of So Far Away (mostly good):
Amused by Books
Coffee and a Book Chick
Devourer of Books
Everyday I Write the Book
Jenn’s Bookshelves

Dysfunctional Family Bonding Dysfunctionally: The Red House by Mark Haddon

Book Cover Image of The Red House by Mark HaddonDaily crises,  confrontations, misunderstandings, adolescent hormonal outbreaks, sexual tension, attempted suicide, a nervous breakdown, a dramatic brush with death, and no cell phone reception except in a tiny corner of an upstairs bedroom don’t make for a relaxing family holiday, but make The Red House by Mark Haddon, where much of what happens is happening inside someone’s head, an intriguing novel of family and identity.
Angela’s brother Richard phones Angela out of the blue after their mother’s funeral, to invite her, her under-employed husband of twenty years, Dominic, and their three kids (athletic Alex, age 17; born-again Daisy, 16; and dreamy Benjy, 8) – to spend a week’s holiday with him and his new wife, Louisa, and stepdaughter Melissa (age 16) in a rented house in the hilly countryside of Herefordshire on the Welsh border. Although resentful of Richard because of the years she spent dealing with their mother’s long, alcoholic decline while her financially successful younger brother paid the bills and kept his distance, Angela accepts his invitation –  unable to take her family on any vacation at all otherwise, much less to a more exotic locale, as she pointedly reminds Dominic, the failed family breadwinner. Five weeks from the surprising phone call, they’ve all met up at the shabby but comfortable rental house and started getting to know each other, somewhat stiffly and awkwardly.*
Sentence fragments. Many fragments. Passing thoughts, random images, partial memories, inchoate yearnings. (This was how I thought of starting out the review, but I was afraid it would sound negative, and I want readers of literary fiction to read The Red House, even though it is more like A Spot of Bother,** the author’s second novel, than his more popular first, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.)
It takes a while to get used to the poetic style of the author’s writing. (Sentence fragments. Many fragments.) You don’t always know what is being thought or who is doing the thinking at first, but this is the way the author gets the reader into the characters’ heads. People don’t think in fully-formed, coherent paragraphs, or even in full sentences, sometimes not even verbally.
Also confusing at first is the way the author uses italics instead of quotation marks to signify that a character is talking, not thinking – the opposite of the usual use of italics. I don’t know why the author decided to do this. Maybe just because most of the book would have been italicized if it had been done the usual way.
Even those who aren’t relative strangers to each other learn something about their siblings, spouses, parents, children, or themselves during the week away – some good, some bad – and have had to revise their thoughts about themselves or someone else during their time outside of usual life. Nothing is charming or particularly heartwarming (no group-hugs), but the brief period of togetherness makes their individual lives of quiet desperation a little less lonely and desperate.

*understatement of the year
**understatement of THAT year

Read a Telegraph article about author Mark Haddon here, which includes a short excerpt from near the beginning of The Red House.

Disclosure: I received an e-galley of this book from Doubleday through NetGalley.

The Red House
Haddon, Mark
Doubleday
June 12, 2012
978-0-385-53577-9
272 p., $25.95, hc

More Speed Dating with Must-Read MassBook Authors, Part 2

Speed dating with the Must Read Massachusetts Authors at the Massachusetts Library Association conference on Wednesday, May 9, was so much fun. Six of the authors whose books have been selected as finalists for Massachusetts Book Awards in one of four categories (Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Children’s/Young Adult) had just 4½ minutes at six different tables crowded with librarians to get each group excited to read their books.

Photo of the six authors

L to R: Laura Harrington, Diana Gordon, Kimberly Marcus, Jef Czekaj, Lawrence Vincent, and Leonard Rosen

Book cover image of All Cry Chaos

Leonard Rosen drew on his academic and nonfiction writing background to write his first literary thriller.

Leonard Rosen‘s experience in teaching writing classes at Bentley University and Harvard University came through as soon as he sat down and hooked the attention of the classroom table with a show-and-tell. “The idea for All Cry Chaos came to me when I was on a flight from Boston to L.A. and looked out the window and saw this,” he said, showing the group a enlarged aerial photograph of ridge lines branching out from a main trunk in a dry desert landscape. Flipping through a succession of photos of hands, bloodshot eyes, trees, and a cabbage leaf (“even my appetizer at dinner”) he explained how he began to notice a similar pattern all over the place. “It made me wonder, ‘Is there a Pattern-maker?’ That is to say, ‘Is there a God?’ And that is the question the character in my book takes on.” His main character, Henri Poincaré, is close to retirement as an Interpol agent when a prominent mathematician/Harvard professor is dramatically murdered at the World Trade Organization meeting in Amsterdam. Poincaré gets drawn into the victim’s complex theories and mathematical discoveries to solve the case.

Cover image of book Nightly, at the Institute of the Possible

D.M. Gordon’s book is from Hedgerow Press, a new poetry imprint from Levellers Press in Western Mass.

Somewhat sadly, Diana Gordon, whose second collection of poetry has the intriguing title Nightly, at the Institute of the Possible, had to endure a moment of awkward silence when she sat down and asked the group at the table: “Do you like to read poetry?” When no one answered, however, she smoothly segued into the relationship of authors and librarians (“Writers need libraries and libraries need writers.”) and read a short poem from her book. She suggested offering poetry readings at the library where people would read and discuss other people’s poems, not just share their own poetry, and that librarians would not have to be poetry experts to facilitate a group like this. She herself facilitates a weekly poetry discussion group at the Forbes Library in Northampton.

Photo of Jef Czekaj

Jef Czekaj of Somerville explaining how he came to write and illustrate  the children’s book, A Call for a New Alphabet.

Jef Czekaj is a cartoonist, children’s book author/illustrator, and a D.J. He uses his real name for his writing and illustrating (“Czekaj” is pronounced CHECK-eye,) but D.J.s under a pseudonym. His Must-Read children’s picture book, A Call for a New Alphabet, is about an exasperated letter X. Jef took the confessional approach at our table, announcing straightaway, “I was a linguistics major, and when I graduated, I realized I couldn’t do anything with my linguistics degree.” Luckily, he found an artistic niche that also allows him to use his fondness for language. His books Hip and Hop, Don’t Stop!, Cat Secrets, and The Circulatory Story were all Junior Library Guild selections.

See the previous post, More Speed Dating with Must-Read MassBook Authors, Part One, for the speed-dating skinny on Kimberly Marcus, author of the YA novel Exposed; L.M. Vincent, author of the quirky microhistory In Search of Motif No. 1; and Laura Harrington, author of Alice Bliss.

All six of the Must-Read authors were friendly and engaging to talk with, and all were open to a second date, i.e. being invited to libraries to speak. The full list of Must Read authors will be posted by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, and all Massachusetts libraries will be receiving a copy of the poster showing all of the Must Read titles.

Photo of Must-Read Books Banner 2012

Must-Read Books selected by Massachusetts Book Awards judges

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More Speed Dating with Must-Read MassBook Authors, Part 1

Authors wait as they are introduced

Authors appear a little nervous waiting for their first table assignments.

Speed Dating with the Authors sponsored by the Massachusetts Center for the Book was a big hit for the second year in a row, with over a hundred attendees on the opening day of the Massachusetts Library Association conference. Twelve finalists for Massachusetts Book Awards have been selected as Must Reads in each of four categories – Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Children’s/Young Adult. Six intrepid Must-Read authors agreed to take part in matchmaking with a roomful of librarians eagerly looking for their newest favorite book. All of the authors were great sports about being rotated around the six packed tables to talk about their books, their writing process, and themselves.

Photo of Kimberly Marcus

Author Kimberly Marcus drew on her knowledge as a clinical social worker to write Exposed, her first YA novel.

The action of Kimberly Marcus‘s first young adult novel, Exposed, set in Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, begins when 16-year-old Liz – a gifted photographer – learns that her brother is accused of raping her best friend. How did she come to write the entire novel in free verse? A friend suggested writing a scene she was stuck on as a poem to get unstuck. That advice helped her get unstuck, and later on, it helped again. That’s when she realized “the idea of snapshots and verse really worked” and she wrote the whole book that way. Kimberly Marcus has also written a children’s picture book, Scritch-Scratch A Perfect Match. A North Dartmouth resident, she lives near the beach and has set Exposed in a fictional town on the Cape.

Cover image of In Search of Motif No. 1

In Search of Motif No. 1 by L. M. Vincent

L.M. Vincent’s “quirky” new book, In Search of Motif No. 1: The History of a Fish Shack, intrigued librarians with its eye-catching cover art and Rockport theme. Comfortable with an audience, Lawrence Vincent (a multi-talented humorist and playwright, as well as radiologist in a Boston hospital) talked about how he came to write about the iconic Cape Ann shack lost in the Blizzard of ’78 and later rebuilt. “I didn’t even know what a fish shack was when I moved to Massachusetts,” he said, but he became curious about the proliferation of paintings and photographs – good and bad – with the shack as their subject. Researching the “truly fabulous pieces” that came out of the heyday of the artists’ colony there (1920-1946) led him to write the history of the shack, which is, he says, “in many ways, the history of small-town America.”

Blurry photo of Laura Harrington

Alice Bliss, Laura Harrington’s first novel, is getting a lot of buzz.

Laura Harrington, author of Alice Bliss, her first novel, is also a playwright. She made instant friends at the table I was at by sitting down and declaring, “Librarians are my favorite people.” A Gloucester resident and native of Rochester, New York, Laura said that her own family’s history (Her father fought in World War II and her two brothers in Vietnam) led her to write about the war in Iraq. “I want to get people thinking about the war,” she said, “but I hope the book will also get people thinking about a girl. Alice Bliss, centered around a 15-year-old daughter’s relationship with her father, is about the Iraq War but is “really a classic coming-of-age story,” she said. Alice Bliss has also been named a Best Adult Book for Teens by School Library Journal.

All six of the authors were friendly and engaging to talk with, and all were open to a second date, i.e. being invited to libraries to speak. Part Two of this blog post will talk about Jef Czekaj, author/illustrator of A Call for a New Alphabet; D. M. Gordon, author of the poetry collection Nightly, at the Institute of the Possible; and Leonard Rosen’s literary thriller All Cry Chaos.

Photo of Must-Read Books Banner 2012

Must-Read Books selected by Massachusetts Book Awards judges

The full list of Must Read authors will be posted soon by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, and all Massachusetts libraries will be receiving a copy of the beautiful poster that premiered at the Speed Dating with the Must Read Authors yesterday.

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More Than Satire: The New Republic by Lionel Shriver

Edgar Kellogg, the main character of The New Republic, a novel by Lionel Shriver, is a striver and a fan –the salutatorian instead of the valedictorian, the vice president, the second-place finisher. He’s tired of doing the admiring; he wants to be admired. His place near the top of the legal profession means nothing to him now that he’s made it there, so he throws it all in to take up the calling of his old English public school idol Toby Falconer – foreign correspondent for the National Record.
Author Lionel Shriver (an American woman who lives in England) has expressed some exasperation in the past with publishers who insist on putting “girly” covers on her novels, saying it’s “like stuffing a rottweiler in a dress.” They’ve finally listened with the cover of The New Republic, a book that the author finished in 1998 and couldn’t get published. (It’s not that it’s poorly written –Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin got a lot of rejections, too, but when finally published, became a critically acclaimed bestseller – it’s more because of the subject matter, terrorists and their political wing who are more inept than intimidating, and the characters, who are all flawed and unlikeable in various ways.)
The New Republic is set in Barba, an imaginary peninsula of Portugal, where a band of terrorists with the unfortunate name S.O.B. has sprung up, demanding independence for Barba, the most godforsaken province you could ever imagine, and responsible for barbarous acts of terrorism in Europe. Edgar lands his first real gig as a foreign correspondent in Barba, a backwater that only interests the rest of the world when the S.O.B. and its political arm, O Creme de Barbear, make the news after committing some new atrocity.
To his vast annoyance, when he arrives in Barba, Edgar finds himself following in the footsteps of another outsized, charismatic personality like Toby Falconer back in high school. Barrington Saddler’s English accent, animal magnetism, insider’s knowledge, and sparkling repartee, charmed the females in Barba’s journalistic enclave and had the male reporters vying for his approval, until Saddler suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. At first, Saddler’s absence makes more of an impact on the enclave of foreign correspondents than Edgar’s presence, but Edgar is staying in Saddler’s house, eating his leftover food, and becoming attracted to Saddler’s former lover, Nicole. The more Edgar learns about Saddler, Barba and the S.O.B., the more he learns about becoming larger-than-life himself.
Lionel Shriver writes unsettling books. Her characters are always human, rarely heroic. They make mistakes; some are big and disastrous ones. The New Republic is funny, as biting satire should be, but also frightening in how plausible the outrageous scenario she sets up seems.
Not recommended for fans of women’s fiction (!) but if you liked The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, you might also like The New Republic‘s portrayal of foreign journalists.

The New Republic
Shriver, Lionel
HarperCollins
March 2012
978-0-06-210332

Disclosure: I read most of this book as an e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley, but it expired before I finished, so I read the ending from a public library copy of the book.
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Waiting on Wednesday – Fear by Michael Grant (YA)

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating. This week’s pre-publication “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

Fear

Michael Grant

Publication Date: April 3, 2012

There are many young adult series of which I have read the first one and left it at that, but not the Gone series by Michael Grant. This is book #5 and I need to find out what’s going to happen to Sam and Astrid and all the other kids in a small California town who were left behind one day when everyone aged 15 and up disappeared suddenly and without warning in the first book, Gone.
Over the course of the series, the kids who were left to manage with no adults and a dwindling food supply have been trying to figure out what happened (a dome/force field of some kind), whether the scary mutations that some of the kids are experiencing can be stopped, whether it’s good or bad to disappear on your upcoming 15th birthday, and, of course, how to fight off the bad (rich) kids, the forces of evil, and the Darkness monster. (There are several plot threads to keep track of, including the role that Little Pete, Astrid’s autistic brother, plays in the whole catastrophe.)
The story seemed to lose a little momentum with book #4, and I wondered if the author had to extend the series past an originally planned trilogy due to the books’ popularity, but I’m counting on the author to answer at least a few questions in book #5!
These books are page-turners that teens looking for action and suspense who don’t mind a touch of science fiction verging on horror will eagerly devour.

Gone series so far:
Gone
Hunger
Lies
Plague

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