I’d like to say that I survive the winter by embracing it, relishing in it, participating in it. But I do not. I’m not very fond of winter, except for the fact that it gives me a good excuse to stay inside and read for months (upon months, upon months). Here are some of my recent novel favorites that should get you through the winter just fine. For more suggestions, e-mail me.
“Father of the Rain,” ?by Lily King
It’s a somber story, that of a daughter’s relationship with her alcoholic father, the pain he caused her both in her childhood and as an adult, and the inexorable ties that bind her to him, even at the sake of her own happiness, both personally and professionally. It brings up many questions, the foremost of which is, “Would I make those same sacrifices even if my dad wasn’t a pathetically helpless, selfish and mean alcoholic?” With its well-drawn and likeably flawed characters, King’s novel has, at its heart, the concept of familial love, and the quest for it, even when it cannot be explained. It’s one of those novels you’ll think about for a long time after you’ve finished it. It’s very good, but be warned, if you’re even near being down in the dumps, read a more light-hearted book first and pick up “Father of the Rain” when you’re in a sunnier mood. It does have its rejoiceful moments of redemption – I’m not saying it’s a complete downer – but it’s heavy nonetheless. Heavy, but powerful and provocative. King lives in Maine, by the way.
“Moonlight Mile,” ?by Dennis Lehane
Fans of Dennis Lehane’s dynamic duo, Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, have waited a while – too long – for him to put this private investigator couple back in action. In the sequel to “Gone, Baby, Gone,” Patrick and Angie, who are at a new stage in their lives, find themselves once again searching for Amanda, the missing girl they tracked down when she was 4. Now Amanda is a teenager and a very wise one at that. Throw in the Russian mob and some other seedy characters and you’ve got a great, suspenseful, fast-paced read. Even if you haven’t ridden the rollercoaster of Patrick’s and Angie’s relationship through the previous books/years, you’ll like this fast-paced thriller set in Boston with some Maine references in there, too.
“The Invisible Bridge,” ?by Julie Orringer
The main character in Julie Orringer’s powerful novel has his whole life ahead of him. And Andras Levi has big plans. A Hungarian Jew from a working-class family, he heads off for architecture school in Paris in 1937. His future is rosy: He has a scholarship, and his work draws praise. He becomes close with classmates and meets the woman of his dreams. Orringer’s story of what the world did to Andras – or, more specifically, what the ensuing war did to him, his two brothers, his parents, his wife and children, his in-laws and friends – is aching but heartening, painful to read at times and so mesmerizing that in spite of the book’s heft, its ending comes too soon. Andras and the others – the many interwoven stories are gripping, as well – are trapped by the war, foiled at every attempt at normalcy, let alone happiness. But love, loyalty and a bit of serendipity keep Andras strong in the midst of the nightmares of the Holocaust.
“Her Fearful Symmetry,” by Audrey Niffenegger
Audrey Niffenegger, highly acclaimed for her science fiction-love story, “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” takes on a dark ghost-love story in “Her Fearful Symmetry.” It’s an odd, disturbing tale, but also mesmerizing and memorable. Peculiar sisters Julia and Valentina are identical “mirror” twins. “So the small mole on the right side of Julia’s mouth was on the left side of Valentina’s” One is left-handed, one right, and so on. They are pale, blonde, thin, short, and at age 20, “often mistaken for undernourished twelve-year-olds,” and are unhealthy inseparable. When an aunt they have never met, their mother’s twin, dies and leaves her London flat to the girls, they go and join the two other odd residents of the building. Oh and their aunt’s ghost is there, too. What follows is a story of surprises, strange to say the least, but very good.
“The Ape House,” ?by Sara Gruen
Consider reality TV, meth labs, over-the-top animal-rights activists, Botox, tabloids and Internet diatribes, and you, too, might come to the conclusion: People should be more like animals. Sara Gruen’s entertaining, enlightening novel will certainly leave you thinking so. While it still deals with the subject of animal cruelty, “Ape House” is different from Gruen’s somber and unforgettable bestseller, “Water For Elephants,” about love, betrayal and violence in a traveling circus in the early 20th century. The more contemporary “Ape House” resonates for its examination of often-ridiculous human behavior juxtaposed with the interactions of a lovable family of bonobos, a species of small chimpanzee that shares 99.4 percent of its DNA with humans.
“How to Read the Air,” ?by Dinaw Mengestu
Dinaw Mengestu was selected as one of the New Yorker’s “20 Under 40’’ authors and lives up to his billing with this magnificent novel, his second. With elegance and eloquence he makes a sad married couple’s story that of everyone’s quest for security, acceptance and love. Jonas, a first-generation Ethiopian-American (Mengestu was born in Ethiopia and came to the United States as a small child) is trying to make sense of his parents’ abusive relationship and his own bumbling life and fractured marriage. Yet his is a universal story, too, meticulously and seamlessly multi-tiered. We are all immigrants, Mengestu implies, seeking the truth in our pasts, truths that differ from one participant to the next.
“Father of the Rain,” by Lily King“Moonlight Mile,” by Dennis Lehane“The Invisible Bridge,” by Julie Orringer“Her Fearful Symmetry,” by Audrey Niffenegger“Ape House,” by Sara Gruen“How To Read The Air,” by Dinaw MengestuAmy Canfield is senior editor at Islandport Press (www.islandportpress.com) and a freelance book reviewer. She lives in South Portland. Her books blog is http://islandportpress.typepad.com/pagingamy/ E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org