Friday, August 26, 2011

Bestsellers - Old People & Debuts & Both

A few from recent bestsellers lists. Because despite my last post, I don't read only things with excessive flesh spilling over the cover, no matter what my husband thinks.

Emily, Alone: A NovelEmily, Alone by Stewart O'Nan - very little exposed skin, and all of it wrinkled. This is the same Emily I met in Wish You Were Here, now moved on from the immediate aftermath of her husband's death, but still impacted by his presence in her life. His sister, Arlene, is Emily's most frequent companion, and they depend on each other while still not seeing quite eye to eye on their world. Emily's children and grandchildren aren't as present in her life as she'd like, and her neighbors and friends are literally dying out, and her dog is getting old. It's a recipe for gloom in many ways, but Emily is a resilient character, acerbic at times, smart, and involved with every aspect of her life. The moments the novel carries us thorough are small (and very closely observed, in true O"Nan style), but infused with potency. I was left wanting to write my grandmother an overdue thank-you note, which isn't possible on this plane, but I hope she knows I meant to all the time.

The PostmistressSarah Blake's debut, The Postmistess, was transporting, complex, and stylistically deft. It weaves together the stories of Iris - the Postmaster of a small Cape Cod town, Emma - the wife of the town doctor, and Frankie - a radio reporter stationed in London during the Blitz. To Iris and Emma, who are both fairly new to their small, insular town, Frankie starts as just a voice on the radio, but a voice with import to them both. Emma's new husband, the town doctor, is compelled by one of Frankie's stories to head overseas to help the British, leaving Iris as a bastion for Emma to reluctantly lean upon. As Frankie delves deeper into the undercurrents of the war - especially in what it means for the Jews in Europe - her words feel more and more futile to her. Blake shows the impact she has, though, in the growing alarm of the Cape Cod town where Iris attempts to keep order in her life by following every rule of the postal service. (There's a great metaphor here with the flagpole and her paramour's hunt for U-boats in the Atlantic, but I won't spoil it - keep an eye on the flag, though, when you read this.) Frankie's reports from London and France brought tears to my eyes (Orlagh Cassidy's narration was perfect) and Blake made me think deeply about the nature of communication and secrets.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle)And because I love nothing more than a great debut novel, I also read Helen Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. Widower Major Pettigrew falls apart on page one, upon hearing of the sudden death of his younger brother. He's bolstered, unexpectedly, by Mrs. Ali, the owner of their small English village's convenience store. As Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali tentatively expand their friendship into something deeper, both are embroiled in issues with their extended families. Meanwhile, the golf club's social committee is planning their annual gala, and both the Major and Mrs. Ali are pulled into their provincial and preposterous plans. The comic characters are just on the right side of sympathetic, and the sympathetic characters manage to be a bit comic, as well. Ultimately it's a very tender and charming look at two lives that no one expected could become one.


  1. i read the postmistress a while back and was a bit disappointed. :( passed it along to my mom and aunt--they both loved it. guess it was me! as for maj. pettigrew, i've been hearing about this one left and right--guess i better get my hands on a copy. have a great weekend!

  2. Thanks, Natalie - I agree that Postmistress's ending was a little subdued, but thought that it was transporting, especially Frankie's story. It was so well narrated, too, which gave it bonus points for me. Have a great long weekend, yourself.