Things are looking up in my part of the world with spring on the, albeit distant, horizon and some great new fiction on offer in March beginning with Charlotte Mendelson’s The Exhibitionist, seven years in the writing according to the letter that accompanied my proof. Artists Ray and Lucia Hanrahan have been together for decades. Lucia is younger than Ray who made his reputation with a single work off which he’s lived ever since, claiming that Lucia’s held him back by continuing with her own career while it’s Lucia who’s kept the family afloat, deferring to Ray’s outrageously inflated ego at the cost of all her children. On the eve of Ray’s first exhibition in years, Lucia’s evading the call from her agent that most artists would be thrilled to take. We’re in fabulously dysfunctional family territory with this entertaining novel which ends on a note of hope that made me want to cheer. Review soon…
Hard to resist the jacket of Claire Powell’s debut At the Table about another dysfunctional family although perhaps less so than the Hanrahans. The apparently happily married Linda and Gerry announce their separation much to their children’s shock. Both in their 30s, Nicole and Jamie seem heading for their own disasters even before their parents’ announcement. ‘Claire Powell’s beautifully observed debut novel follows each member of the Maguire family over a tumultuous year of lunches, dinners and drinks, as old conflicts arise and relationships are re-evaluated. A gripping yet tender depiction of family dynamics, love and disillusionment, At the Table is about what it means to grow up – both as an individual, and as a family’ say the publishers which sounds unmissable to me.
I still haven’t caught up with Anne Tyler’s last novel but that hasn’t stopped me casting my eye at French Braid which spans seven decades from the ‘50s to the present day in the lives of the Garrett family. Robin and Mercy have three children whose care is left to their mother who longs to become a painter. As the years wear on, these five will continue to have an influence on each other’s lives in the way that family members do despite the best efforts of some to get away. ‘Full of heartbreak and hilarity, French Braid is classic Anne Tyler: a stirring, uncannily insightful novel bursting with warmth and humour that illuminates the kindnesses and cruelties of our daily lives, the impossibility of breaking free from those who love us, and how close – yet how unknowable – every family is to itself’ say the publishers. No surprises there, then, but a reliably good read for Tyler fans by the sound of it.
I can rarely resist a small town American novel. Lee Cole’s Groundskeeping is set in Kentucky where Owen has returned to work as a groundskeeper at a small college. He and Alma, the writer-in-residence, strike up a relationship, kept under wraps, Owen attracted to Alma’s success and her liberal background, the antithesis of his own life. ‘Exploring the boundaries between life and art, and how our upbringings affect the people we can become, Groundskeeping is at heart a love story – a novel about two very different people navigating the turbulence of an all-consuming relationship, and the complications which can ruin it’ say the publishers temptingly. Very much like the sound of that.
Here’s one that could go either way. Keiran Goddard’s Hourglass is a love story, although not a conventional one according to the blurb which is more than a little opaque. Goddard’s novel follows a couple from love’s beginnings through its gradual flowering to its precipitate end. ‘Exquisitely crafted, wildly imaginative and as darkly funny as it is moving, Hourglass is a revolutionary love story. It turns time upside down, combs the intimate wreckage of heartbreak for something universal, and asks what it means to lose what you love’ says that blurb. Definitely sounds worth a try although I’m prepared for disappointment.
Colin Barrett’s short story collection, Homesickness, sounds a safer bet. ‘In these eight stories, Barrett takes us back to the barren backwaters of County Mayo, via Toronto, and illuminates the lives of outcasts, misfits and malcontents with an eye for the abrupt and absurd’ according to the publishers, suggesting a treat in store. I missed Barrett’s first collection, Young Skins, much praised by the likes of Kevin Barry, Jon McGregor and Colm Tóibín making me even keener to read this one.
That’s it for the first instalment of March’s fiction. A click on a title with take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more. Part two soon…