Tag Archives: Rick Gekoski

Paperbacks to Look Out for in June 2019: Part Two

Cover imageThis second batch of June paperbacks is as jam-packed with potential goodies as the first, a few of which I’ve already sampled including Sonia Zinovieff’s Putney which explores the fallout of childhood abuse through Ralph who’s aroused by Daphne’s boyish beauty when she is nine and he is twenty-seven. Daphne is the child of bohemian parents caught up in their own affairs, looking anywhere but at what’s happening under their noses. Forty years later, Ralph is oblivious to Daphne’s chaotic, rackety life while she works on a collage commemorating her time with him in a flat a stone’s throw away from her childhood home. This subject could so easily have been mishandled but Zinovieff explores it with consummate skill in a thoroughly accomplished novel.

I reviewed Finnish writer Philip Teir’s debut, A Winter War, back in 2015 when I described it as the perfect winter read. It may seem a bit lazy but it’s hard to resist describing The Summer House as the perfect summer read. Julia, Erik, ten-year-old Anton and twelve-year-old Alice are off to Mjölkviken for the summer where Erik plans to put his work troubles behind him and Julia wants to finish her novel but finds herself pulled back into her past. Teir’s second book explores the dynamics of modern family life with the same empathy and deftness as he did in his first. Well worth packing if you’re after an intelligent holiday read.

As is Patrick deWitt’s French Exit, a pleasingly caustic caricature of the wealthy upper classesCover image which takes its readers from New York City to Paris in the company of Frances Price, her son Malcolm and Small Frank, their cat. After years of jaw-dropping extravagance Frances is running out of money so why does she spend much of her time trying to divest herself of the 185,000 euros she has stashed in her handbag, and why is such an ancient cat so important to her. I’ve been a keen fan of deWitt’s fiction since reading his darkly comic ripping yarn, The Sisters Brothers and although the latter remains my favourite, French Exit is a welcome treat.

Cherise Wolas’ The Family Tabor sounds rather more conventional. Harry Tabor is about to be honoured as Man of the Decade in recognition of his work with the many Jewish refugees he’s helped to settle in America. Years ago, Harry uprooted his own family taking them across the States from Connecticut to the South West. ‘Wolas examines the five members of the Tabor family as they prepare to celebrate Harry. Through each of their points of view, we see family members whose lives are built on lies, both to themselves and to others, and how these all come crashing down during a seventy-two-hour period’ according to the blurb which sounds highly entertaining.

Rick Gekoski’s A Long Island Story is set in the summer of 1953 when the Grossmans and their two children relocate from Washington DC to Long Island. The move unsettles the couple who Cover imagebegin to wonder if their lives might have been different, and if their marriage is worth fighting for. It’s described by the publishers as ‘a portrait of a couple in crisis, of a unique and fascinating period in US history and of a seemingly perfect family fighting their demons behind closed doors’ which sounds quite promising to me.

I’ve always been surprised at how few novels are set in offices given how many of us have worked in them and what political hothouses they can be. Halle Butler’s The New Me looks at the life of a thirty-year-old temp as she watches her permanently employed peers and wonders if she will ever join their ranks. Then a vacancy arises and Millie contemplates the possibility of a life of stability and perks. ‘Will it bring the new life Millie is envisioning – one involving a gym membership, a book club, and a lot less beer and TV – finally within reach? Or will it reveal just how hollow that vision has become?’ ask the publishers.

Colleagues of a very different sort feature in Aja Gabel’s The Ensemble. Jana, Brit. Daniel and Henry are musicians, ill-suited as friends but drawn together by their art. Their chequered careers encompass ‘devastating failure and wild success, heartbreak and marriage, triumph and loss, betrayal and enduring loyalty. They are always tied to each other – by career, by the intensity of their art, by the secrets they carry, by choosing each other over and over again’ apparently. This one could go either way but I like the idea of a disparate group of characters locked together by their work.

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I’m finishing off June’s paperbacks with J M Holmes’ How Are You Going to Save Yourself about four young men who’ve grown up together but have drifted apart in adulthood as they try to cope with society’s expectations, family pressures and their own self-images. Described as ‘both humorous and heart-breaking’ it’s ‘a timely debut about sex, race, family and friendship’, apparently which sounds good to me.

That’s it for June’s paperbacks. A click on the first three titles will take you to my review, and to a more detailed synopsis for the other five. If you’d like to catch up with the first instalment it’s here. New novels are here and here.

Paperbacks to Look Out for in February 2018: Part Two

Cover imageI’ve yet to get around to reading George Saunders’ Man Booker Prize winning Lincoln in the Bardo. which examines the effects of the death of the President’s eleven-year-old son on his father. Lincoln was rumoured to have frequently visited his son’s grave despite the ravaging of his country by the American Civil War. ‘From this seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism, entering a thrilling, supernatural domain both hilarious and terrifying’ according to the publisher. I’m not entirely sure what to make of that but it’s the novel’s central question – ‘how do we live and love when we know that everything we hold dear must end?’ – together with Saunders’ reputation that makes this one attractive for me rather than its Man Booker prize.

My second choice was shortlisted for the Sunday Times/Peters, Fraser and Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award whose judges handed the prize to Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends. The shadow panel begged to differ, loving Julianne Pachico’s The Lucky Ones so much they picked it as their winner. Pachico’s short story collection is set in Colombia and New York, bringing together ‘the fates of guerrilla soldiers, rich kids, rabbits, hostages, bourgeois expats, and drug dealers. Exploring what makes a victim and what makes a perpetrator, these stories show lives fatefully entwined, despite deep cultural divides’ which sounds fascinating enough as it is but Annabel, Elle and Rebecca’s reviews are even more persuasive.

I’m particularly fond of the idea of an apartment block portrayed as a microcosm of a city – Alaa Cover imageAl Aswany did it beautifully in The Yacoubian Building as did Manil Suri in The Death of Vishnu but my favourite has to be Georges Perec’s Life, a User’s Manual. Fran Cooper’s debut, These Dividing Walls, is also set in a Parisian building whose inhabitants live their separate lives, barely aware of their neighbours’ existence. Enter Edward who seems to be about to change all that. ‘As the feverish metropolis is brought to boiling point, secrets will rise and walls will crumble both within and without Number 37…’ say the publishers somewhat melodramatically. Maybe I’ve set the bar too high having Perec in mind but it sounds worth investigating.

Hannah Tinti’s The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley comes billed by Ann Patchett as ‘one part Quentin Tarantino, one part Scheherazade’. Samuel has spent years on the run but has moved to his late wife’s hometown with his teenage daughter who is increasingly curious about what happened to her mother not to mention the twelve scars on Samuel’s body, each from a bullet. ‘Both a coming of age novel and a literary thriller, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley explores what it means to be a hero, and the price we pay to protect the people we love most’ say the publishers whose synopsis suggests the makings of a rollicking good bit of storytelling

Rick Gekoski’s Darke  looks like it picks up the existential angst theme with which this post began. It sees the eponymous character consumed by his ‘coming of old age’ journal, seeking consolation in books but finding little until his grandchildren distract him. ‘With scalding prose, ruthless intelligence and an unforgettably vivid protagonist, Darke confronts some of humanity’s greatest and most uncomfortable questions about how we choose to live, and to die’ promise the publishers. You may wonder why I’ve plumped for such a gloomy sounding subject in the middle of winter but I’ve enjoyed Gekoski’s memoirs of life as a rare book dealer very much.

Cover imageThanks are due to Heavenali for reminding me last week that the paperback edition of Rachel Malik’s Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves is due in February. Based on the author’s family history, it’s about two women who meet when Rene is a Land Girl and Elsie is running the family farm alone. These two become inseparable, facing adversity together until a dramatic event forces them apart. I’ll be posting a review of Malik’s tender, engrossing novel sometime in the next few weeks after being tempted to read it by Ali’s post.

That’s it for February’s paperbacks. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you be interested, and if you’d like to catch up with the first part of the preview it’s here. New titles are here and here.