Friday, March 28, 2014

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

The title of Moriarty's book provides a powerful hook. It lures the reader to venture inside to see what that secret might be. The usual thoughts run through the book peruser's mind - an affair, a child somewhere, or the absconding of a large amount of money. They could all be ones to entice the purchase. Set in Australia, the novel takes place the week before Easter and intertwines the lives of three women and their families.

Cecelia Fitzpatrick seems to have the perfect life. Her husband, Jean-Paul, is a successful business man, her three daughters are charming and smart, and she is the epitome of organization and time management, and a successful purveyor of Tupperware. Her daughter, Esther, has a fascination with history and dives into diverse subjects fully. Last month it was the Titanic disaster and this month it is the Berlin Wall. Cecelia has been to the Wall and goes to the attic to find the piece that she brought home as a souvenir. It is there she discovers the letter that is only to be opened on the death of her husband Jean-Paul. The dilemma that presents itself is obvious. Should she open it, ignore it, confront her husband, or destroy it. Nearly a third of the way through the book, the resolve to open it is manifested and her life becomes all the more complicated and thrown into turmoil.

Then there is Tess O'Leary who with her husband Will and cousin Felicity operate an advertising agency. Imagine the hurt and anger she feels when Will and Felicity meet with her to announce their love for each other, tho until this point it has been unconsummated. How will this affect their son Liam. It's a situation that is just incomprehensible and given that her mother has just broken her ankle, she takes Liam and travels from Melbourne to Sydney to be with her.

Finally, there is Rachel Crowley whose daughter Janie was murdered when she was a teenager and whose assailant has never been apprehended. Rachel has led a sad life since that time and her predicament of loss is about to increase when her son Rob and his wife Lauren reveal their plans to move to New York City to help further Lauren's career. She will lose her son and her beloved grandson, nearly like losing Janie 27 years ago. 

Moriarty weaves the stories together masterfully. Her use of flashback and point of view enhance the plot and the readers' involvement in it. The character development is well crafted and the insight into each person is crystal clear. Each has a dilemma of some sort and to peer into their hearts and souls gives so much meaning to the complexity of their characterization. The resolutions to the problems are not easily or one dimensional and they are revealed in a deliberately slowed unveiling. The afterword is a welcomed addition and adds further insight into the characters' lives.

The Husband's Secret is a perfect book for book club discussion. As each character wrestles with their life situation and the decisions that must be made, the opportunity for dialogue whether concurring or differing presents itself. Perhaps it should have been titled The Husbands' Secret.  Put this on the "Must Read" shelf.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Transatlantic by Colum McCann

Novels like Transatlantic intrigue me. They commence as one kind of book and then metamorphose into something totally different. Written in the style of his National Book Award winner, Let the Great World Spin, the novel spans years and places but is tied to one familiar place for McCann - Ireland. 

It begins on the coast of Newfoundland in 1919 as John Alcock and Arthur Brown make preparations for their transatlantic flight. They have spent hours outfitting an old bomber for the flight. Before they take off they are handed a letter by Emily Ehrlich, a reporter for the local paper who lives with her daughter Lottie.  As quickly as they land in a bog in Ireland, the action turns to another time and place, Frederick Douglass' trip to Ireland in 1845.

Douglass is on a speaking tour in Ireland just a few years after his escape from slavery. His message is powerful and the reader gets a glimpse of a bit of history that is often forgotten. He stays with a family by the name of Webb and is tended to by their maid, Lily. Years later the reader is reacquainted with Lily Duggan as she tends to wounded soldiers in the Civil War. 

And then a leap to the 20th where George Mitchell, U.S. Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, is hastily leaving his wife and baby for one of the many treks across the Atlantic in efforts to broker peace with the Northern Irish factions. This was an interesting part of the book, but seemed weak in comparison to the other segments. The year is 1998 and the historic Good Friday agreement is signed.

Throughout the entire book there is a thread that keeps it all tied together - the daughters of Lily Duggan and their tie to Ireland. As the time passes from one generation to the next, they are connected and nurtured by one another and their heritage. In each section McCann gives them a strong voice and identifiable character. The Atlantic is that wide body that allows them to go away, but yet come home. It is the constant as their lives change. A wonderful book and interwoven story that shouldn't be passed over. Very much looking forward to the lecture on this book on 10 March 2014.

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

Alternating between 1943 and 1955, Bohjalian crafts a mystery, historical fiction and psychological thriller in his book, The Light in the Ruins. Interspersed with those chapters is a narrator's viewpoint on the murders he has committed and is about to commit. 

Outside of Florence, there is, what once was a bucolic Tuscan villa - Villa Chimera. Owned by the Marchese and Marchesa Rosati, it is a sanctuary for their family from the horrific brutality of the war. Living with Antonio and Beatrice is their daughter, Christina, and daughter-in-law Francesca and her two children Their son, Vittore works in Florence at the Uffizi and their other son, Marco, Francesca's husband is serving in the Italian army. Life in the villa changes drastically one day when Nazi soldiers arrive wanting to see the caves of earlier Etruscan burial grounds. The soldiers subsequently occupy the villa for an outpost and Christina becomes romantically involved with one

In 1955 Serafina Bettini is working as a homicide detective in Florence when she is called to investigate the chilling murder of Francesca Rosati. The body is discovered in her apartment with her heart cut out. As the investigation continues, the reader begins to learn more about Serafina and her involvement in the war. She has suffered brutal wounds that have left her scarred and without a portion of her ear. 

As the narrative moves back and forth between the time periods and through flashbacks in the minds of the main characters, the connections between the characters begin to be elucidated. The serial killer's narration reveals that his/her revenge will be taken on the Rosatis, one by one.

The Light in the Ruins is another example of the masterful and powerful storytelling of Chris Bohjalian. It is gruesome, to be sure, but is also a gripping chronicle of the war in Italy. The struggle between citizens, the Partisans, and the Nazis shows the multi-faceted effects of a conflict. How does one balance doing what is right when it comes to saving one's family? Its strength lies in historical and political analysis. The revelation of the serial killer is a bit of a shock with so many possibilities - a man, woman, Italian, Nazi, an acquaintance or one who needs to exact revenge on the rich landholders?  The meaning behind the title of the book is illuminated at the end, much as the dock light in Gatsby does for that novel.  Bohjalian needs to be on the list of "must read" authors.