Monday, August 29, 2016

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

Sometimes you just need to read a book that is light, charming, and delightful. These were fitting adjectives to describe The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper,  Patrick's debut novel.

As the novel begins, Arthur, a widower for a year, decides to begin cleaning out his deceased wife's closet. In the process he discovers, in the toe of a boot  a gold charm bracelet. Arthur can't ever remember Miriam wearing it. There are 8 charms on the bracelet and he is curious as to their significance. The first charm that intrigues Arthur is a small tiger that happens to have a phone number on the back. Reaching down for the courage to call the number, he finally musters it and places the call to all places, India. There he reaches a Rajesh Mehra whose nanny was Miriam. And so Arthur's journey begins.

He follows leads for all the charms that take him to Paris, London, a manor outside Bath and a college in Scarborough. The charms reveal a part of Miriam's life of which Arthur was not aware. He begins to wonder whether he really knew his wife. Was she happy with him? Did she really love him. The charms also lead Arthur to really change his life. He has been a virtual recluse since his wife's death, but on a quest for knowledge brings him out in the world. He is befriended by a neighbor, Bernadette, who brings him pies and encourages him to leave his house. She is a catalyst for his being able to start to get on with his life.

In a secondary plot line is Arthur's relationship with his children. Lucy, who has emotional problems of her own, and Dan, the son who moved to Australia, are, for the most part, absent from his life. They did not even come to their mother's funeral. As Arthur tries to rekindle a relationship with them, he again learns more about his wife and himself. The ending is quite poignant and I will admit to a bit of a sniffle. 

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper reminds me a lot of 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson. A series of items left to the protagonist to a different place that has meaning to that person. As Ginny and Arthur try to piece together that meaning they discover more about themselves as well as their benefactor. Patrick's book is a fun read. There is humor, a bit of sadness, some suspense, and a dark revelation. It's a fast read and a good end of the summer pool or beach book.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Eddie's Bastard by William Kowalski

It really is true that belonging to book club can expand your reading vista. Whether browsing or searching, I probably would never have chosen this debut novel by William Kowalski. There were even some of us who tried to hide the title as we were reading. Eddie's Bastard  is a saga of a family, the Manns, and, as such, the reader is privy to all those ups and downs and secrets that are a part of family history.

A baby is left in a basket on the doorstep of an farmhouse in 1970. An older man discovers the little boy and by looking at the infant's eyes, knows immediately that the child is a member of his family. He names the boy William Amos Mann, or Billy for short. A a genealogist, it would have been helpful to have a pedigree chart for all the family members whose stories are drawn into the novel. Central to the story, also, is the grandfather, Thomas Mann, Jr.'s, diary from World War  II and his being shot down by a Japanese pilot. But then there is the introduction of another Mann who fought in the Civil War. At times it becomes confusing and takes a bit of perseverance. 

Billy is home-schooled by his grandfather and the two lead a virtually eremitical life, living on fried bologna sandwiches. (This actually created a craving and a trip to the grocery store to get the fixin's for the same.) Thomas was an alcoholic and Billy learned to cope with being very much on his own as he grew up.

Billy's world expands to include other towns people in the small town of Mannsville, not too far from Buffalo and Erie. There is the Annie Simpson whom he loves, but who has a horrific secret that she keeps, Elsie, the prostitute who shows Billy the ways of the world, and Dr. Connor, who knows everything about everyone in the town. It is through the characters that Billy's life is shaped. 

Although I found the book a bit slow in the beginning, I began to appreciate the writing, situations, and the character development. It was hilarious when the ostrich adventure recurs, and sad when the Simpsons were center stage. Throughout it all, it is really the story of a young boy and then young man who is on a quest to discover who he really is and from where he comes. This search drives him to the very end of the novel and leads the reader to think that there will be something more to Billy's life story. And there is, the sequel, Somewhere South of Here.  A good and satisfying read.