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The Book Trail: From The Woman Upstairs to the Unforgettable Mouth

I am starting this particular addition to my Book Trail series with a novel which I recently read and loved, Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs.  As ever, I have used the ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ tool on Goodreads to generate this list.

1. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud 9780307743763
From the New York Times best-selling author of The Emperor’s Children, a brilliant new novel: the riveting confession of a woman awakened, transformed, and betrayed by passion and desire for a world beyond her own.  Nora Eldridge, a thirty-seven-year-old elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who long ago abandoned her ambition to be a successful artist, has become the “woman upstairs,” a reliable friend and tidy neighbor always on the fringe of others’ achievements.  Then into her classroom walks Reza Shahid, a child who enchants as if from a fairy tale. He and his parents–dashing Skandar, a Lebanese scholar and professor at the École Normale Supérleure; and Sirena, an effortlessly glamorous Italian artist–have come to Boston for Skandar to take up a fellowship at Harvard. When Reza is attacked by schoolyard bullies who call him a “terrorist,” Nora is drawn into the complex world of the Shahid family: she finds herself falling in love with them, separately and together. Nora’s happiness explodes her boundaries, until Sirena’s careless ambition leads to a shattering betrayal.  Told with urgency, intimacy, and piercing emotion, this story of obsession and artistic fulfillment explores the thrill–and the devastating cost–of giving in to one’s passions.
2. Emancipation Day by Wayne Grady
How far would a son go to belong? And how far would a father go to protect him?  With his curly black hair and his wicked grin, everyone swoons and thinks of Frank Sinatra when Navy musician Jackson Lewis takes the stage. It’s World War II, and while stationed in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Jack meets the well-heeled, romantic Vivian Clift, a local girl who has never stepped off the Rock and is desperate to see the world. They marry against Vivian’s family’s wishes–hard to say what it is, but there’s something about Jack that they just don’t like–and as the war draws to a close, the new couple travels to Windsor to meet Jack’s family.  But when Vivian meets Jack’s mother and brother, everything she thought she knew about her new husband gets called into question. They don’t live in the dream home that Jack depicted, they all look different from one another–and different from anyone Vivian has ever seen–and after weeks of waiting to meet Jack’s father, William Henry, he never materializes.  Steeped in jazz and big-band music, spanning pre- and post-war Windsor-Detroit, St. John’s, Newfoundland, and 1950s Toronto, this is an arresting, heartwrenching novel about fathers and sons, love and sacrifice, race relations and a time in our history when the world was on the cusp of momentous change.
157925103. Kicking the Sky by Anthony de Sa
On a steamy summer day in 1977, Emanuel Jaques was shining shoes in downtown Toronto. Surrounded by the strip clubs, bars and body rub parlors of Yonge Street, Emanuel was lured away from his friends by a man who promised some easy money. Four days later the boy’s body was discovered. He had been brutally raped and murdered, and Toronto the Good would never be the same. The murder of the Shoeshine Boy had particularly tragic resonance for the city’s Portuguese community. The loss of one of their own symbolized for many how far they were from realizing their immigrant dreams.  Kicking the Sky is told from the perspective of one of these children, Antonio Rebelo, a character first introduced in Barnacle Love. Twelve-year-old Antonio prizes his life of freedom and adventure. He and his best friends, Manny and Ricky, spend their days on their bikes exploring the labyrinth of laneways that link their Portuguese neighborhood to the rest of the city. But as the details of Emanuel’s death expose Toronto’s seedier underbelly, the boys are pulled into an adult world of danger and cruelty, secrets and lies much closer to home.  Kicking the Sky is a novel driven by dramatic events, taking hold of readers from its opening pages, intensifying its force towards an ending of huge emotional impact.
4. My Ghosts by Mary Swan
In My Ghosts, with an uncanny eye for the telling detail, Mary Swan brings to vivid life a household of Scottish orphans trying to make their way in Toronto in 1879. The youngest, Clare, has rheumatic fever; the oldest brother has run away. The fate of them all rests on the responsible Ben, the irrepressible Charlie and the two middle sisters: Kez, sarcastic with big ears and a kind heart, and Nan, benignly round but with a hidden talent for larceny and mischief. Fascinating lives spool out from these siblings: a cast of indelible strivers and schemers, spinsters and unhappy spouses, star-crossed lovers and hidden adulterers, victims of war and of suicide–proof of how eventful the lives of “ordinary families” can be.  Swan leaves us with the contemporary Clare, widowed and moodily packing up her house. She isn’t sure what she’ll do next, and she knows nothing of her family’s past. But we do: we recognize the ghosts and echoes, the genetic patterns and the losses that have shaped her as much as her own choices and heartbreaks.  My Ghosts is entrancing fiction that pulls you into its characters’ lives at the same time as it inspires you to think about your own ghosts, your own forgotten past.
5. Curiosity by Joan Thomas 7904475
Award-winning novelist Joan Thomas blends fact and fiction, passion and science in this stunning novel set in 19th-century Lyme Regis, England — the seaside town that is the setting of both The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Jane Austen’s Persuasion.  More than 40 years before the publication of The Origin of Species, 12-year-old Mary Anning, a cabinet-maker’s daughter, found the first intact skeleton of a prehistoric dolphin-like creature, and spent a year chipping it from the soft cliffs near Lyme Regis. This was only the first of many important discoveries made by this incredible woman, perhaps the most important paleontologist of her day.  Henry de la Beche was the son of a gentry family, owners of a slave-worked estate in Jamaica where he spent his childhood. As an adolescent back in England, he ran away from military college, and soon found himself living with his elegant, cynical mother in Lyme Regis, where he pursued his passion for drawing and painting the landscapes and fossils of the area. One morning on an expedition to see an extraordinary discovery — a giant fossil — he meets a young woman unlike anyone he has ever met…
6. The Incident Report by Martha Baillie
In a Toronto library, home to the mad and the marginalized, notes appear, written by someone who believes he is Rigoletto, the hunchbacked jester from Verdi’s opera. Convinced that the young librarian, Miriam, is his daughter, he promises to protect her from grief. Little does he know how much loss she has already experienced; or does he?  The Incident Report, both mystery and love story, daringly explores the fragility of our individual identities. Strikingly original in its structure, comprised of 140 highly distilled, lyric “reports,” the novel depicts the tensions between private and public storytelling, the subtle dynamics of a socially exposed workplace.  The Incident Report is a novel of “gestures,” one that invites the reader to be astonished by the circumstances its characters confront. Reports on bizarre public behaviour intertwine with reports on the private life of the novel’s narrator. Shifting constantly between harmony and dissonance, elegant in its restraint and excitingly contemporary, The Incident Report takes the pulse of our fragmented urban existence with detachment and wit, while a quiet tragedy unfolds.
10613797. Leaving Earth by Helen Humphreys
Leaving Earth is a first novel marked by its perceptive, lyrical language and rich, fascinating characters. On August 1, 1933, two young women, the famous aviatrix Grace O’Gorman and the inexperienced Willa Briggs, take off in a tiny moth biplane to break the world flight-endurance record. Their plan is to circle above the city of Toronto for twenty-five days. With each passing day, the women’s ties to humanity fall away and the intensity of their connection becomes as gripping as the perils that besiege them: fatigue, weather, mechanical breakdown, and the lethal efforts of a saboteur. In this extraordinary debut, Humphreys exhibits rare control, restraint, and poetry as she develops the relationship of two unusual women through the magical passage of flight.
8. Your Sad Eyes and Unforgettable Mouth by Edeet Ravel
From Edeet Ravel, internationally acclaimed author of the Tel Aviv Trilogy, comes a deeply personal novel about an unexpected friendship. Maya and Rosie meet one day at the local dry cleaner’s and their instant friendship blossoms into an inseparable bond. Both are children of holocaust survivors, but where Maya refuses to become entangled in the past, Rosie is inexorably drawn into her parents’ haunted world. Your Sad Eyes and Unforgettable Mouth is a deeply resonant novel about the strength and nature of friendship, the weight of the secrets we keep, and whether or not we are ever able to truly live beyond the past.

 

Have you read any of these?  Which have taken your fancy?

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The Book Trail: April Edition

I begin this particular Book Trail with a novel which I loved, but many people have seemingly been indifferent to, or have hated.  As ever, I am using the ‘Readers Also Enjoyed…’ tool on Goodreads in order to generate this list.

1. True Things About Me by Deborah Kay Davies 9809077
One ordinary afternoon in a nameless town, a nameless young woman is at work in a benefits office. Ten minutes later, she is in an underground parking lot, slammed up against a wall, having sex with a stranger.  What made her do this? How can she forget him? These are questions the young woman asks herself as she charts her deepening erotic obsession with painful, sometimes hilarious precision. With the crazy logic and hallucinatory clarity of an exhilarating, terrifying dream, told in chapters as short and surprising as snapshots, True Things About Me hurtles through the terrain of sexual obsession and asks what it is to know oneself and to test the limits of one’s desires.

 

2. Down from Cascom Mountain: A Novel by Ann Joslin Williams
Ann Joslin Williams grew up observing the craft of writing: her father, Thomas Williams, was a National Book Award-winning novelist. Many of his stories were set in the fictional town of Leah, New Hampshire, and on nearby Cascom Mountain, locations that closely mirrored the landscape of the Williamses’ real hometown. With Down from Cascom Mountain, Ann Joslin Williams proves herself a formidably talented novelist in her own right, while paying tribute to her father by setting her debut novel in the same fictional world-the New Hampshire he imagined and that she has always known.  In Down from Cascom Mountain, newlywed Mary Hall brings her husband to settle in the rural New Hampshire of her youth to fix up the house she grew up in and to reconnect to the land that defined her, with all its beauty and danger. But on a mountain day hike, she watches helplessly as her husband falls to his death. As she struggles with her sudden grief, in the days and months that follow, Mary finds new friendships-with Callie and Tobin, teenagers on the mountain club’s crew, and with Ben, the gentle fire watchman. All are haunted by their own losses, but they find ways to restore hope in one another, holding firmly as they navigate the rugged terrain of the unknown and unknowable, and loves lost and found.

 

110762353. Irma Voth by Miriam Toews
That rare coming-of-age story able to blend the dark with the uplifting, Irma Voth follows a young Mennonite woman, vulnerable yet wise beyond her years, who carries a terrible family secret with her on a remarkable journey to survival and redemption.  Nineteen-year-old Irma lives in a rural Mennonite community in Mexico. She has already been cast out of her family for marrying a young Mexican ne’er-do-well she barely knows, although she remains close to her rebellious younger sister and yearns for the lost intimacy with her mother. With a husband who proves elusive and often absent, a punishing father, and a faith in God damaged beyond repair, Irma appears trapped in an untenable and desperate situation. When a celebrated Mexican filmmaker and his crew arrive from Mexico City to make a movie about the insular community in which she was raised, Irma is immediately drawn to the outsiders and is soon hired as a translator on the set. But her father, intractable and domineering, is determined to destroy the film and get rid of the interlopers. His action sets Irma on an irrevocable path toward something that feels like freedom.  A novel of great humanity, written with dry wit, edgy humor, and emotional poignancy, Irma Voth is the powerful story of a young woman’s quest to discover all that she may become in the unexpectedly rich and confounding world that lies beyond the stifling, observant community she knows.

 

4. Curiosity by Joan Thomas
More than 40 years before the publication of The Origin of Species, 12-year-old Mary Anning, a cabinet-maker’s daughter, found the first intact skeleton of a prehistoric dolphin-like creature, and spent a year chipping it from the soft cliffs near Lyme Regis. This was only the first of many important discoveries made by this incredible woman, perhaps the most important paleontologist of her day.  Henry de la Beche was the son of a gentry family, owners of a slave-worked estate in Jamaica where he spent his childhood. As an adolescent back in England, he ran away from military college, and soon found himself living with his elegant, cynical mother in Lyme Regis, where he pursued his passion for drawing and painting the landscapes and fossils of the area. One morning on an expedition to see an extraordinary discovery — a giant fossil — he meets a young woman unlike anyone he has ever met…

 

5. Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay 9970166
In a small prairie school in 1929, Connie Flood helps a backward student, Michael Graves, learn how to read. Observing them and darkening their lives is the principal, Parley Burns, whose strange behaviour culminates in an attack so disturbing its repercussions continue to the present day.  Connie’s niece, Anne, tells the story. Impelled by curiosity about her dynamic, adventurous aunt and her more conventional mother, she revisits Connie’s past and her mother’s broken childhood. In the process, she unravels the enigma of Parley Burns and the mysterious (and unrelated) deaths of two young girls. As the novel moves deeper into their lives, the triangle of principal, teacher, student opens out into other emotional triangles – aunt, niece, lover; mother, daughter, granddaughter – until a sudden, capsizing love thrusts Anne herself into a newly independent life.  This spellbinding tale – set in Saskatchewan and the Ottawa Valleycrosses generations and cuts to the bone. It probes the roots of obsessive love and hate, how the hurts and desires of childhood persist and are passed on as if in the blood. It lays bare the urgency of discovering what we were never told about the past. And it celebrates the process of becoming who we are in a world full of startling connections that lie just out of sight.

 

6. Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart
Told through delicate and masterful narration, Jane Urquhart’s new novel, Sanctuary Line, seamlessly weaves together fragments of present day farm life on the shores of Lake Erie with harrowing snapshots of deep family turmoil marred by stains of death and regret.

 

11605867. Galveston by Paul Quarrington
From one of Canada’s beloved fiction writers comes a tale of love and loss, guilt and forgiveness — and finding redemption in the eye of a hurricane.  Few people seek out the tiny Caribbean island of Dampier Cay. Visitors usually wash up there by accident, rather than by design. But this weekend, three people will fly to the island deliberately. They are not coming for a tan or fun in the sun. They are coming because Dampier Cay is where it is, and they have reason to believe that they might encounter something there that most people take great measures to avoid – a hurricane.  A lottery windfall and a few hours of selfishness have robbed Caldwell of all that was precious to him, while Beverly, haunted by tragedy and screwed by fate since birth, has given up on life. Also on the flight is Jimmy Newton, a professional storm chaser and videographer who will do anything for the perfect shot. Waiting for them at Dampier is the manager of the Water’s Edge Hotel, “Bonefish” Maywell Hope, who arrived at Dampier by the purest accident of all — the accident of birth. A descendent of the pirates who sailed the Caribbean hundreds of years ago, Hope believes if he works hard enough, he can prevent the inevitable. Until, that is, the seas begin to rise…

 

8. Open by Lisa Moore
Lisa Moore’s Open makes you believe three things unequivocally: that St. John’s is the centre of the universe, that these stories are about absolutely everything, that the only certainty in life comes from the accumulation of moments which refuse to be contained. Love, mistakes, loss — the fear of all of these, the joy of all of these. The interconnectedness of a bus ride in Nepal and a wedding on the shore of Quidi Vidi Lake; of the tension between a husband and wife when their infant cries before dawn (who will go to him?) and the husband’s memory of an early, piercing love affair; of two friends, one who suffers early in life and the other midway through.  In Open Lisa Moore splices moments and images together so adroitly, so vividly, you’ll swear you’ve lived them yourself. That there is a writer like Lisa Moore threading a live wire through everything she sees, showing it to us, warming us with it. These stories are a gathering in. An offering. They ache and bristle. They are shared riches. Open.

 

Have you read any of these books?  Which have piqued your interest?