Ladies on Literature
Welcome, Winter! When the world is enveloped in white, the LOL rejoice in the chance to light a crackling fire, sink into our sofas and cozy up with some delicious reads. Join us here in Okanagan Woman and online, at shannonlinden.ca, for recipes and reviews.
Along with delectable food, sumptuous sips and stimulating conversation, every month the LOL collect contributions for the hosting member’s charity of choice. This fall we donated to the Terry Fox run and the Kelowna division of the Canadian Mental Health Association and we read the following, fantastic books.
Before the Fall
By Noah Hawley
Get ready for a roller coaster of a ride when you sign up for this story. Noah Hawley, writer and producer of the FX television show Fargo, is the guy behind the pen and man, is it obvious he's a screenwriter!
The chapters are short, quick paced and tension-filled, yet interlaced with profound insights to human nature.
Youth Services Assistant at the Kelowna branch of the Okanagan Regional Library, Judy Millard, chose this book. While searching the ORL catalogue she came across the title and was immediately intrigued by the premise:
"On a foggy summer night, eleven people – ten privileged, one down on his luck painter – depart Martha’s Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean." The only survivors are the artist and a four-year-old boy.
Told in parallel narratives involving the crash and ensuing investigation, interwoven with the backstories of the passengers and crew, Hawley sets readers up to unravel a mystery. Why did the plane go down with so many influential people on board? Who are these people – really?
We sense something sinister, and indeed every character has a hidden past. There’s the multi-millionaire media mogul, David Bateman, whose son survives, the Wall Street winner dabbling in international money laundering and our recovering alcoholic artist, Scott Burroughs, who paints disaster scenes in an attempt to reconcile his own train wreck of a life. Included are their families, the crew, and even the investigators on the ground, as we get a brief glimpse into many lives.
At first Burroughs is hailed as a hero. He survives the crash, surfacing among flaming debris to find the boy. Fighting waves, sharks, the dark and a dislocated shoulder, he manages to swim hours to shore, the child clinging to his neck.
As implausible as that may seem, when Burroughs was just six years old, he witnessed Jack LaLanne swim from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf, handcuffed, dragging a 1, 000 pound boat chained to his waist.
"What was his fascination with the King of Exercise if not a fascination with the power of the human spirit?" Hawley asks. LaLanne inspires Burroughs to become a champion college swimmer with the skills and mental fortitude to eventually save a child.
Fate is a central theme. “How any two people end up in the same place at the same time is a mystery. You get on an elevator with a dozen strangers. You ride a bus, wait in line at the bathroom. It happens every day. To try to predict the places we’ll go and the people we’ll meet would be pointless."
While Borroughs shuns his newfound fame, the media refuses to let him hide. Bill Cunningham, the obnoxious and irredeemable anchor of Bateman’s news network, profits from the tragedy by keeping the story alive. Spinning conspiracy theories and ultimately blaming Burroughs for the tragedy, Cunningham is the face of today's 24-hour news cycle.
"Reinvention used to be a tool of the artist… to take a reality and repurpose it, bend it to an idea … it was the kingdom of make-believe. A useful tool for the artist… A dangerous tool for the journalist,” Hawley says.
Judy loved what she calls “the power play of perception versus reality” in this novel….how everyone assumed the crash had to be an act of terrorism or conspiracy instead of engine failure because of the rich people onboard.
This is an intricately plotted book with twists and turns that will have you wondering whodunit—which leads me to my only real criticism. For such complexity, the answer is a little weak, but that said, the ending is still satisfying.
By Lisa Glatt
The title of this “family drama set against the backdrop of the sexual revolution and 1970’s California,” is certainly catching.
At the tender age of six, Hannah is having a really bad morning when her parents’ marriage dissolves in their sunny kitchen after her mother confronts her father about his affair. Sneaking out and walking to school alone, Hannah is hit by a reckless driver barely out of school himself, and still drunk from the night before.
The book interweaves the lives of these two characters as they endure the next decade; Hannah in a hip to toe body cast as orthopedic surgeon after surgeon attempts to fix her maimed leg; Martin Kettle drinking and drugging himself silly in attempt to deal with his guilt after fleeing the accident scene.
While Martin leaves anonymous gifts at the hospital for the very slowly healing Hannah, he eventually moves to Las Vegas, running away from his pain. Meanwhile, Hannah's family is also running from their origins. Her father, a dentist, is newly remarried to his younger assistant and denounces Judaism in favor of Christianity and surfing. Her mother Nina, a high school English teacher, also finds a younger spouse.
Azeem is a Muslim man and university student studying sexuality who mistakenly calls nudists, “nakeds.” Perhaps a little too hip to the 70’s liberal marriage plan, his unquenchable pleas for Nina to “open her marriage” fall on deaf ears, although she does agree to join him at a nudist camp on weekends. The two run around the house in their birthday suits, subjecting poor Hannah to much more of them than she would really like.
As Hannah negotiates the treacherous domain of adolescence, she is never really naked, since her leg is perpetually covered in plaster.
Told in alternating viewpoints, it is a work of fiction, but Lisa Glatt admits it is at least partially autobiographical. She too was hit by a car, had parents who divorced and a mother who became a nudist, though the author is quick to suggest she has taken great liberties with the truth.
“I realized without fiction’s permission to lie and tell stories, I'm not really interested in the exact truth that happened,” she told the LA Times… “I start with this thing that's very true, knowing that I'm going to be making things up, putting story first.”
The book is a very quick and entertaining read. There's some lovely writing from Glatt, also a poet, and it's incredibly witty and funny. LOL member, Vikki Drummond, proprietor of Bordello’s Italian Pizzeria in Kelowna, chose this book largely based upon the title. The human condition called to her in this book as she suggested, "Each character was flawed and also likeable and that's very true to life.” While she thought this book “delicious,” not all of the LOL agreed.
Some found the family dysfunction unsettling. The ambiguous ending annoyed many, although as Kirkus Review points out, “Hope is as much a curse as it is a blessing in this novel…What Glatt leaves her characters—and her readers—with is possibility.”
Personally, I loved it! It certainly generated quite the conversation at our meeting, which is the hallmark of a great book club choice.