Archive for November 2017

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta


"There's so much to read, but all I do is end up watching Netflix and play Candy Crush. I feel like I'm wasting my life."

Tom Perrotta has become well known for his comedic and insightful depictions of modern suburbia. I was intrigued by the timeless themes of his novel The Abstinence Teacher. While I felt the novel suffered a bit from being so rooted in the the time period it was written, there was no denying Perrotta's innate ability to depict the intricacies and moral conflicts of everyday life. Naturally, I was eager to read his latest novel Mrs. Fletcher, and Perrotta did not disappoint.

Eve Fletcher is at a crossroads in her life. Her husband left her for another woman over ten years ago, and now her only child Brendan is heading off to college. In a flash, Eve is left home alone with only her job as the director of a senior center and worries about her son to occupy her time. She has a choice on her hands. Eve can either wallow in her own self pity or make an attempt to form a more meaningful life. Fortunately for us, Eve chooses the latter. She enrolls in a continuing education class at the local community college. The course is taught by a transgender professor who seeks to challenge traditional definitions of gender and gender roles in society.

One night, Eve receives an anonymous text that reads, "You are my MILF!" Shocked at first, Eve pays little mind to the crude message. But she can't stop thinking about it. She's in her late forties and looks pretty good for her age. While her sex life has been essentially non-existent since her divorce, she sees no reason why she wouldn't be desirable to someone. Curious, she does an online search and is quickly thrust into the world of online pornography. She can't stop watching it! Empowered by a new found sexual confidence and eager to explore her deepest desires,  Eve sets out to reclaim her life and carve out a new path for herself.

While Eve is off finding herself, her son Brendan faces his new life as a college student. His roommate is pretty cool and there seems to be a plethora of booze and girls for his choosing. But all that glitters may not be gold. His classes are tough and he is struggling to make genuine connections with his peers. Then a beautiful feminist student comes along and rocks his world. He's immediately drawn to her, but his chauvinistic views on women and sex may prevent him from forming any meaningful relationship. This portion of the novel is even more timely when considering all of the stories of sexual misconduct that are currently filling the news.

Mrs. Fletcher is a stunning portrait of sex and enlightenment in the modern American suburbia.  As chapters alternate between Eve and Brendan, Perrotta brilliantly crafts a narrative of multigenerational self-discovery. He doesn't hold back in his descriptions of the sexual situations that the characters encounter, but the novel is never crude for crudeness's sake. While Brendan is the product of a generation desensitized to the complexities of sex, Eve suffers from the opposite. She is finding empowerment in the discovery of different sexual possibilities. Beyond the obvious themes, Perrotta also explores the inevitability of aging, the precariousness of a work/life balance, and the power of diversity. As humorous as it is insightful, Mrs. Fletcher is a enthralling novel that is easily one of my favorites this year.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2017, 47)

The Marsh King's Daughter by Karen Dionne


Helena had a very unique childhood. Her beginning was dark, born from the forced relationship between her mother and her mother's captor. She grew up in the small cabin in the marsh shared by her mother and father. Helena could never understand the disdain her mother showed her dad. To Helena, her father was everything. He showed her to hunt, track, and fend for herself in the harsh wilderness. He taught her all the skills that he employed in maintaining his own anonymity. It wasn't until she was twelve years old that she saw her father for who is really was.

It has been years since Helena first escaped the clutches of her dad. She's built a new life for herself in the home she once shared with her parents. Helena's husband and two daughters have no knowledge of her unusual past. How could she tell them that her father was the notorious Marsh King? But past and present suddenly collide when a state trooper comes knocking on her door. Her father, who has been locked away since she was twelve, has killed a couple of prison guards and escaped. There's no question in Helena's mind that he'll come for her. She is the only person left alive that he cares for. She may be the only person in the world who can stop him.

The Marsh King's Daughter has been on my radar since its publication. The book has garnered nearly universal acclaim, and I began reading it with high anticipation. Fortunately, the novel lives up to all of the hype. Karen Dionne builds her story in conjunction with a Hans Christian Anderson tale. Each chapter begins with a portion of the fairy tale before proceeding with the main narrative. I'm normally not a fan of the back and forth, but this one works really well. There are many flashbacks to Helena's childhood that read quite similar to the sections about Jack in Emma Donoghue's Room. Dionne takes her character a step further by exploring the effects of a traumatic childhood on her character as an adult. Both the past and present are completely engaging and Dionne keeps the suspense rolling until the very end. Equal parts triller and character study, The Marsh King's Daughter is one of the best books I've read this year.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2017, 46)

Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn


Ever since I read Margaret Atwood's retelling of Shakespeare's Tempest in Hag-Seed, I've been eagerly reading the other books in Hogarth Publishing's ambitious Shakespeare project. The publishing house has tasked well-known authors with writing re-imaginings of some of the thespian's most famous works. While this has been an interesting exercise, the results have been decidedly mixed. Only Atwood has managed to craft a story that truly stands on its own feet. Still, the exercise itself has been enough to keep me reading, and I was happy to receive a copy of the latest novel in the series Dunbar from the publisher.

Dunbar sees author Edward St. Aubyn have his hand at King Lear. Canadian media mogul Henry Dunbar, the King Lear of this iteration, finds himself in a retirement home/sanitarium. His two older daughters conspire against him, taking control of his company and leaving him to rot in the care home. Dunbar may be old, but he's not going to give up his company without a fight. With the assistance of a depressed former thespian Peter, Dunbar escapes his room and begins a quest to take back control from his conniving daughters.

This is the third book in Hogarth's collection that I've read. I find my reaction to Dunbar to be pretty similar to my reaction of Tracy Chevalier's New Boy. While I appreciate many of the moments in the novel, I don't think it really lives up to the standards of the play it is reimagining. To his credit, St. Aubyn gives the novel a kind of political thriller feel with Dunbar working agains forces conspiring against him and his company. Still, the story never seems to exist beyond the point of retelling Shakespeare's narrative. Dunbar can be thrilling and has some surprisingly witty characters, but I'm starting to question the artistic merit of this exercise. Jo Nesbo throws in his take on Macbeth next year, so I'm not ruling out reading more from this collection.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

(2017, 45)

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