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Monday, July 23, 2012

An Available Man

An Available Man
Hilma Wolitzer
Ballantine, 2012

Edward Schuler has always been somewhat shy and retiring, more interested in tinkering in his science lab basement than in socializing with people. When his beloved wife dies after a long illness, he fully expects his life to continue as it always has: teaching science at the local school, keeping in touch with his stepchildren, and trying to recover from such a huge loss. He has no interest in pursuing any new friendships, let alone looking for women to date. Imagine his surprise when he receives phone calls and visits from several single women in town, interested in bringing him food, inviting him to social events, and otherwise striking up an intimate relationship.

The problem is that Edward doesn’t want to start dating again. He just doesn’t feel available. His past relationships included a previous engagement that was broken off abruptly, and then he met Bee, whom he did meet and marry soon after. He is surprised that he receives so much interest from the local ladies; he politely refuses all offers and thinks that the end of things. That’s when the letters start coming. It seems that his well-meaning stepdaughter combined forces with a similarly like-minded daughter-in-law to put an ad in the New York Times on his behalf, advertising his availability. At first he resists reading them because it seems disloyal to even think about dating again, but after some time he acknowledges that he has become lonely and the letters awaken something in himself that he thought had died along with his wife. Can a lonely widower find happiness a second time in life?

This poignant and thoughtful story of a sensitive man trapped inside his grief will appeal to readers of all ages. Edward’s situation is far from special: spouses die every day and those left behind must cope with their loneliness and despair. What makes Edward’s story more interesting is how he handles the many women who make their own needs and desires known quite clearly. Edward is always a gentleman, even if he’s hesitant, confused or unsure of his feelings. I quite liked Edward and honestly hoped he would find a woman he would have another chance to grow old with.


Other novels by this author:
The Doctor’s Daughter (2006)
Summer Reading (2007)

Other titles you may enjoy:

The Photograph by Penelope Lively (2004)
Finding a mysterious photograph of his late wife, Kath, holding hands with another man, Glyn begins a search that proves shocking to Kath's family and friends.

The Road Home by Rose Tremain (2008)
Making his way to London through Eastern Europe in the wake of factory closings and his wife's death, Lev finds a job in a posh restaurant and a room in the home of an Irishman who has also lost his family.

Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington (2011)
Follows the experiences of teenage Alice during her father's deployment to Iraq, an agonizing waiting period during which she gains new independence and falls in love while trying to be strong for her mother and younger sister.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Cove

The Cove

Ron Rash
Harper Collins, 2012

Laurel Shelton and her brother Hank live alone in the Cove, a piece of land in the Appalachians of North Carolina. Their parents bought this land cheap because the locals have long considered it to be cursed. It doesn’t help that Laurel has a deep purple birthmark on her face that has marked her as a witch and further ostracized her from the people in town. While Hank was away fighting in World War I, Laurel led a lonely existence on the farm, an elderly neighbor her only friend. Now that Hank has come back from the war, wounded and without one hand, she is not sure they can survive without help. She is living day to day, wondering what their future might be.

One day Laurel hears a flute on the mountain and she follows the sound to a solitary man who has set up camp there. Without telling Hank, she finds herself sneaking up there to spy on the man. One day she finds him ill and brings him to their cabin to nurse him back to health. Walter is mute and can only communicate by written notes, but his presence brings new life to the cabin – and to Laurel. Soon Walter is helping Hank on the farm, but he and Laurel have fallen in love and have made plans to run away together. Unfortunately, the local army recruiter hears rumors of this stranger and discovers that Walter is hiding something that once discovered could have tragic consequences.

Although this novel has lovely language that makes the story come alive, the ending was so devastating, disturbing and disappointing that I'm having difficulty reviewing it fairly. Why build such a captivating story if it ends like this? Why create some characters that are so realistic and likeable and then create another character that has so much power and corruption that he can completely take over the novel and ruin it? I can't decide if the author just couldn't decide how to end the story (what's wrong with a deserving character being happy for once in her poor life?) or if he wanted to shock complacent readers. Or maybe he just wanted his novel to be unpredictable.
I loved this book until it ended. Then I promptly forgot all about it until it was time for this review. Maybe that says it all.


Reader's Choice

Other novels by this author:
One Foot in Eden (2002)
Saints at the River (2004)
The World Made Straight (2006)
Serena (2008)

Other titles you may enjoy:

This Rock by Robert Morgan (2001)
In the Appalachian Mountains of the 1920s, the Powell brothers struggle to figure out their place in the world and their relationship with each other, as Moody drifts into alcohol and gambling, while Muir's path changes their family forever.

Nightwoods by Charles Frazier (2011)
Named the guardian of her murdered sister's troubled twins, Luce struggles to build a family with the children before being targeted by the twins' father--her sister's killer--who believes that the children are in possession of a stolen cache of money.

Work Song by Ivan Doig (2010)
In 1919, itinerant schoolteacher Morrie Morgan journeys to Butte in the hopes of making his fortune in copper mining but finds instead a rich assortment of local characters before an encounter with a former student leads to a violent union uprising.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Bellweather Revivals

The Bellwether Revivals

Benjamin Wood
Viking, 2012

Nursing assistant Oscar Lowe has an ordinary, if not lonely, life. He works at an assistance living facility for the elderly, has few friends, and is not close to his family. One day he hears beautiful organ music coming from a church near Cambridge and is drawn to enter even though he is not religious. That is where he meets and falls in love with Iris Bellwether, who is the sister of the musical genius Eden. The Bellwether family is wealthy, prominent, and influential – and Oscar feels totally out of his element. He has always been more of a working class guy, who never had the money or the opportunities to attend college or have as much leisure time as the Bellwethers and their circle of friends do.

Eden is rather an odd bird but very intelligent, talented and charismatic. He is convinced that he can heal the sick with the music of an obscure baroque composer and tries to prove his theory with a series of bizarre and abusive experiments on his sister and friends, including a very disturbing experience with Oliver. Iris believes that Eden is mentally ill with a little known and difficult to diagnose condition, and she enlists Oliver’s help to convince a doctor who specializes in this particular disorder to examine Eden. As the situation escalates, Oliver becomes more entrenched in the dysfunctional dynamic between Iris and Eden and he soon realizes that Eden’s mental illness could prove dangerous to those around him.

Since this novel’s preface describes a crime scene, it is no secret that the perceived danger surrounding Eden’s strange theories is very real and threatening. However, the novel’s opening chapters sets a steadier and measured approach to the action as it slowly builds the tension and suspense. Oscar is mesmerized by Eden and Iris in the beginning – he enjoys living the opulent lifestyle as part of the inner circle of friends invited for holidays, suppers, and the like. The author does a nice job of drawing the reader into the novel as Oscar is drawn into the mentally unstable and charismatic influence of Eden. I enjoyed the British setting of this novel as well as the fascinating characters and psychological situations. Oscar was likeable and sympathetic – a realistic portrayal of a hero who tries his best to make things right in a world that has gone horribly wrong.


This is the author’s first novel.

Other titles you may enjoy:

The Cadaver’s Ball by Charles Atkins (2005)
Psychiatrist Peter Grainger struggles to put his life back together following the death of his wife and unborn child, while an old friend from medical school, Dr. Ed Tyson, a man with a longtime grudge against Peter, seeks revenge.

A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay (2010)
When traumatic memories about a disturbing event from a childhood summer holiday cause his sister to suffer a debilitating car accident, Antoine befriends a street-wise mortician who helps him to manage painful family truths.

Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski (2007)
Following his girlfriend to her new teaching position in Thailand, a young reporter researches the story of American anthropologist Martiya van der Leun, following her suicide in the Thai prison where she was serving a lengthy sentence for murder.