Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Digging to AmericaDigging to America by Anne Tyler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anne Tyler is a master at writing about the little day to day things that occupy our lives while subtly teaching us amazing things. In Digging to America she tells the story of two American families.

One is a family of European descent, made up of people one expects in suburbia. There's Bitsy and Brad Donaldson. Bitsy is a well intentioned woman, but one who likes to encourage others to do things her way. Brad is an easy going man who not only goes along with Bitsy's ideas but seems to enjoy them. Bitsy's dad is also an important part of this family. He's a widower who is lonely and looking for someone with whom to share the rest of his life.

The second American family is the Yazdans. These are people of Iranian descent who have settled in America. The politics in Iran drove them out of that country, but there is very little focus on that aspect of their culture. In this family there is Sami, a man who has been raised in America and his wife, Ziba, who grew up in Iran. Maryam is Sami's mother. She is a widow whose arranged marriage had some problems.

The two families meet at an airport where both the Donaldsons and the Yazdans are awaiting the arrival of daughters they have adopted from Korea. The two families become friends and learn from each other as their children grow.

This novel speaks to topics such as adoption and going on after losing a spouse. But it's main focus is on defining (or questioning) what is an American family.

I was glad I read this book now, since at the time I'm writing this we are in the process of picking candidates to run for President. The issue of how to treat Muslims is going to be huge in this election. This book gives us a picture of an average Muslim family. They have issues, like everyone else, and some of those issues concern a background with problems due to Iranian politics. But they are focused on raising their child and on their relationships with their friends, just like the rest of us. I think a book like this helps us remember that people are people and that using a religious belief as a rational to create databases that track people and limit their freedoms is a dangerous step and one that does not make the world a safer place.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am so glad Paula Hawkins included Cathy, Rachel's landlord, as a minor character in The Girl on the Train because she is the only decent person in the book. She's not a Mother Teresa type, but she has trouble abandoning her friend when she's needed and that's a good thing. The others are liars, adulterers, and drunks. Throw in a detective who isn't very good at her job because she prejudges the suspects and you have the main cast of this novel. It isn't so much a “who done it” as a “who cares who done it.”

The Girl on the Train is being compared with Gone Girl, a novel that also has a dysfunctional cast of characters. Both books are still good reads, because they are interesting character studies of people with serious flaws.

Rachel, the main character of The Girl on the Train, is an insecure young woman with a drinking problem. Her marriage is over and she's lost her job, but she still hasn't dealt seriously with her addiction. She lives in Ashbury, a suburb of London, and rides a train back and forth to the city each day, so she won't have to admit to her landlord that she's been fired. While on the train she stares at the people she passes and makes up fictional lives about them. She also passes the house where she used to live. Her ex is still in the house, along with his new wife and their child.

Something happens to someone who lives a few houses down from Rachel's old home and she becomes consumed with finding answers. The interesting problem is that she's a witness, but she'd been drinking and has blacked out what she saw. That's the basic premise, but the book is really about the demons that drive people to screw up their lives.

I would recommend this to readers who like dark, fast paced novels with a decent amount of tension.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Faith by Jennifer Haigh

FaithFaith by Jennifer Haigh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jennifer Haigh must have made a decision when she was writing Faith to keep a distance between the reader and the subject matter of this novel. She kept the point of view to Sheila McGann, while the vast majority of the story belongs to her half brother, Arthur Breen, a Boston area priest who has been accused of molesting a young boy. Haigh, as Sheila, speaks directly to the readers, even addressing them at least once as “Reader.” She relates the process she went through as she learned the truth about her brother and the other people involved. When she tells about scenes she couldn't see, she carefully clarifies that she is “imagining” what went on. This was the perfect choice for the subject. I felt emotion at the right times, but the distance helped me keep my mind open to all sides of this topic. It also helped me understand that the novel is not only about child abuse among the clergy. It's also about family issues, church politics, poor choices within relationships, and the influence of faith on decisions made by people with human failings.

Faith has a number of twists and turns that I do not want to reveal, so I will keep this review short. It is a wonderful book with strong characters. It helped me think about its subject in ways I had not considered previously. I think it's a perfect novel for bookclub discussions.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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