It’s time for another adventure in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. We are given a book to start with, and from there we free associate six books.
This month we begin with a book that topped the critics ‘best of 2019’ lists, Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. I found a copy of Fleishman on the Lucky Day shelf at my local public library. The Lucky Day shelf houses a few copies of current, popular books—the kind of books that probably already have 100 or more pending requests. I had wanted to read this novel and felt lucky indeed to find it waiting for me.
1. The same day I found Fleishman Is in Trouble on the Lucky Day shelf I also found Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok, another book I wanted to read. Sylvie Lee, a woman in her 30s, travels from the U.S. back to Sweden, where she spent her first nine years, to visit her dying grandmother and pick up her inheritance of the family’s jewelry. Before her grandmother dies, she reveals a secret to Sylvie.
2. In Sisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star, the death of a grandmother triggers questions that finally lead to the revelation of family secrets.
3. The protagonist of The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware finds out about a grandmother she never knew she had when she receives legal notification that she has inherited her grandmother’s family house. On her trip to the house she meets more family members and finally learns about a whole bunch of secrets that her mother had never told her.
4. In The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell, Libby Jones has known for most of her life that she’d find out about her birth parents on her 25th birthday. But she’s surprised to learn at the same time that she has also inherited from her grandparents an abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames that is now worth millions. And of course she has also inherited a whole truckload of dark family secrets.
5. From The Family Upstairs we move easily to The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, set in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Nora Eldridge, a 37-year-old elementary school teacher who gave up her youthful ambitions of becoming an artist, finds the Shahid family, who move in downstairs, mesmerizingly fascinating. The husband, Skandar, is a Lebanese scholar here to take up a fellowship at Harvard. The wife, Sirena, is a glamorous and self-confident Italian artist. Their son, Reza, attends the school where Nora teaches, and through this connection Nora quickly insinuates herself into the Shahid family. Nora assumes that the Shahids feel the same way about her that she feels about them. When a casual occurrence reveals that Sirena doesn’t think of Nora as her bosom friend and confidant, Nora unleashes a torrent of rage and pent-up loneliness and frustration.
6. Nora’s rage leads us back around to Fleishman Is in Trouble, a novel that begins as the narrative of a failing marriage but ends as a statement of feminist anger about what happens to ambitious, intelligent women who overachieve.
What goes around comes around: a chain of six books that ends right back where it began.
© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown