Book covers: No One is Talking About This, The Dinner Party, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Sunburn, The Burning Room, The Guest List, The Distinguished Guest

6 Degrees of Separation

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 start with a book that topped Best of 2021 lists, No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood. I had seen this title on a lot of those Best Books of 2021 lists, where it was often described as “inventive fiction.” I usually love books described as inventive, experimental, or genre-bending, so when Kate chose it as this month’s starter, I took that as a sign from the universe that I should read it. 

No One is Talking About This was nominated for both the Booker Prize and the Women’s Prize for Fiction. I did not appreciate this novel as much as many other people apparently did.

The book breaks into two halves, the first about getting fully involved in online culture and the second about a family dealing with a major tragedy. While I found the first part entertaining and, yes, inventive, I was completely put off by the second half, which uses the same approach for discussing the wholly different topic. I thought that what worked for the beginning was totally inappropriate for the second section. I do not at all understand why anyone would want to mash these two pieces together into a single novel.

1. Therefore, I’m not even going to try for any kind of contextual linkage for my first degree of separation. Instead, I’m featuring a novel that, at the time of its publication in 1987, was about a topic that no one—at least no one in the upper echelons of the U.S. government—was talking about: AIDS. (See And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts.) The Dinner Party by Howard Fast focuses on a U.S. senator preparing to host some Very Important People at a dinner party at his home. On the same day, his son arrives at the house to give his parents the news of his AIDS diagnosis, which, back then, meant impending death. 

2. From a dinner party at a senator’s house we move to Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler. Tyler lives in Baltimore and sets many of her novels, including this one, there. 

3. Laura Lippman is another Baltimore author. I’ve read and loved most of her stand-alone novels. For this exercise I’m choosing Sunburn, as it seems to be one of her lesser known books. The story features a slow-burn of a romance that begins in a diner, so the book also shares the restaurant setting with Tyler’s novel.

4. In The Burning Room by Michael Connelly, a rookie detective solves a cold case from her childhood.

5. From a burning room we move to a locked-room mystery, The Guest List by Lucy Foley. (Technically, this is a closed-circle mystery, since it isn’t set in an actual locked-from-the-inside-with-no-other-obvious-exits room.) 

6. The Guest List, finally, leads us to The Distinguished Guest by Sue Miller. I read this novel, which features a 70+-year-old woman in the early stages of dementia, in 1998. Back then, novels weren’t talking much about characters with dementia, so we’ve come full circle in terms of subject matter. And I think I need to reread this one.

© 2022 by Mary Daniels Brown

6 thoughts on “6 Degrees of Separation”

  1. I love circular chains! Interesting what you say about dementia. These days, it seems quite a common topic in the literature. Times really have changed.

    1. Mary Daniels Brown

      Thanks! The circularity didn’t hit me until I was writing the ending, but then it did seem particularly fitting.

    1. Mary Daniels Brown

      Thanks. I haven’t kept up with Tyler’s work as well as I should have. I always think of her as the Queen of Quirky Characters and have quite liked all her novels that I’ve read.

  2. As ever, you produce a stimulating chain. I like Sue Miller’s work, so I’ll try this and in fact would read any of your suggestions willingly, though the Fast looks particularly interesting.

    1. Mary Daniels Brown

      Thanks, Margaret. I think The Distinguished Guest was only Miller’s second novel (after The Good Mother, which I had mixed feelings about). She’s another writer whose body of work I haven’t followed as closely as I would have liked (so many books, so little time . . .).

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