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6 Degrees of Separation

6 Degrees of Separation: Women Healers

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.

For this first 6 Degrees of 2021, we start with the winner of the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. This book is next up on my to-read list. I understand from reading about this highly praised novel that it portrays the death of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, at age 11 in the plague of 1596. 

But the book focuses not on the playwright, but on the child’s mother, Agnes, who learns from her mother about the power of plants and about understanding her own premonitions. In other words, Agnes is a witch.

1. Thinking about Agnes’s role immediately brought to mind The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. In this novel for young people an orphaned young woman, Kit Tyler, travels from Barbados to live with a relative in the Connecticut Colony in 1687. Since I grew up in Connecticut near the place where this novel is set, reading it was de rigueur when I was in elementary school. I reread it a few years ago and was pleased to realize that the portrait of Hannah, an ostracized Quaker woman whom young Kit befriends, still fulfills the standard stereotype of a witch.

2. In her nonfiction work Woman as Healer, Jeanne Achterberg examines the role of women in the Western healing traditions, from their honored position as healers in ancient cultures through the persecution of such healers as witches in the Middle Ages and then into more modern roles of women as midwives, then nurses, and now physicians.

3. In 1849 Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. In 1895 she published her autobiography, Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women.

4. Just a few days ago I discovered a new book scheduled to be published by W.W. Norton later this month: The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine by Janice P Nimura. The book focuses on the life work of Elizabeth Blackwell and her younger sister, Emily Blackwell, who also became a physician.

5. At the outbreak of the Civil War in the United States, the Blackwell sisters lead efforts to organize women to help care for wounded soldiers. Their efforts met with strong opposition from the United States Sanitary Commission, whose male leaders resented the women’s incursion into the traditionally male-dominated profession of physician. The novel My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira presents the difficulties a young midwife faces as she tries to train as a physician with a male doctor during the war.

6. The novel The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati, set in New York City in 1883, provides a look at how women worked to defend their right to practice and to define their role as physicians during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Anna Savard, a graduate of the Woman’s Medical School, works to protect and care for immigrant and orphaned children on the city streets and in the rudimentary orphanages.

Bonus: The second book in this series, Where the Light Enters, set in 1884, tells the story of Anna’s cousin, Sophie, an obstetrician and the orphaned daughter of free people of color.

I have very much enjoyed this exercise in exploring how women have experienced and redefined their role as healers over the centuries.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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6 Degrees of Separation

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 begin with a book that is celebrating its 50th birthday this year – Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume. Since this book was published the year I graduated from college, I missed it when I was in its targeted age group (about 12), although I did read it 21 years ago.

1. “Didn’t you just love Rascal when you were a kid?” an acquaintance once asked me. Love it? I had never even heard of it. When I looked it up, I found out why: It was originally published in 1963, when I was already in high school. Since its target age is about 10-12, Rascal by Sterling North is another book I missed because I was already past its target age when it was published.

2. And now it’s confession time: I have never read the almost universally beloved children’s classic The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Since it was originally published in 1910, I can’t offer the excuse that I was already too old for it when it came out. Perhaps I did read it as a young child, but I have very few memories from my childhood. If I did read The Secret Garden, I have no memory of it.    

3. Memory can be a funny thing. When I was reading Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder to my young daughter, I suddenly had the experience of once before seeing the words printed on the page exactly as I was seeing them  at that time. The picture from an earlier reading telescoped in my vision and laid itself perfectly over the page I was reading. It was as if the memory and the current page were two prints developed from the same negative so that they perfectly merged into one. It was a strange experience, one that I’ve never had again in any context.

4. Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink is another children’s book that features a family living on the American frontier during the U.S.’s expansion westward. The author based the book on the life and memories of her grandmother.

5. From Caddie Woodlawn we move to Emma Woodhouse, the title character of Jane Austen’s novel Emma. It’s not a children’s book, but it’s memorable to me because of it lilting opening: “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich . . . .”

6. The Book of Ruth is by another author named Jane, Jane Hamilton. It’s Hamilton’s first novel and winner of the PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award and the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award for Fiction in 1989.

I hope you have enjoyed this journey from childhood to adult memorable books through 6 Degrees of Separation.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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6 Degrees of Separation

6 Degrees of Separation: Life Replete with Questions and Drama

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 is a wild card: We are to start with the book we’ve ended a previous chain with, and continue from there. 

I’ve decided to start with the final book from a 6 Degrees of Separation post I did over the summer: Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart.

1. Another novel with a title ending with a question mark is Who in Hell is Wanda Fuca? by G.M. Ford. This is the first book in Ford’s Leo Waterman series set in Seattle. Waterman is a P.I. who often enlists his homeless buddies to gather intel for him. They’re the best sleuths because people mostly just ignore street people.

Side Note: I have a database that contains all the books I’ve read since (and including) 1991. That’s more than 1,750 books, and I was surprised to find that only six titles end with a question mark. I’m sure there’s an interesting story in that fact, but I’ll save it for another time.

2. Whenever I come across homeless people in a novel, I remember how incensed I was with Jan Karon’s portrayal of them in her 1994 novel At Home in Mitford. The homeless people very considerately set up camp in a secluded area far from the center of town and only very occasionally come into town to Dumpster dive for something to eat. The town’s residents therefore don’t have to see them (some residents are even surprised to hear about the existence of the homeless) and acknowledge that life in Mitford is not idyllic for everyone. 

3. Liz Moore’s recent novel Long Bright River offers a more credible picture of society’s impoverished citizens. Set in present-day Philadelphia, the book centers around two sisters, Mickey, a police officer, and Kacey, an addict living on the street. Mickey has had chances for promotion but prefers to keep covering her regular beat so she can keep an eye on her sister as well as the other addicts she has gotten to know. While other police officers have become hardened over the lives and deaths of these people, Mickey always treats them with respect. (This is the best novel I’ve read this year. I highly recommend it.)

4. A different dynamic binds the two sisters in The Better Liar by Tanen Jones. Leslie hasn’t seen her younger sister, Robin, since Robin left home 10 years ago, at age 16. But when the women’s father’s will stipulates that both women must show up, together, at his lawyer’s office to receive their inheritance, Leslie—who really needs the money—goes in search of her sister.

5. Family inheritances can often get messy, as evidenced in Penmarric, Susan Howatch’s intergenerational saga about a family estate on the coast of Cornwall. Widowed grandmothers and mothers, spinster sisters, and illegitimate sons don’t fare well in a system that favors the oldest son. 

6. An old family house in Cornwell also provides the setting for Daphne du Maurier’s novel The House on the Strand. When Dick Young’s friend Magnus lends him the house for the summer, Dick agrees to be a test subject for a new drug Magnus is developing. The drug sends Dick back 300 years, to possibilities he finds more enticing than his present life.

And so have we have traveled from a question mark in the present to questionable possibilities in the past, and from Seattle to Cornwall, with lots of human drama in between.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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6 Degrees of Separation

6 Degrees of Separation: Ghosts!

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 The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, an appropriate choice for the Halloween season because it features ghosts.

Or does it? 

The most salient feature of James’s novella is its ambiguity. Are the ghosts the governess sees real, or are they the product of some psychological projection such as fear, prurience, desire, or repressed sexuality? About 10 years after the book’s publication James wrote that he purposely made the story so ambiguous because a shadowy picture of evil allows readers to fill in the picture with the details that frighten them the most.

Because the ghost story is pregnant with possibilities, it has a long literary history.

The American literary ghosts I love most aren’t psychological shadows—they are solid enough to slam doors. But they’re not horror movie monsters either. They’re conflicted beings with messages more complicated than the expected “avenge me” spiel; they want us to think about what it means to be a human in the world.

Amy Shearn

Here are six ghost stories that illustrate the variety of ways authors have chosen to present their ghosts. The final one is English rather than American, but it’s such a giant of the ghost-story canon that I couldn’t leave it out.

1. The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James clearly follows the ghost story’s gothic origins in its use of a building where ghosts prowl. When Carly Kirk sets out to explore the disappearance of her aunt while working at the Sun Down Motel 35 years earlier, she comes up against a classic struggle of good vs. evil when two ghosts face off in a confrontation of apocalyptic proportions.

2. Sometimes a ghost gets to narrate its own story, as does Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. After being murdered at age 14, she watches from her own personal version of heaven as the police investigate the crime and as her family and friends adjust to life without her. (This book is nowhere near as ghastly as the short description might make it sound. It’s done with great sensitivity and insight.) 

3. A ghost as narrator also appears, although only sporadically, in Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake. Based on the unsolved murder of a Black woman in the 1960s in Baltimore, Lippman creates a picture of the seething social and racial tensions in the city at that time. The murdered woman is not the central figure in the story, but her ghost appears periodically to help explain the zeitgeist of the era.

4. A ghostly narrator introduces The Better Liar by Tanen Jones with this dramatic statement: “Like most of the dead, I want to be remembered.” Leslie hasn’t seen her younger sister, Robin, since Robin ran away from home 10 years earlier, at age 16. But the women’s father has stipulated in his will that the two women must appear together, in person, at his attorney’s office to receive their inheritance. Leslie, who really needs the money, sets out in search of Robin, whom she finds in a rooming house, dead from a drug overdose. But Leslie really needs that inheritance money . . .

5. C.J. Tudor uses three types of ghosts in The Other People. Driving home through rush-hour traffic one night, Gabe sees his daughter, Izzy, looking out the back window of the car in front of him. She mouths the word “Daddy,” but Gabe loses the car in the traffic. He never sees Izzy again. Gabe quits his job, buys a camper, and spends the next three years driving up and down the same stretch of highway where he last saw his daughter. Haunted by the vision of his missing daughter, Gabe himself haunts the highway and the rest areas along his route. Meanwhile, Fran and her young daughter are on the run along the same highway. Fran’s daughter, Alice, periodically falls into sessions of deep sleep during which she sees a vision of a young girl in a while dress. This is one truly haunted novel, perfect for Halloween season.

6. Sometimes what haunts a story is not some other-worldly presence, but a palpable absence. Such is the case in Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, in which a second wife feels compelled to live up to the reputation of her predecessor. 

After many different types of ghosts, we’re back again to a novel chillingly haunted by the ghost of possibility. Perhaps that’s why The Turn of the Screw and Rebecca are two of the best known ghost stories in Western literature.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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6 Degrees of Separation Fiction

6 Degrees of Separation: Women’s Voices

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 Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest novel, Rodham, published May 19, 2000. According to Goodreads, Sittenfeld’s novel examines this question: “What if Hillary Rodham hadn’t married Bill Clinton?”

I have not read this book and am not likely to, because Hillary Rodham Clinton is still alive and well, and more than capable of examining and explicating her own life choices. Whether she does so publicly or privately should be her own choice. I find the whole premise of Rodham presumptuous, distasteful, even offensive. 

However, I appreciate fiction that sets out to give voice to unheard women whose lives have been largely overlooked by the writers of history (most of whom have always been men). Here are six novels that do just that.

1. The first novel I remember reading consciously as the effort to give voice to historically suppressed women is The Red Tent (1997) by Anita Diamant. The novel tells the story of Dinah, a daughter of Jacob, who is mentioned only tangentially in the narration about the famous patriarch and his many sons in the Book of Genesis. In telling of Dinah’s interactions with Jacob’s four wives, Diamant imagines what the life of women’s society inside the red tent might have been like during biblical times.

2. Greek and Roman mythology feature many stories of women, both divine and mortal, at the mercy of men. In Circe (2018) Madeline Miller tells the story of one such woman, the daughter of mighty sun god Helios. When Circe turns to the mortal world for companionship, she discovers and perfects her powers of witchcraft while interacting with several mythological mortals, including Homer’s Odysseus. Chosen by Book of the Month subscribers as Book of the Year for 2018 and nominated for the Women’s Prize for Fiction (2019), the novel is “a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world” (from the dust jacket).

3. In The Silence of the Girls (2018) Pat Barker gives voice to Briseis as a representative of the thousands of women behind the scenes of the ancient war between the Greeks and the Trojans. First taken as a spoil of war by Achilles, the greatest Greek warrior, Briseis soon becomes a pawn in the power struggle between Achilles and Agamemnon, the Greek leader. Barker “brings the teeming world of the Greek camp to vivid life. She offers nuanced, complex portraits of characters and stories familiar from mythology, which, seen from Briseis’s perspective, are rife with newfound revelations” (Goodreads).

4. In Galileo’s Daughter (2000) Dava Sobel turns to the historical figure of Galileo’s oldest child, Sister Marie Celeste, who was the scientist’s main confidante and supporter through his contentious relationship with the Catholic Church. Sobel has translated Marie Celeste’s remaining letters to her father and used them as a basis for this book, the subtitle of which is “A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love.”

5. In 1903 Mamah Borthwick Cheney and her husband Edwin hired Frank Lloyd Wright to design a new house for them. During the construction of the house Mamah and Frank fell in love, although each was married, with children. The two plunged into a life together that scandalized Chicago society. But Mamah Cheney remained merely a footnote to the life of the eminent architect until Nancy Horan brought her imaginatively to life in her 2007 novel Loving Frank

6. While kernels of history provided the sources for the previous books, Sena Jeter Naslund found the inspiration for her novel Ahab’s Wife, or The Star-Gazer (1999) in an earlier work of fiction. A brief mention in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick lead her to imagine a woman whose own life could stand beside that of the relentless Captain Ahab. Amazon calls this book “an enthralling and compellingly readable saga, spanning a rich, eventful, and dramatic life. At once a family drama, a romantic adventure, and a portrait of a real and loving marriage, Ahab’s Wife gives new perspective on the American experience.”

All these works of historical fiction demonstrate how writers can use their art to give voice to people who have been glossed over by history. I would prefer that novelists use their talents in this vein and leave still-living people to own their own stories.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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6 Degrees of Separation Fiction

6 Degrees of Separation: Books I Didn’t Like But More That I Did

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 What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt, a novel I haven’t read.

1. The only book by Siri Hustvedt that I’ve read is The Enchantment of Lily Dahl, which my library book group read back in 1999. I remember nothing about this book except that I didn’t much like it, and nearly all the members of the group felt the same way. And that experience is why I’ve never read any more books by this author.

2. Ten years later (2009) another book, Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah, produced a similar result. At our meeting one member opened with, “With friends like this, who needs enemies?” Everyone agreed with her. I have never read another novel by Kristin Hannah, even though she has become a very popular author. In fact, I’ve seen several book bloggers and Instagram readers refer to her as one of their “auto-buy authors,” meaning that they automatically buy every book the author publishes.

3. One of my “auto-buy authors” is Michael Connelly. His latest novel, which I preordered, is Fair Warning, published at the end of May 2020. Connelly started out as a journalist before turning into a full-time novelist.

4. Another author who started out as a journalist before turning to crime fiction is Edna Buchanan. She won a Pulitzer Prize for her newspaper work in 1986, but I love her crime novels set in Miami and featuring journalist Britt Montero. The first book in the series in Contents Under Pressure (1992). Buchanan is now in her 80s.

5. Mary Higgins Clark also wrote well into her golden years before she died on January 31, 2020, at age 92. She became known as the queen of romantic suspense. Her first novel, Where Are the Children? (1975), which I recently reread, is still one of the most suspenseful—and chilling—stories I’ve ever read.

6. Before Mary Higgins Clark, another Mary wrote many compelling romantic suspense novels that helped create the genre: Mary Stewart, who died in 2014 at age 97. Her first romantic suspense novel, Madam, Will You Talk?, was published in 1955. Her singular talent was combining romance with compelling mysteries that feature strong, capable women who have no fear of fending for themselves. During my high school and college years I marched against the Vietnam war while also devouring all of Mary Stewart’s novels, which formed a great backdrop for my own coming of age. 

So there we have it, a 6 Degrees of Separation list that progresses nicely from books that I didn’t like to books that I liked at lot.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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6 Degrees of Separation Awards & Prizes Fiction

6 Degrees of Separation on My TBR Shelves

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 Sally Rooney’s best seller (and now a TV series), Normal People. I’ve had this novel on my TBR shelf since it first came out, and I had every intention of reading it before working on this month’s challenge.

However, unlike the people in Rooney’s novel, these times (COVID-19 pandemic and, here in the U.S., racial injustice with associated protests) are not normal, and I didn’t get a lot of reading done over the past month. Since I therefore am not ready to deal with Normal People thematically, I’ve had to look for another approach to this month’s challenge. A check on Goodreads revealed that Normal People received a lot of accolades:

Further digging revealed that I also have on my TBR shelves several novels that in the past received these same awards. 

1. Normal People was on the long list for the Women’s Prize for Fiction (2019). The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is a former winner of this annual prize.

2. Normal People was on the long list for the 2018 Booker Prize. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes received this award in 2011.

3. Normal People received the Costa Book Award for Novel in 2018. Days Without End by Sebastian Barry won the same award, plus the Costa Book of the Year Award, in 2016.

4. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton won the Booker Prize in 2013.

5. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders also won the Booker Prize, in 2017.

6. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson won the Whitbread Award, which later became the Costa Novel Award, in 2015.

It’s comforting to know that I have so many good books still on my TBR shelves.  And I also discovered that I’ve already read several past prize winners:

  • Booker Prize: Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner (1984), Possession by A.S. Byatt (1990), and The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (2000)
  • Women’s Prize: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne
  • Costa Award (formerly Whitbread Award): The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by  Stuart Turton, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

The moral of this story is that I should pay more attention to literary prizes in the future.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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6 Degrees of Separation

6 Degrees of Separation: All Roads Lead to . . .

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, in keeping with the theme of the current pandemic, the starting point is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. In this evocative novel, a man and his son follow a road south in a post-apocalyptic world covered with ash and devoid of hope.

1. November Road by Lou Berney takes place in late November 1963. Frank Guidry, a mid-level mobster from New Orleans, realizes that, by delivering a get-away car to Dallas, he has become a loose end in one of the biggest events in American history. Without even returning home, Guidry hits the road for California in an effort to outrun the hitman he knows will be coming after him. On the way he meets a housewife who, with her two young daughters, has finally gotten up the courage to leave her no-good drunken husband in search of a new life in Los Angeles.

2. The characters in Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates buy a house on Revolutionary Road in the suburbs hoping it will provide them the picture-perfect life of the American dream.

3. “Road dogs” are prisoners who watch out for each other while in the big house. In Elmore Leonard’s novel Road Dogs two former road dogs team up after their release to navigate their return to the world of hustles, cons, and scams.

4. In Ace Atkins’s debut novel Crossroad Blues, former NFL player turned music professor Nick Travers investigates the disappearance of an academic colleague who has disappeared while researching the mysterious death of Blues legend Robert Johnson. The novel’s title is also the title of a song written and recorded by Johnson about where he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for musical talent.

5. Donald E. Westlake’s comic caper novel The Road to Ruin features Westlake’s beloved hapless crook John Dortmunder and his band of misfits attempting to steal a corrupt corporate CEO’s collection of valuable classic cars. Since this is a Dortmunder novel, their elaborate plan does not go well. 

6. After Irish mob hitman Michael O’Sullivan’s son witnesses one of his father’s jobs, O’Sullivan’s boss orders the deaths of the entire O’Sullivan family in The Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins. Michael and his adolescent son escape the attack that kills his wife and younger son. Father and son take to the road in search of safety for themselves and vengeance for the deaths.

All of these novels with the word road in their titles dramatize the metaphor of life as a journey. Whether the road functions as a means of escape or a path to salvation or paradise, it’s the journey rather than the destination that’s important.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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6 Degrees of Separation

6 Degrees of Separation: From “Wolfe Island” to “Me”

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 Lucy Treloar’s Wolfe Island. According to Amazon, this novel is not available in the U.S. (except in audio CD format for ~$50), although it was just published in summer 2019. Here’s the description of the book from Goodreads:

For years Kitty Hawke has lived alone on Wolfe Island, witness to the island’s erosion and clinging to the ghosts of her past. Her work as a sculptor and her wolfdog Girl are enough. News of mainland turmoil is as distant as myth until refugees from that world arrive: her granddaughter Cat, and Luis and Alejandra, a brother and sister escaping persecution. When threats from the mainland draw closer, they are forced to flee for their lives. They travel north through winter, a journey during which Kitty must decide what she will do to protect the people she loves.

Part western, part lament for a disappearing world, Wolfe Island (set off the northeast coast of the US) is a transporting novel that explores connection and isolation and the ways lives and families shatter and are remade.

From the comments on Goodreads, I see that the novel is about climate change, as Wolfe Island, along with many other coastal islands, has now become nearly uninhabitable, with millions of people worldwide losing their homes. The novel further addresses the issues of family, love, and treatment of refugees. 

1. Whenever I have to discuss climate fiction, my go-to illustration is the seminal ecofiction classic Dune by Frank Herbert. Herbert grew up in Tacoma, WA, USA, my recently adopted home town.

2. Most of Arrakis, the planet on which Dune is set, is covered with sand. Jane Harper’s novel The Lost Man also features a sandy desert landscape, the Australian outback. Nathan Bright returns to his family’s cattle station for the burial of his younger brother. 

3. While Harper’s novel features a man standing over his brother’s grave, My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni shows us a woman, Tracy Crosswhite, at her sister’s grave. The murder of her sister, Sarah, is what caused Tracy to become a homicide detective with the Seattle PD.

4. The novel Long Bright River by Liz Moore, which is in the next-up position on my TBR shelf, also features sisters. One is a police officer, while the other is buried deep in the opiod-addiction crisis.

5. In Two Kinds of Truth Michael Connelly’s fictional detective Harry Bosch goes undercover to investigate an operation using homeless people to obtain and fill prescriptions for opiods that are then sold illegally. Bosch befriends a woman who turned to drugs after the death of her teenage daughter many years earlier. He even helps her through rehab, but, eventually, unable to overcome her grief, she relapses and dies of an overdose.

6. So as not to end on a low note, I turn finally to another book waiting patiently on my TBR shelf, Elton John’s autobiography Me. After many years of abusing alcohol and drugs, he has now been clean and sober for nearly 30 years.

I always enjoy seeing where these free-association book chains end up. I hope you’ll consider participating in this monthly exercise.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
6 Degrees of Separation

6 Degrees of Separation: What Goes Around Comes Around

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