Literary Links

Looking for a Book to Read With Friends?

The New York Times introduces Group Text, “a monthly column for readers and book clubs about the novels, memoirs and short-story collections that make you want to talk, ask questions, and dwell in another world for a little bit longer.” The focus for book clubs will be on “the kinds of propulsive, thought-provoking books worthy of discussion.”

Its inaugural choice is Long Bright River by Liz Moore:

What it’s about: When their neighborhood is battered by opioids, two sisters choose very different paths through the wreckage. One is a cop; the other is an addict. And one of the two is missing.

I have a copy of this book on my shelf right now. It was my December 2019 choice from the offerings of Book of the Month.

This article includes discussion questions for Long Bright River and some suggestions for related reading. There’s also information on how to join the book discussion on the Times’s Facebook page.

SIX NOVELS EXPLORING HOW (AND HOW LONG) WE PROCESS TRAUMA

Laurie Faria Stolarz wrote her most recent novel, Jane Anonymous, to focus on “that period of time, post-trauma, when the threat is removed but the wounds remain, raw and searing, as the individual tries to acclimate back in her safer space”:

people’s reactions to trauma are as varied and complex as the trauma itself. Numerous factors can influence one’s reaction(s), including age, personal history, one’s own brain chemistry, and the nature of the trauma. Time, effective treatment, and having a solid support system are also key factors. But, bottom line, while therapists can and do identify common threads and behaviors among victims of trauma, every case is as unique as the person who experiences it.

Here Stolarz discusses six novels that feature some varied reactions to trauma.

HOW HORROR HELPS WITH PROCESSING GRIEF AND TRAUMA

In an article related to the one above, S.F. Whitaker, who describes herself as a trauma survivor, discusses how horror literature and films have helped her deal with her experience. Whitaker says that she “gravitated to the grotesque and weird” from an early age: “Before I could articulate where it hurt there were books, and movies to serve as a balm. In the progression of my reading I found familiarity.”

Whitaker says that one might think that reading horror literature or seeing horror films would exacerbate a person’s feelings of grief and trauma. But she points some psychology studies that have shown that the opposite is true:

Studies have shown that horror can help us with grief, anxiety, depression, and a number of other disorders. For someone experiencing a deep loss or processing trauma, it becomes less about the deaths and more about the survivor. Grief studies in particular have found that trying to make someone feel better only makes the situation worse. You’re invalidating their feelings rather than helping. A book can take someone suffering on a journey. You feel the pain with the characters, some surviving while others do not, and there is a resolution of some kind.

Whitaker does not give specific references to those studies, which I see as a weakness in an article like this. However, her discussion is quite general, and her conclusion pertains only to herself:

In my case, Quincy [in Final Girls by Riley Sager] in particular made it feel like I did not have to have it all together. I can be flawed and that’s okay. There is beauty in the journey, even if it’s blood soaked pages riddled with ghosts, ghoulies, and monsters galore.

United we read: Writer roams a fractured nation with 52 books (or more) in 52 weeks

In an effort to see beyond the fractured state of politics, Heather John Fogarty has decided to read her way across the U.S. in the time leading up to the election of 2020:

I set myself a reading project. In the year leading up to the 2020 election, I would read (at least) one book from each state, as well as from Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., prioritizing contemporary fiction and memoir, with the hope of exploring shared experiences, such as family, identity and a sense of home.

She is reading alphabetically and here reports on books through Connecticut, so this will apparently be an ongoing series.

MY ONLY READING GOAL THIS YEAR IS TO HAVE FUN

In 2019 Matt Grant set himself the goal of reading 100 books. After a year of pushing himself to achieve that goal—which he did accomplish—he has decided to “set myself a new goal this year: to have fun reading.”

Read his discussion of how he achieved his 2019 goal and why he has changed his approach to reading this year.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

Why I’ll Never Read a Book a Week Ever Again

Calling herself a slow reader, writer Hurley Winkler describes her 2019 experience of “the 52 books in 52 weeks reading challenge” she found on the literary blogosphere. During the year she finished several books she “wasn’t wild about” simply because she’d already invested time in reading the first part and didn’t want to fall behind her reading schedule. “The pressure to finish books sucked some of the day-to-day joy out of my reading life,” she writes. She also chose several books because they were short, despite her love for “big, sprawling novels.”

So for this year she has decided to jettison any obsession with productivity: “I resolve to abandon books I don’t like.” She intends to read “intentionally and joyously,” taking the time necessary to savor good books.

This is not a bad reading plan at all. 

The Most Anticipated Books of 2020

Here are some suggestions to start off the new reading year.

Gillian Flynn Peers Into the Dark Side of Femininity

If you grapple with the works of Gillian Flynn, here’s really all you need to know:

“I really do think the world can be divided into the people who like to look under the rock and the people who don’t want to look under the rock,” Flynn told me. “I’ve always said, since birth, ‘Let’s look under the rock.’ ”

Without women the novel would die: discuss

Women are fiction’s life support system – buying 80% of all novels. But as a major new book argues, their love of an emotional truth has been used to trivialise the genre.

In The Guardian Johanna Thomas-Corr discusses Why Women Read Fiction: The Stories of Our Lives by Helen Taylor, published by Oxford University Press. “Fiction takes you on indirect routes to truth,” says Taylor.

D.C. Writers Celebrate The 200th Birthday Of A Famous — And Forgotten — Local Novelist

In graduate school I wrote a paper on Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth, a now little-known but at the time immensely popular 19th-century novelist. I was therefore delighted to cone across this article from American University Radio of Washington, DC. On December 26, 2019, novelist Mary Kay Zuravleff and a few fellow writers laid a wreath at the grave of E.D.E.N. Southworth in Georgetown’s Oak Hill Cemetery to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Mrs. Southworth’s birth.

Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth was one of the most successful American writers — male or female — of the mid-19th century, outselling contemporaries like Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. She was a mainstay of Washington’s early literary scene: She hosted Friday night salons at her Georgetown cottage, attended Lincoln’s second inaugural ball and is even credited with encouraging Harriet Beecher Stowe to write the anti-slavery novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

“Many of her stories featured women having adventures that Southworth’s readers were often unable to experience firsthand.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

What to read in 2020 based on the books you loved in 2019

If you liked any of the 12 books listed here, Angela Haupt has suggestions about what you might like to read this year. The 12 books from 2019 that she references are:

  • “City of Girls,” by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • “All This Could Be Yours,” by Jami Attenberg
  • “Know My Name,” by Chanel Miller
  • “Evvie Drake Starts Over,” by Linda Holmes
  • “The Silent Patient,” by Alex Michaelides
  • “No Happy Endings,” by Nora McInerny
  • “Normal People,” by Sally Rooney
  • “Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered,” by Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff
  • “Last Witnesses: An Oral History of the Children of World War II,” by Svetlana Alexievich
  • “Black Leopard, Red Wolf,” by Marlon James
  • “Inheritance,” by Dani Shapiro
  • “Lost Children Archive,” by Valeria Luiselli

Fiction to look out for in 2020

This list from The Guardian also includes a link to their list of nonfiction highlights of 2020 as well.

Storytelling Across the Ages

Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker muses on the discovery in a cave in Indonesia of “the oldest pictorial record of storytelling and the earliest figurative artwork in the world”:

Our oldest stories are like our newest; we look for explanation and hope for a happy ending. People, then and now, tell tales about the brave things they are about to do, or just did, or are thinking of doing, or thought they might do, if they were not the people they are but had the superpowers we all wish we had. Our enterprises vary; our entertainments do not.

Why We Will Need Walt Whitman in 2020

“With our democracy in crisis, the poet and prophet of the American ideal should be our guide.”

‘Jo Was Everything I Wanted to Be’: 5 Writers on ‘Little Women’

“Julia Alvarez, Virginia Kantra, Anna Quindlen, Sonia Sanchez and Jennifer Weiner talk about how the book, now a hit movie, inspired them.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

CANDID PORTRAITS OR GHOSTWRITTEN FLUFF: THE HISTORY OF THE CELEBRITY BOOK

Jeffrey Davies looks at the history of the celebrity book, whether it be “a memoir, an essay collection, a cookbook, a book of poetry, or a self-help book.” He discusses the rise of the ghostwriter, what happens when celebrity culture and science clash (for example, Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbooks and health books), and whether celebrity books make it harder for other books to get published.

Reflecting on the memoirs of 2019 and the elasticity of the genre

From the Chicago Tribune:

The memoir, at once literary and fact-based, js a shape-shifter, a container for a diverse array of voices, stories and narrative techniques. A sampling of this year’s entries exemplify the genre’s elasticity. In eclectic formats, they speak of trauma and healing, family dysfunction, the limitations of medical science, and the forging of identity in the face of social and cultural obstacles.

A year of literary prizes and surprises in 2019

In an article summarizing the ups and downs of this past year’s literary prizes worldwide, Somak Ghoshal concludes:

The reality of judging a prize is complicated by a multitude of conflicting factors. The impulse to do right by being aware of the conditions in which a writer or an artist produces their work often clashes with the duty to uphold aesthetic merit above all else. But these days, the solution seems to come from the contenders themselves. In August, writer Olivia Laing shared the James Tait Black prize for fiction with her fellow nominees because “competition has no place in art”. More recently, the four shortlisted artists for the Turner Prize, one of Britain’s most prestigious awards for the arts, requested the jury to divide the prize equally among them. If this trend continues, it will soon become unfashionable to run for competitions, or to win any.

The Classics That Invented These Thriller Tropes

I read a lot of mysteries and thrillers, and I often talk about the use of genre tropes in these books. Here Diane Zhang describes several of those tropes and discusses both the origin and recent examples of each.

Peter Pan’s dark side emerges with release of original manuscript

This article in The Guardian examines how J.M. Barrie “toned down Peter Pan’s character to suit audiences in 1911” as he edited his manuscript for publication. 

Barrie’s original manuscript, entitled Peter Pan and Wendy, was published earlier this month. 

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

3 Short Reviews

The Suspect by Fiona Barton

Barton, Fiona. The Suspect   
Penguin Audio, 2019   
Narrated by Susan Duerden, Fiona Hardingham, Nicholas Guy Smith, Katharine Lee McEwan   
ISBN 9781524779962

cover: The Suspect

When two British girls spending their gap year in Thailand disappear, journalist Kate Waters senses a possible big story. Always looking for the latest big scoop, she doesn’t hesitate to insinuate herself into the investigation as much as possible. In this case she gets as close as she possibly can to the girls’ families to keep up with all the latest developments.

But Kate is dealing with a personal issue while she’s chasing this story. After a period of sporadic, noncommital phone calls, she and her husband now haven’t heard from their son Jake in quite a while. They are surprised to hear that he dropped out of college a while ago. As they novel continues, they discover that Jake may also be in Thailand. Kate’s attempts to follow up on the missing-girls story while also looking for her son raise the question of how closely a journalist can and should get personally involved in her work.

This is the third book—after The Widow (2016) and The Child (2017)—featuring Kate Waters but can be read as a standalone novel. My favorite of the three is The Child, so if you’re not familiar with the Kate Waters series, I’d suggest starting there.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown


Saratoga Payback by Stephen Dobyns

Dobyns, Stephen. Saratoga Payback
Dreamscape Media, 2017   
Narrated by George Newbern   ISBN 9781520067070

cover: Saratoga Payback

Published in 2017, this book is the 11th in Dobyns’s Charlie Bradshaw series, though the first since 1998. Much has changed in Charlie’s life. The police have revoked his private investigator’s license, and he’s now trying to get used to life as a retired senior citizen. And he is now married to Janie, whose youngest child, a 14-year-old daughter, is still at home. Charlie and his stepdaughter have a good relationship. 

Still, household repairs just can’t replace investigating, so when a corpse lands on Charlie’s front sidewalk, he has to decide whether to hand the situation off to the local cops or to risk breaking the law by investigating without a license. When the cops show little interest in the case, Charlie begins to sniff around surreptitiously; he reasons that, since the dead man was obviously coming to see Charlie, he has a right to look into how and why the guy was killed in Charlie’s front yard.

Fans of the series will be gratified to learn that Charlie’s friend Victor Plotz and The Queen of Softness are still together. I doubt if anyone who has not read at least some of the previous books in the series will be interested in this one. 

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown


She Was the Quiet One by Michele Campbell

Campbell, Michele. She Was the Quiet One   
Macmillan Audio, 2018  
Narrated by January LaVoy  
ISBN 1250205166

cover: She Was the Quiet One

This novel might have been better if it were about 1/3 shorter. But the drawn-out story just emphasizes the book’s shortcomings. 

Two orphaned fraternal twin girls are sent by their emotionally cold grandmother to a prestigious New England boarding school for their sophomore year of high school. The twins fit a stereotype: one, Rose, is light; her sister, Bel, is dark. The girls are assigned to different rooms in the same dormitory. The heads of the dormitory, both also teachers at the school, are devastatingly handsome Heath Donovan and his wife, Sarah.

Rose, although feeling alienated among the cliquish student body, flourishes academically at the fiercely competitive school. But Bel gets pulled into the wrong crowd—the bratty, trouble-making, cruel clique of seniors—as soon as she arrives. For an entire semester Rose harps at Bel to get away from those kids, and Bel continues to defend herself and her new friends, accusing Rose of being jealous.

As the twins’ relationship sours, the Donovans have their own problems. Sarah hears rumors about her husband but refuses to believe them. A little of such behavior would be credible, but Sarah gradually becomes so emotionally needy that her thoughts and actions descend into melodrama. At the same time we see Heath become increasingly unstable and unreliable. This process drags on long enough to become quite annoying and to lose, eventually, any semblance of credibility. 

The ending brings about a sense of relief rather than any semblance of closure. In fact, the book ends with a bizarre epilogue, the only purpose of which seems to be to suggest that a sequel may be in the works. If so, I won’t be reading it.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

The first fairytales were feminist critiques of patriarchy. We need to revive their legacy

Melissa Ashley finds the origin of fairytales to “a coterie of 17th century French female writers known as the conteuses, or storytellers.” Fairytales “crystallised as a genre” in this time when women, sometimes as young as 15, were married off—often to men many years older than themselves—to protect family property. Women could not divorce, work, or control their inheritances. The conteuses’ stories “invited women to imagine greater freedom in their lives, to be their own authors of the most fundamental of all human endeavours – to be able to choose whom to love.”

THE LAST UNPROBLEMATIC OLD WHITE MALE AUTHORS (WE THINK)

In this age of #MeToo and disparagement of the Western literary canon as outmoded products from the minds of dead white guys, Dylan Brown argues that “there are, by my count, at least three old white guys (all of whom are alive!) who are still ‘safe’ to read.” Read why he finds the work of these three men “stands the test of time — even in these times. It is, in other words, enlightened despite their era”: Charles Portis (True Grit), Nicholson Baker (A Box of Matches), and Steven Millhauser (Martin Dressler).

WHEN YOU WRITE YOUR WORST FEARS IN YOUR NOVEL—AND THEN THEY COME TRUE

Six days before the publication of her first novel, Amber Cowie’s brother died. When she visited the room he had last inhabited, she sickeningly realized “the space was nearly identical to a scene I had written in my book.” Cowie found help in understanding her situation by examining the lives of writers Lois Duncan, who wrote about her daughter’s murder, and Shirley Jackson, whose last diary entries before her sudden death suggest she felt “a portending sense of loss and mystery.” 

Jackson, Duncan and I created stories that both reflected and predicted the things that scared us the most.

From Iliad to Inspiration: How Homer’s Epic Inspired My Debut Novel

Probably the question writers hear most often is “Where do you get your ideas?” Here Shannon Price describes how Homer’s Iliad, required reading in a required college course, inspired her first novel.

How Literary Translation Can Shift the Tides of Power

Whether it came from a news report, travel blog, film or work of fiction, our understanding of these far-flung countries [China, Japan, Korea] is limited by what gets translated into our language. But who and what determines which voices and whose stories we get to hear? Whose voices are we not hearing?

Jen Wei Ting explains the responsibilities she feels as a translator.

The Disappearance of John M. Ford

When a friend insisted he read The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford, Isaac Butler was dazzled by the book:

The Dragon Waiting is an unfolding cabinet of wonders. Over a decade before George R.R. Martin wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, Ford created an alternate-history retelling of the Wars of the Roses, filled with palace intrigue, dark magic, and more Shakespeare references than are dreamt of in our philosophy. The Dragon Waiting provokes that rare thrill that one gets from the work of Gene Wolfe, or John Crowley, or Ursula Le Guin. A dazzling intellect ensorcells the reader, entertaining with one hand, opening new doors with another.

Yet when Butler tried to buy more of Ford’s works, he found they were out of print and mostly not available even in used copies. He set out to discover how Ford had written such amazing books and why he was so unknown today. Butler’s investigation into Ford and his works makes for fascinating reading. Best of all, his work resulted in an agreement to republish Ford’s work, beginning in 2020.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

America’s First Banned Book Really Ticked Off the Plymouth Puritans

A portrait of Thomas Morton, an English businessman who came to the New World with the Puritans but didn’t share their religious zeal. Morton “had the audacity to erect a maypole in Massachusetts.”

The Rise and Fall of Booth Tarkington

“How a candidate for the Great American Novelist dwindled into America’s most distinguished hack.”

Recently I read The Magnificent Ambersons, one of Booth Tarkington’s two—yes, TWO!—Pulitzer-Prize-winning novels, and just about choked on it. This New Yorker profile tackles the question “How to explain this remarkable career—the meteoric ascent to fame, the impregnable reputation over several decades, and then the pronounced plunge into obscurity?”

All of Our Good—and All of Our Evil—Lies in Wait in the Archives

“The more time I spend in archives, the more I realize how important they are,” writes Sara Sligar. Here she explains why archives are such “good fodder for fiction” and discusses some of her “favorite novels about archives and documents: thrilling reads that turn seemingly dreary record-keeping into nail-biting suspense.” Her list includes, among others, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, Possession by A.S. Byatt, and Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.

THE CURRENT STATE AND FUTURE OF GOODREADS

Steph Coelho discusses the history and still-growing popularity among readers of Goodreads. Despite its popularity, Coelho writes, the site hasn’t changed much since its inception in December 2006. Here she looks at “what’s not working according to Goodreads users” and “what people love about Goodreads.” She discusses the issue of what the future holds for Goodreads with Goodreads CEO Veronica Moss and, if you’re more dissatisfied than satisfied with Goodreads, offers some current alternatives for keeping track of your reading.

But, she writes, “I wouldn’t recommend abandoning the platform anytime soon. I’m excited to see what’s on the horizon.”

My friend, my self

“Female friendship is central to much recent fiction and film. What can it say about the role of relationships in identity?”

Susan Bright examines the role of female friendships, with a focus on Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s TV comedy drama Fleabag:

What makes both these examples of friendship resonate is their intimacy and vulnerability, not only between the two women, but within the main characters themselves. These women are flawed but honest. Their fallibility, loneliness and insecurity might not make them likeable, but they are totally relatable. In short, seeing ourselves reflected in fiction makes us feel less alone. And so it seems that the most compelling stories are not really about friendship at all, but about self-awareness, self-deception, loneliness and self-confidence (or its lack). These stories focus on female friendship to show that there can be competitiveness and jealousy, transgression and guilt, but also genuine love; the relationships between women can be acutely observant and thought-provoking guides to deep emotions of the self.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

5 Domestic Thrillers: Terror at Home

Related Post:

The characters in “you can’t go home again” novels discover that going back home can often be a mistake because the secrets, lies, and betrayals they had hoped to leave behind are still there waiting to suck them back in. 

The characters in domestic thrillers often share backgrounds similar to their counterparts in “you can’t go home again” novels. But instead of venturing back home, they have tried to construct a fortress in a different home to protect their families by shutting out past events. 

But even characters who don’t have significant pasts to hide discover that, no matter how hard they try, they can’t always protect those they love from trouble, because sometimes trouble enters the seeming stability of home through the front door (or the back door, or a window. . .).

fancy scroll

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson

Jackson, Joshilyn. Never Have I Ever  
Harper Audio, 2019  
Narrated by Joshilyn Jackson  
ISBN 9780062933546

Recommended

cover: Never Have I Ever

This is the novel that prompted me to make this list. It’s the story of Amy Whey, who has built the perfect life: a loving husband, a burbling baby boy, a young teenage stepdaughter with whom she shares a loving relationship, a best friend named Charlotte, and a close-knit neighborhood social network. 

Then one night, just as the monthly book group gathering is about to start, Amy’s doorbell rings. A sultry, fashionably dressed woman offers wine and asks to join the book group. She’s just moved into the empty house on the cul-de-sac, she explains. Her name is Angelica Roux: “Just call me Roux.”

Roux makes sure all the wine glasses stay full and engages the group in “never have I ever,” a party game that involves the spilling of secrets. Everyone else sees the drunken game as harmless fun—except for Amy. She realizes that Roux’s questions are aimed at her. When the two women are alone together, Roux warns that if Amy doesn’t give her what she wants, Roux will make her pay. 

Who exactly is this woman, and what soes she know? More importan, what’s her endgame?

When Roux’s teenage son, driving a red sports car, begins to hit on Amy’s stepdaughter, Amy comes to rue the day she opened her front door to this intruder. For, Amy realizes, Roux’s threats apply not only to herself, but also to those she loves—her family, her friends, the entire life she’s built for herself. The only way to protect it all is to beat Roux at her own dangerous game of digging up past secrets and answering threats with even bigger counter-threats.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown


The Wife by Alafair Burke

Burke, Alafair. The Wife   
HarperAudio, 2018  
Narrated by Xe Sands

Recommended

cover: The Wife

Angela met Jason Powell while catering a party in East Hampton. She assumed their romance would be just a summer fling, like most other affairs between locals and the wealthy summer visitors. But the relationship blossomed, and they were married a year later.

The marriage to Jason, a well-known economics professor at NYU, allowed Angela a new start. She and her son moved to Manhattan, and the three of them built a happy life together. But six years later, Jason’s best-selling book brings them media attention. When a college intern accuses Jason of inappropriate behavior, another woman, Kerry Lynch, steps up with her own allegation. Jason insists he’s innocent, and Angela believes him. But when Kerry Lynch disappears, Angela must rethink her position. 

But this is not just a case of a woman having to decide whether to stand by her man, because Angela has her own reasons for needing to avoid the spotlight. The strength of this novel lies in the way Angela weighs her moral options as her situation changes.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown


Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica

Kubica, Mary. Every Last Lie  
Harlequin Audio, © 2017

cover: Every Last Lie

Clara Solberg, holding her four-day-old infant in her arms when she answers the door bell, can’t believe what the police are telling her: her husband, Nick, has been killed in a car crash, though their four-year-old daughter, who was in the back seat, is unhurt.

As Clara faces the first few days of a life without Nick, paranoia threatens to overwhelm her. She can’t believe the investigators’ conclusion that Nick simply took a dangerous curve too fast. Another car must have been chasing Nick. Who? And why? There must be some explanation for what happened. Random accidents don’t simply happen and shatter one’s world, do they?

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown


The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Finn, A.J. The Woman in the Window  
HarperCollins Audio, 2018  
Narrated by Ann Marie Lee  
ISBN 9780062678430

cover: The Woman in the Window

Anna Fox is a child psychologist recovering from a personal trauma. She drinks heavily and suffers from agoraphobia so crippling that she can’t even step outside her front door. One day she looks out her window and sees a confrontation taking place in the window across the courtyard. When the teenaged boy who lives in that house visits her to bring a gift, she begins to sympathize with him.

So she begins to monitor what goes on inside the house across the way. As long as she stays inside her own house, nothing can harm her. Right?

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown


Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Jewell, Lisa. Then She Was Gone  
Dreamscape Media, 2018  
Narrated by Helen Duff  
ISBN 9781520098289

Every book I’ve written has been about family, in one form or another. . . . family forms the skeleton of every story I want to tell. And the backbone of every family is, as we all know, the mother.

Lisa Jewell
cover: Then She Was Gone

In this novel Lisa Jewell puts her own spin on the standard missing child trope. Laurel Mack is trying to put her life back together 10 years after the disappearance of her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie. In those 10 years Laurel and her husband have divorced and Laurel has grown distant from her other daughter.

What Jewell does so well is flesh out the characters so that readers become engaged in their lives. Jewell is also adept at creating plot points that go beyond the standard bare-bones formulas to produce surprising but credible events. It’s impossible to say much more about this novel without spoiling it, so sit back and appreciate how Lisa Jewell pulls off this domestic thriller. 

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

In the rush to harvest body parts, death investigations have been upended

Maybe I just read too many crime novels and watch too many cop shows. Or maybe I’m just gruesome by nature. Yet I often think of exactly this problem when I’m reading a novel or watching a show. A medical examiner needs time to conduct a full investigation (autopsy and lab tests) to determine manner of death (natural causes, accident, suicide, homicide), yet time is of the essence if the dead person is an organ, bone, and/or tissue donor. So who takes precedence, the medical examiner or the transplant team?

This article from the Los Angeles Times also has a local angle for me. If you click through to the article, you’ll see that the photo of a corpse at the top is from the Pierce County medical examiner’s office in Tacoma, Washington—my home town. The reason for this is probably that Melissa Baker, a former investigator in the Pierce County medical examiner’s office, filed a whistleblower complaint in 2015. She is quoted in this article:

“One of my biggest concerns … was the mere fact that someone could potentially get away with murder because evidence has been bungled, lost or not collected,” she said.

While most of this article focuses on Los Angeles County and California law, many of the issues it brings up are informative for anyone interested in what happens after someone dies. I found the graphic labeled “How much is a body worth?” particularly eye-opening.

ADAPTING ADULT BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS

Adapting books for young readers can mean a variety of different things. It can mean adding pictures, changing slurs to slightly less harsh words, or cutting out passages that may seem a little boring to young readers. There are many great books adapted for young readers that come out of this process, and it is a helpful way to introduce kids to new historical and contemporary figures that don’t have as many books for all reading levels as, for example, Abraham Lincoln.

Here’s an interesting article about adapting nonfiction texts for younger (say middle-grade) readers. Such adaptations can contribute to providing children with diverse life stories and new paths of encouragement—for example, Life in Motion, the memoir of pioneering dancer Misty Copeland. “Being able to choose a book with a picture or drawing on the front that looks like yourself is still a privilege, and should not be taken for granted.”

American Gothic: The Woman Who Escaped the Asylum

This excerpt from Nightmare Factories: The Asylum in the American Imagination by Troy Rondinone focuses on two images of Woman that pervaded the 19th century: the woman in white, the angel of the house; and the woman in black, representing woman’s roles as caretaker and moral guardian of society. “Both images are archetypes, two sides of a rubric of femininity that simultaneously empowered and smothered the 19th-century female.”

In “a culture that demanded that women know and accept their place . . . the asylum became a tool of discipline in the gothic world of sentimental fiction.”

What Greta Gerwig Saw in ‘Little Women’: ‘Those Are My Girls’

Cover: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Greta Gerwig’s film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women will debut on Christmas Day 2019. In this article Amanda Hess writes that Gerwig’s treatment is “less an update than it is an excavation” of a novel that portrays the March sisters as “posed unnaturally in the conventional narratives of their time.” 

‘A Walk in the Woods’ vs. A Walk in the Woods: On Reading as a Substitute for Experience

Jacob Lambert learns a lesson:

Reading is an incredible thing, but it’s a poor substitute for life. I’m amazed, and embarrassed, that I’ve had to learn such an obvious lesson. Yes, adulthood is tiring, children will suck you dry, and it’s easy to stay inside. But I remember now: though I packed The Grapes of Wrath on that long-ago, six-week drive, I read almost none of it. And I didn’t miss it at all.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

“Monsters, villains, and antiheroes are largely just like us”

Monsters, villains, and antiheroes are largely just like us—with one key difference. They have the power to fulfill self-interests because they live beyond the dictates of morality. They care little for how their actions affect others, so nothing is forbidden. For them, it’s not a matter of “Should I do this?” but “Can I do this?” And whether that means seeking vengeance or stealing the crown or setting fire to an entire city, these characters can and do act on their desires, regardless of the consequences. Their depravity—their freedom—allows us readers to explore the darker side of our own natures in a safe way. Because even though we might fantasize about eviscerating our enemies, we don’t actually want to.

Shelby Mahurin