TIN MAN by Sarah Winman is a beautiful novel of the deep love and friendship between two men who grow up together in working class England. One is an orphan and they share the nurturing of a mother, whose raffle win of a knock- off print of Van Gogh’s sunflowers begins the story. Fragile souls interested in literature and art, they are shaped by circumstance into roles of endurance. Their lives unfold bound together by their history, their surroundings, and their love. Sunflowers, nature, and art pervade.
The story is a mirror image of THE ANIMATORS by Kayla Rae Whitaker – a similar story with two female protagonists set in New York City and the American rural south. Told skillfully in a much harsher style to fit the setting and using a different kind of art as catalyst, this is a tale of heart-breaking devotion and addiction.
THE ENSEMBLE by Aja Gabel reveals an inside view of the workings of a string quartet. From student days to mid-life four talented musicians struggle to have normal lives, while performance is the ever- present priority. They search for relationship between themselves and others, handle and mishandle professional jealousy, and seek to integrate the effects of their early lives into the present. As their stories unfold, the author provides analyses of well-known quartet pieces with details about timing, tempos, difficulty, balance…all the aspects of what it means for four people to coordinate their playing. Musicians will appreciate this, while the psychological portraits of the quartet keep the pages turning.
I seldom re-read books, but after recommending a book I once loved (many years ago), I decided to find out if it still earned my admiration. SEEING THROUGH PLACES by Mary Gordon (2000) is a memoir of growing up in her grandmother’s regimented home, living with her disabled mother and other relatives, experiencing college, marriage, divorce, and wanting to own the Cape Cod house where she rents with her own children and does her writing. I found this uneven, but still intriguing and helpful in understanding some of the actions and responses of those whose childhoods were steeped in the Catholic traditions she reveals.
SUMMER WIVES by Beatriz Williams is a page-turner about Fisher Island, where Portuguese island people and Wasp summer people live in mostly peaceful co-existence. This one is a love story full of family unrest, class clashes, secrets, sailing, step-families, and ultimately, murder and adventure. A good beach read and an excellent future Hallmark movie.
Richard Russo has written THE DESTINY THIEF: ESSAYS ON WRITING, WRITERS AND LIFE. For anyone who writes, wants to write, plans to write, tries to write…this is the book to inspire you! Memoir, commentary, and instruction manual presented in clear and graceful prose, his writing makes the next book feel like you have lost your footing and slid back to a lower level of communication (regardless of the second author.) The “Getting Good” chapter – a teacher’s point of view on teaching point of view is superb!