THE LISTENER

Don’t you love it when you can’t wait to get back to the book you are reading? This seems to happen less and less to me. A notable exception is THE LISTENER, a novel by Rachel Basch. The story features a psychologist and his circle of family and friends. The setting is a college campus in a New England town. It is about intimacy in many permutations…between therapist and client, father and daughters, mother and son, friends, colleagues…and about secrets…and about identities, both public and private. Sexual and gender identities are at the heart of some of the relationships. This is a “talky” book – appealing to readers who like to consider the psychological aspects of life. And like life, it ends in mid-process with no clear-cut conclusion. Skillfully drawn characters trying to know each other and find ways to connect make this a memorable read.

WEST OF SUNSET

Can’t get enough of Scott & Zelda? STEWART O’NAN has taken a piece of literary and film history and crafted a biographical novel of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final years. WEST OF SUNSET has Fitzgerald trying to make money writing screenplays in the era of Humphrey Bogart, Joan Crawford, Ernest Hemingway, and Dorothy Parker. The bit players in this drama are famous with famously indulgent and often counter-productive life styles. It’s 1937…MGM dominates, war is on the horizon, Zelda is institutionalized, Scottie is about to enter college, and Scott is broke, alcoholic, and very much in love with Sheilah Graham.  O’Nan captures the temptations, frustrations, nostalgia, and desperation, as Fitzgerald tries to hold everything together. The legend does not yet exist. Dignity is slippery, a veneer applied to the legend only after Fitzgerald’s early death.

O’Nan’s usual perceptive writing amplifies Fitzgerald’s life in the everyday details: The bottles of coke to keep him going with the writing. The hours it takes for a few lines of the scripts. The cynicism of the other writers. The constant frustration of having his scripts rewritten and cancelled. The ambivalence of feelings about Zelda and their past… and about Sheila and their future. The worries about money and how to pay for Scottie’s college. The stashed pints of gin always beckoning.

This novel illuminates a familiar story by getting inside the psyche of a troubled man, his ordinary days made extraordinary by his talent and ultimate achievements.

HERE (a graphic novel)

Graphic novels. That is the “official” term for books in which illustrations predominate, regardless of the genre of the book. Some graphic novels are memoirs, some are fiction, some are non-fiction, and some may be accurately referred to by us old folks as comic books. I have just spent some time with a wonderful graphic novel. HERE by Richard McGuire is the story of a corner of a room and of the events that occurred in that space over hundreds of thousands of years.

Multi-talented, McGuire is a New Yorker contributor, film director, inventor of a line of toys, and a bass-playing band member. HERE recreates the stories of a particular space with careful attention to details of various times, with few words and with subtle connections between the years, eras, and centuries he depicts. Native Americans, colonists, 1920’s rascals, 1950’s family scenes, pre-history, 24th century technology… these are some of the careful, historical (and futuristic) settings – all HERE in the same space, with scenes from different years superimposed on others. Fascinating!

This is a book you might want to own and revisit many times, with new details catching your attention on every visit. It’s a book for browsing and reflection. You could even interject your own version of the stories as they unfold. An opportunity for thoughtful relaxation.  A break from thrillers, super heroes, and the bad news of current events.