No One Is Coming to Save Us, Stephanie Powell Watts
This book touted as a modern version of The Great Gatsby but having read it, I think it’s a bit of a stretch. This is not to say this isn’t a good book though. I did enjoy reading it. It just wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.
Set in a small economically depressed American town in the south, the story mainly focuses on busybody matriarch Sylvia, who despite having her own apartment, spends most of her time at her former house, now owned and occupied by her middle-aged married daughter, Ava. Ava’s marriage was troubled at best and then further complicated when her childhood friend JJ shows up after a long absence. Now that he’s achieved some degree of success, he’s back to win her heart.
There are a few common themes and moments that loosely connected it to The Great Gatsby but the characters are far more endearing despite their flaws. It was really more about regular people struggling to get what they want out of life. I supposed though, had it not been blurbed with the comparison, I may not have picked it up so I guess from a marketing perspective, it worked.
My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout
This was such a random book selection for me. I needed to download something to my eReader right away and this one was the first one that was available in the “recommended” section from our local library. I didn’t even read a synopsis before I began and had no clue what it was about or what to expect.
Most of the story takes place over a few days when Lucy is laying in a hospital bed while fighting an infection after a surgery. Her mother had come from rural Illinois to visit and as they talk about some of the folks from her hometown, she reflects on her upbringing. She is very subtle in her revelations so that, as a reader, you really have to stop and consider her implications.
It reminded me a tiny bit of The Glass Castle in that the (in this case, fictional) protagonist grew up in abject poverty and has moved on to a much different life while maintaining a complicated relationship with her family.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson
I can’t remember the last time I’ve read a novel that had such palpable tension right from the start.
The story is narrated by Mary Katherine, a teenager who lives with her older sister and feeble Uncle on a large familial estate. The rest of their family had perished in a tragedy many years before and they live in isolation from the locals who seem to fear and loathe them. As the story unfolds you begin to understand the events that occurred years before.
It was fantastically bizarre, and apparently, there’s a movie version coming out sometime this year.
The Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O’Neill
When I started reading this book I found something oddly familiar about it. The theme of being young, poor and exploited in Montreal reminded me of Lullabies for Little Criminals and then I realized they were authored by the same person. Lullabies for Little Criminals is one of those books that just haunts you years later. That gave me a bit of an idea of what to prepare for as I read on.
The novel is about Perriot and Rose who met when they were orphaned babies. Both talented and charismatic, as teenagers they fell in love as they toured the city performing on behalf of their orphanage. They were separated when they were sent out to work as servants, but spent their early adult years trying to find each other while they tried to stay afloat in the city during the depression.
Overall, it was a bit weird. The prose is unique and visceral. At times I could almost feel the grit and hunger of depression era Montreal coming off the pages. It wasn’t as upsetting as Lullabies though. It read more like an early 20th-century fairy tale, but without a conventional happily ever after.