Posts Tagged ‘Dysfuntional Family Fiction’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Martha S’s Picks

December 29, 2014

I enjoy reading realistic fiction, with some humor thrown in from time to time, and and occasional work of nonfiction.  These are my favorites books discovered this year, but published prior to 2014:

LookawLookaway, Lookawayay, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt
Meet the Johnstons: Jerene and Duke are the heads of a socially prominent, highly dysfunctional Charlotte family. Duke is an ardent Civil War reenactor; Jerene is the manager of the Jarvis trust, her family’s collection of landscapes by minor American artists. They are the parents of Annie, an outspoken, brash real estate person on her third marriage, minister Bo, gay son Joshua who is not officially out of the closet, naïve daughter Jerrilyn. There is also Jerene’s outrageous, dissolute brother, Gaston Jarvis, who has squandered his literary talent on a series of Southern potboilers. This is a blisteringly funny satire of just about any contemporary Southern thing you can think of.  Read another review.

The PostmistressThe Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Three women’s lives intersect after Frankie Bard, a reporter from wartime London during the blitz, meets a doctor in an air raid shelter who asks her to deliver a letter to his wife in Massachusetts. The postmistress of the town in Massachusetts also has a mission from the same doctor to deliver a letter to his wife in the event of his death. This is a gripping story of the war in London, its effect on the three women and other people in the small town in Massachusetts.

The Language of FlowersThe Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
After a childhood spent in foster care, Victoria has nowhere to go and has no people in her life. Through luck she finds work in a florist’s shop and is able to expand her knowledge of the language of flowers that she has been interested in since childhood. Victoria is able to help others with her skill with flowers while she struggles with her own past.


TransatlanticTransatlantic by Colum McCann
The novel uses three events that actually happened as the basis for his novel; Frederick Douglass’s visit to Ireland in 1845, the 1919 flight of British aviators Alcock and Brown, and the attempts by U.S. senator George Mitchell to broker peace in Northern Ireland. One of the fictional characters, Lilly Duggan, who is first seen in the Frederick Douglass chapter boldly leaves all behind and immigrates to America, becoming the mother of a long line of descendants in America, some of whom return to Ireland in later times. Fascinating and brilliantly written.

The Rosie ProjectThe Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Don Tillman is a brilliant, but socially awkward professor of genetics at an Australian university. Nearing his 40th birthday, he decides to find a wife and devises a questionnaire to rule out all unsuitable candidates. Soon Rosie Jarman enters the picture and Don mistakenly believes she has submitted a questionnaire and been vetted by his coworker. Rosie and Don hit it off in spite of the fact that she fails to meet some of his requirements. Rosie does not know who her biological father is, so together they embark on the Rosie Project to attempt to learn his identity. Hilarious and heartwarming events ensue.  Read another review.

North River by Pete Hamill

May 29, 2012

James Delaney is a struggling physician, practicing on Manhattan’s West Side, in the middle of America’s worst depression. He is a veteran of WWI and has the scars to prove it. He lives in the ethnic boiling pot that made the West Side of Manhattan famous. He is a doctor to all who seek his help, whether they can afford to pay or not. However, he was apparently no help to his wife, Molly, or his daughter, Grace.

They have both left him. Molly, because she was angry with his going off to war and Grace because he never seemed to have time for her. Grace is an artist but has run off to Mexico with someone she met in New York. Even though his world is not what he dreamed of, Delaney is about to have his life become even more complicated. He comes home one night to find a little boy on his stoop with a note attached to his clothing. The boy is Carlos, Grace’s 3 year old son and Grace wants her father to take him in and care for him. It seems Grace is off to Russia to find the husband who has deserted her.

Delaney knows he must care for his grandson and through friends he is able to obtain the services of an Italian woman named Rosa, who will become Carlito’s nanny. Hamill’s story is the story of the Depression Era of the mid-thirties in the heart of New York. And you will meet all the characters one might expect to find in a Damon Runyon tale but Hamill is adept in his own right at carving out his own scenarios and you can feel the living breathing streets of Manhattan.
You will meet the good guys and the bad guys that can effect anyone’s life in this melting pot of the Big Apple, the hoodlums, the police, the homeless and the politicians. All will play a role as Delaney accepts the responsibility of raising his grandson. He has no idea if he will ever see either his wife or his daughter ever again. His new family will consist of Carlos and Rosa and all the characters of the lower West Side of Manhattan in the mid-thirties. Hamill will make you feel like you are right in the middle of this melting pot, that New Yorkers will easily recognize, and non-New Yorkers can easily imagine.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living by Martin Clark

November 26, 2010

Meet Evers Wheeling, his brother Pascal and their other friends who like to hang out for extended periods of time in Pascal’s modest trailer home, the one with the boarded up window. Hold this book at arm’s length when you read it as the alcohol fumes emanating from its pages are sure to induce a stage of virtual intoxication. The good life is truly being doped and drugged throughout the day. Now please don’t get the wrong idea about all of this. Author Clark loves these guys. He can’t bear to make them ordinary rednecks. No indeed. One is a judge, and one a doctor -an emergency room physician no less- and they all seem to be college graduates, one from Princeton, one from William and Mary. They speak in an ornate language that would impress an Oxford don. They are generally very polite folks, who would not think of making a pass at the beautiful lady who decides to stay overnight at the trailer home. They have a code of honor that places loyalty above honesty. Pascal, the philosophical one who drinks for a living, states that while you cannot remain a child, you can sure spend your life perpetually immature.

What else goes on besides the serious drinking? Well, the guys get involved in helping an attractive woman retrieve some stolen money, and a strange murder infringes on their imbibing rituals. Judge Wheeling also decides to punish his wife for a marital no-no by chaining her naked to the freeway exit sign at Climax, North Carolina. The judge also has some strange mental lapses that suggest some sort of  brain damage.

What I liked best about this book is that it works on two levels. On the first level, it’s an enjoyable read; quirky, funny characters, good description, intriguing story. On the second level, it’s a spiritual novel that makes us think about the chain of events in our lives and how often things seem to happen for some cosmic reason. I highly recommend this one.

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Off For the Sweet Hereafter by T.R. Pearson

November 25, 2010

I first came across the writings of T.R. Pearson when my book club read A Short History of a Small Place. Many of the members didn’t care for it, but I thought it was good fun Southern dysfunctional family fiction. This is the sequel to Short History and is even more over the top and more enjoyable. This is the book Faulkner would write if he were alive today. Both writers are great portrayers of the South and it’s many interesting characters, also they have similar writing styles and are not big on ending sentences. Filled with every other punctuation available, this type of writing is more difficult to follow, but eerily reminiscent of how us southerners tell stories.
Mr. Pearson is, well, hilarious. He has a clear perception of his fellow human beings, so when he describes us and our behavior and our thoughts, he doesn’t need to embellish or exaggerate to get the reader to laugh out loud – after all, we all do pretty freaking funny stuff every day. Another plus is Pearson’s characters – they are incredibly well developed and three dimensional. Readers will almost surely come to love just about every character in this book, in some way or another.  Take Raeford Benton Lynch, the focus, such as there is one, son of the fat Jeerer Lynch and her chicken-raising husband, this horse-faced, pointy-nosed, square-toothed, lumbering fool takes to a life of crime in order to win the heart of a girl he meets while digging graves. But Jane Elizabeth Firesheets, who offers Benton Lynch his first “physical therapy,” is indeed no ordinary girl. She’s a stone-cold tramp, who slips out of her snug clothes and into the ammonia-smelling hay faster than you can say Fuquay-Varina, which figures prominently in Lynch’s robbery routine. Things take a decided turn for the worse when Benton “steps in some big, big shit,” as the inarticulate bumpkin himself puts it. His low-rent Clyde Barrow act results in some untimely deaths, including his own. And, once again, events in Neely and thereabouts bring us to Commander Avery’s funeral parlor, for that’s where Neely’s Freest like to get together–in the presence of death itself. This is a book that makes you want to wrestle people to the ground so you can read it out loud to them.

Find and request Off For the Sweet Hereafter in our catalog

Drive Like Hell by Dallas Hudgens

November 24, 2010

I could not put this book down. From the first page to the last, I couldn’t believe the twists, turns and fast-paced action. it’s the seventies, man, in all its polyester and hard-rock glory!

Sixteen-year-old Luke Fulmer gets an education in misbehaving in Hudgens’s raucous, Southern-fried bildungsroman. The worst crime a coming-of-age novel can commit is to take itself too seriously, and of that charge  Hudgens is most definitely not guilty. In a literary landscape full of self-important teenagers dried out by their own inward-looking portentousness, Luke Fulmer is a welcome alternative. Luke’s story is full of hard situations, and Hudgens never ignores or downplays the difficult truths of life.

Luke hasn’t had the greatest role models: his gorgeous mom, Claudia, needs her soaps like a wino needs his Thunderbird; his deadbeat dad, Lyndell, gets Luke involved in a B and E within 24 hours of seeing him for the first time in a decade; and his older brother, Nick, has done time twice for dealing drugs. It’s Georgia in 1979, where Luke steals his brother’s nickel bags for pocket money and his neighbor’s car for errands-that is, until he smashes it into a tree. He loses his license, is forced to take a job as a busboy at the Holiday Inn, and has to move in with his brother-after all, isn’t Nick walking the straight-and-narrow these days? Not hardly: he may have a landscaping business, a decent golf game and a band, Puss N’ Booze, but he’s also got a nice cocaine trade. Then Luke falls for a kleptomaniac, Nick lands in jail, and Luke has to play pick-up man in a drug drop. Hudgens’s sharp dialogue sparkles throughout, and the cat-and-mouse confrontations between Luke, Nick and the local lawmen are particularly funny. Hudgens’s takes on car racing, Claudia’s dating, Luke’s first love and Nick’s attempts to teach Luke his dubious keys to success also shine in this shaggy but thoroughly enjoyable debut.

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Crazy in Alabama by Mark Childress

November 23, 2010

I am a real sucker for uniqueness in a book, and this one has it! There are two stories here being told in parallel. Every other chapter tells one story, and vice versa. The stories are more similar than one might judge at first glance. The first is the story of a murder and its aftermath, a flamboyant tale with one of the most unforgettable characters to come out of Southern literature in a long time, Lucille Vinson. A sort of manic Scarlett O’Hara with an attitude, Lucille is determined to change her life, for better or worse, and find the freedom she’s dreamed of all her life. I won’t reveal the details of the story because Childress has taken great care to startle and amaze the reader, but I will say that he has created in Lucille a delicious, sexy, raucous naïf, absolutely depraved and absolutely innocent at the same time. She takes us on a wild ride through her own private wonderland, and we both believe and relish every over-the-top minute.

The civil rights struggle in the South gives Childress his second story, and here he has borrowed liberally from actual events: Governor Wallace standing in the doorway at the University of Alabama blocking the registration of its first black students, the famous Selma marches, and Bull Connors’ outrages in Birmingham. Somehow, however, Childress has made these stories, now transferred to Industry, Alabama, smaller and less sensational, through the eyes of narrator, 11 year old Peejoe, we are allowed  to see the subtle grays we could never perceive in the black and white of the headlines of that time. While no apologist for the immoral offenses of those who resisted so violently the inevitable tide of southern history, Childress shows us the hearts and souls of these villains, changing our knee-jerk hatred to a melancholy and compassionate pity. This is an act of alchemy that not even ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ could achieve, a story whose resonance echoes.

This book is a rare gem from a very talented writer. Childress has the ability to have the reader laughing and crying at the same time. Southern literature does not get any better than this. Would be a great listen on audio. As an added bonus you will get tips on how to use your Tupperware more creatively!

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A Week of Dysfunctional Family Fiction

November 22, 2010

Greetings literary lovers, just in time for the holidays, I want to share with you some of my favorite dysfunctional family fiction selections. From David Sedaris to Pat Conroy, the South has always been fertile grounds for celebrating the glory that is the dysfunctional family. Enjoy!

The Great Santini by Pat Conroy

Ben Meechum is the 17-year-old son of a fierce Marine pilot, Colonel Wilbur “Bull” Meecham (aka the Great Santini), in whom Conroy has created one of the most fascinating, believable, and flat-out hilarious characters in literary history. But Bull is often an even fiercer father not afraid to hit his wife and children. The Meechum family have a love/hate relationship with their father – they want nothing but his approval and love yet often fear him more than respect him in the seemingly losing battle for affection. For Ben, this battle is that much harder as the oldest son of this very tough man. Ben believes in civility and respect, Bull in proving that you are the toughest son of a bitch around.

In this coming of age story, we observe Ben as he struggles with his conscience all the while trying to earn his father’s respect. This book contrasts family with friendship and addresses racial and social status issues set in early 1960s South Carolina. It is the story of a family that can do nothing right for their father and a father who cannot figure out how to convey his love for family without showing a crack in his tough Marine exterior.

Very few authors capture a reader’s attention and emotion like Pat Conroy. You will connect with the characters and be devastated when the book is finished. This is not casual, light reading but a profound work that will remain with you long after the close the book. This is Conroy’s first novel and I suggest you read it before his later memoir, My Losing Season. But no matter what Conroy novel you read, you will find yourself in the middle of fantastic storytelling.

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