March 29, 2009
Happens Every Day by Isabel Gillies went on sale this week. It had a strict-on-sale date of March 24 due to the deal with Starbuck’s to sell the memoir in its stores. Maureen Corrigan in her recent NPR “Fresh Air” review called it compulsively readable, and it is indeed that. (Corrigan’s review is the reason I ran out and bought the book.)
Gilles is an actress known for her role as Detective Stabler’s wife in the TV show Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, and she starred in the movie Metropolitan. She writes about the end of her marriage to husband, Josiah, a poet, whom she’d known since childhood. Married and with two toddlers, they left New York City for Josiah to teach at Oberlin College in Northeastern Ohio. There they had the perfect life, in an idyllic academic setting, in a perfect house, with great friends, until Josiah fell in love with an Audrey Hepburn-like professor newly hired to teach 18th century literature.
While this is a common story that “happens every day,” it’s told in such a fresh revealing voice it’s hard to put down.
Gilles writes without self-pity or blame or grudges or judgment, rather with innocence that captures her shock as if what happened is still a devastating surprise. My one complaint is that she ends the book too abruptly, as in “and they lived happily ever after.” She sounds like she got tired of writing and just turned off the computer. I needed a bit more about how she transitioned back into her New York life.
March 27, 2009
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa; translated by Stephen Snyder
Don’t let the math equations frighten you off from this gentle gem. I hated math and struggled with it in school – and while I didn’t always get the nameless professor’s explanations in these absorbing pages about prime numbers, let alone amicable numbers, my lack of math wizardry in no way dented my love for this book.
Every day a housekeeper arrives at the cottage of a 64-year-old math professor whose memory lasts precisely 80 minutes. No more. No less. And so every day the housekeeper must reintroduce herself to the professor. Their relationship revolves around his teaching her and her 10-year-old son not only the beauty of numbers but also eternal, unchangeable truths.
There’s no sex, no violence, no foul language. Ogawa’s story is about the essence of relationship in its pure sincerity of giving and loving without agenda or profit. A book of peace and hope.
March 23, 2009
In the March 2 issue of “Publisher’s Weekly,” there’s a starred preview of Ward Just’s novel to be published this July, Exiles in the Garden. The reviewer says, “Just writes with confidence and authority as he works through larger themes of politics, history, war and historical judgment.”
I’ll be eager to read it — I’ve been waiting for another book from Just as seductive as An Unfinished Season (finalist for the 2005 Pulitzers). Put another way, Forgetfulness that followed An Unfinished Seasonwas a huge disappointment for me with its unsatisfying story about Moroccan terrorists and the death of a French woman — nothing near Unfinished Season’s moving 1950s summer story of Wils Ravan getting involved with the daughter of a famous psychiatrist named Jack Brule whose friends include Adlai Stevenson and Marlon Brando.
The aloof Jack harbors a painful and profoundly private secret from his military service during World War II, and it is this secret – one that’s even kept from his daughter – that grips Wils with insistent curiosity.
Jack says to Wils, in a much longer, stunning monologue:
“It’s a different thing entirely when you see the devil face to face, snake-eyed, malignant, merciless. He wants to erase you, destroy your soul. He’d do it in a second, without a moment’s thought or a backward glance.”
March 21, 2009
W. S. Merwin’s The Shadow of Sirius was sitting on the passenger seat along with several other books I felt compelled to carry with me on my Saturday errands – I couldn’t decide what to read next, hence all my choices traveled with me for potential ‘sneak read’ moments. Reading in the grocery parking lot, I came to these three lines from the poem “Note,” that are gorgeous and filled with possibility of one’s own. I must share:
Remember how the naked soul
comes to language and at once knows
loss and distance and believing
March 20, 2009
It was a windswept, raw March morning and the city looked bleak and dreary as it shivered under the overcast sky. But the man who stood at the window of his study in the large house on Market Street didn’t hear the rattling of the wind against the panes or even feel the persistent draft that penetrated between the window frame and sill. He was staring unseeingly into the street.
Sounds like the beginnings of a suspense novel, and being these are the first lines of a Mary Higgins Clark book, you’d think that’s right, but it’s not.
These are the first lines of her first book, Aspire to the Heavens, about George Washington. I’ve never read a Higgins Clark book, yet for some reason I had to have this one, her first, simply because the topic surprised me.
Aspire to the Heavens was published in 1968 by Meredith Press/New York, and I love the part in her bio, printed on the back of the dust jacket, where its says, “Currently she is the writer of daily radio programs for Bess Myerson and Peggy Cass.” Weren’t those two on the TV show “What’s My Line?”
According to Higgins Clark’s website, Aspire to the Heavens was re-issued in 2002 with the title Mount Vernon Love Story.