Written by on February 9, 2010

January Wrap-Up

Before they completely fade from memory, some very short reviews of books read during January’s excellent reading weather:

25293076.JPGThe Writing Class, by Jincy Willett

Willett develops a cast of real characters in this one. She’s obviously spent some time in university extension writing classes, and she spares no one on either side of the lectern. Her instructor, Amy Gallup, is a misanthropic problem drinker with weight and mood issues (her mantra: “Kill Me Now”). The class, an assortment of self-important whack jobs, bonds when it seems that one of them might be a murderer. Mystery fans will enjoy the whodunit factor; the main pleasure of the book for me was the hilarious, eye-rolling inner monologue Gallup maintains throughout the book. The roll call at the first class meeting alone is worth the cover price.

33673477.JPGLaura Rider’s Masterpiece, by Jane Hamilton

Another plot involving a would-be writer. Hamilton writes about a married couple who own a boutique nursery. Laura decides she’s through with sex permanently, but manipulates an email romance between her husband Charlie and a public radio personality, in hopes of manufacturing the plot of her first novel. Send-ups of everything from small towns to public radio to garden clubs ensue.

39058935.JPGBlame, by Michelle Huneven

The set-up for this story gets your attention right away: an alcoholic history professor in her twenties wakes up in jail after a going on a major bender, with blackout, the night before. Thinking she’s just racked up yet another DUI, she follows two policemen into an interrogation room, wondering what the big deal is. Then she notices that one of them is carrying a folder marked “homicide”. After a prison sentence and years of AA, she begins to settle into a greatly modified life. But a major revelation, years after the night of the blackout, once again drastically changes the path she’s on.

50827843.JPGThe Help, by Kathryn Stockett

This first novel is set in Jackson, Mississippi at the beginning of the civil rights movement. Skeeter, a misfit English major, just out of college, gets a writing job, of sorts: a household hints column for the local paper. She consults local maids on stain removal and other housekeeping problems, and then puts herself (and them) at risk by collecting their stories. The need to keep this project and its participants a secret, plus an on-again, off-again romance for Skeeter, make this novel into a major page-turner. And from the author bio, quite a bit of it could be based on fact.

28759954.JPGFirmin, by Sam Savage

A rat begins his life in a shredded book behind a heater in a Boston used book store. Unlike his siblings, who eventually disperse to the outdoors only to get run over by cars or scuttle off to other buildings, Firmin ensconces himself in the store, devouring (literally and figuratively) a variety of literary classics. He becomes attached to the bookstore owner while observing him from his perch in an overhead light fixture, thinking they can be friends. This self-delusion ends once he discovers the box of “Rat Out” the owner sets out for him. He eventually becomes the pet of an eccentric writer in the building. Set against the backdrop of a seedy neighborhood (the whole area is due to be torn down in an urban renewal project), this bittersweet novel shares some of the themes as Me Cheeta.

Read more on new fiction and shorts: short stories/short books/short reviews.

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