Tag Archives: Soho Press

Review: The View From Here by Deborah McKinlay

27th February 2013

Via Goodreads

*I received this book from the publisher Soho Press in exchange for an honest review.

I was a blonde eating an avocado, in a country where avocados were plentiful and blondes were rare, on a hot night over half my lifetime ago.

That evening the restaurant was busy, but I heard American voices and I looked up. They were a dozen or so, adults and children, and people watched as they sat at several tables pushed together, on the open side of the room. One of the women fanned herself with a menu.

The children, who had been noisy, settled suddenly, and it was just as the gabble dipped and a quick, engulfing quiet fell that a voice, still party-pitched, announced: “Sally, I have never slept with your husband.”

A measured, cooler tone answered, “I couldn’t care less, darling. Everybody else has.”

It may be 1976 when Frances meets the privileged, devastatingly desperate couples in Mexico, but the lifestyle they seek is much more reminiscent of the 20s. Booze flows freely. Husbands and wives act nonchalantly while nursing grave hurts, and the sexual energy is tangible. Newly single, young, and unassuming, Frances is enveloped by the group, useful both as entertainment and pawn. Heedless of the barely concealed tensions and anger that exist within the group, she observes each closely, but lacking full understanding, she swiftly gets caught up with one of the women’s husbands, and as she says,

The proximity of my lover’s wife should have deflated the moony bubble of my desire for him. I am aware of that, was aware of it even then, but it did not. There were things that contributed to this, things that are somewhat hard to convey. The times, for instance. It seems feeble now, but there was then, and especially in that detaching, sensual heat, an atmosphere of general disregard, for practicality, for convention.

Older and wiser, Frances begins writing because she is terminally ill, but the acute pain she feels has more to do with the letter she finds that leaves no doubt her husband is in love with another woman. The realization comes shortly before her diagnosis, and Frances watches her husband for subtle changes. At heart, she is an observer, and, wanting to know more, she follows her husband when she knows he will be meeting his lover. She watches them embrace and sees he is obviously explaining he can’t see his lover anymore. She watches as the young woman sits in her car weeping, not altogether unsympathetic, noting she will eventually drive home because “at some point we do those things even when the circumstances constrict us so much that all movement is impossible.”

The View From Here by Deborah McKinlay is a novel of characters, and the character development is so thorough and observant that even when dealing with a tough subject like adultery, McKinlay lends her characters a humanity that is astonishing. Particularly in the character of Phillip, her husband, there is an intricacy to his love for his wife and that of his lover that is heartbreaking even while abject.

However, this is not a book full of well-written characters alone, for Frances’ summer in Mexico ended traumatically, and it is her guilt that needs assuaging. As she comes to terms with her own culpability, both in her youth and in her marriage, Frances welcomes the release and finally allows herself clarity because, as she says:

…day-to-day life has that quality, muddy, while you are still in the process of swimming through it. It is the stored accounts that get polished, tossing about all those years inside the mind.

The View From Here is a remarkably quiet but impactful novel, and oddly enough, I’d recommend it for lovers of The Great Gatsby or Rules of Civility.

Add it to your Goodreads shelf.

Review: The Angel Makers by Jessica Gregson

22nd January 2013

Via Goodreads

*I received this book from the publisher Soho Press in exchange for an honest review.

When her father dies, Sari Arany stays motionless, “soaking in the impossibility that she could still be living while her father was dead” and stays there until she feels his presence gone. As she says, “It was all right for her to leave him then.” An outcast in her rural Hungarian village, Sari is the daughter of a táltos, a Wise Man, and with her odd personality and direct stare, is feared as a witch.

Before his death, though, Sari’s father extracted a promise from Sari’s cousin Ferenc, that he will marry her when she is of age. Until then, she lives with Judit, the midwife, furthering the village’s suspicions. When World War I breaks out, the men leave, and the women are left to fend for themselves, and life for Suri changes. Though still different, she has friends for the first time when the hardships of war bring the women in the community together. They receive little news from the men, and for some, life is better without their drunken, abusive husbands.

When a prisoner of war camp full of Italian men moves into Ferenc’s family home, the women, excited and nervous, line up for work and to catch a glimpse of men after such a long time without a male presence. As the rules become more lax, the women enjoy the men, many even having affairs and falling in love.

Once the war is over, this idyllic (though hedonistic) scene is shattered. Ferenc returns sullen and abusive, as do many of the war-shocked men. Fearful and angry, Sari plans to take the life of Ferenc, only realizing her mistake when other women line up at the door, begging Sari and Judit to help them with their own husbands.

Based on a true story, The Angel Makers is the almost unbelievable story of the women of Nagyrév, who poisoned over 40 people between 1914 and 1929 (though the rumored number is much higher: 300). Gregson sets the crimes up well, giving the women a taste of freedom and love so irresistible that they cannot return to the ways of life before the war. The abuse is shocking and intense so that the reader completely understands when Sari administers the first dose of poison to Ferenc. However, as woman after woman asks, begs, or bargains for help, the reader questions not only their choices but Sari’s as well.

Though I wished for an end as lyrical as the rest of The Angel Makers and a bit more depth in the female cast of characters, Gregson’s debut novel is an artful, compassionate, and darkly humorous look at the angel makers of Nagyrév.

Add this to your shelf on Goodreads.

The Books of BEA (And a little treat for you!)

27th June 2012

How have I not yet managed to talk about the books I got at BEA? I will tell you, though, that I am so excited about the books I had shipped home. There are only 15 of them, but wow, do they look good. These 15 represent almost all different publishers, many of them independent. They range from stories about an artist who does reproductions to a biography of a body part. Of the 15 books, 8 are by women, 7 are by men. Three are distinctly nonfiction, with Naomi Wolf’s Vagina in a category of its own. In all their, ahem, glory…

From the top:

From the top:

  • Johnson’s Life of London: The People Who Made the City Who Made the World by Boris Johnson/Riverhead Books
  • Instant by Chris Bonanos/Princeton Architectural Press (October 2012)
  • The Shadow Girls by Henning Mankell/The New Press (October 2012)
  • Inferno by Dante Alighieri, Translated by Mary Jo Bang/Graywolf Press (August 2012)
  • Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf/Ecco (September 2012)
  • Rules of Civility by Amor Towles/Penguin
  • Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See by Julianne Garey/Soho (December 2012)
  • The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón/Harper (July 2012)

Which will I be reading first? It’s almost as though I’m afraid to break the spell, as though if I choose one, the rest will disappear. That said, I think I’ll start with the slimmest volume, Beside the Sea. Lori and Tara actually told me about the book, saying: “It’s about a mother who is planning to kill her children.” Pleasant, right? Except that my Master’s thesis was about women who kill their children throughout literature. Specifically, the title is The Dialectic of Maternity: From Medea to the Moderns. Snazzy, huh? Ok, so it sounds kind of ridiculous, but it’s interesting how many many time this sort of story repeats itself in literature (and in life). So that will be my first pick.

And for those of you who weren’t able to make it, I have a BEA bag just for you. In the Random House tote bag are the BEA edition of The New York Review of Books, Anne Lamott’s newest, Some Assembly Required, in audio, Next to Love by Ellen Feldman (this one is so good!), and A Fatal Debt by John Gapper. Something for everyone! The only rules are you cannot have attended BEA, and you must leave me a comment. Which book would you most love to get your hands on? Is there any particular publisher you’re interested in? Do you think I’ve got 15 winners in these stacks? Make sure you comment by next Tuesday, July 3, at midnight!

UPDATE: Rachel won the BEA bag o’ goodies. Congrats!

The Funny Man by John Warner

29th August 2011

*I received an e-galley of this book through NetGalley from Soho Press. Publication date is 09/06/11. Preorder from Indiebound here. I wrote this review immediately after reading it about a month ago.

The funny man has always been funny enough. As a kid, he didn’t know the word for someone who makes people laugh, but he asked. Comic. At first the laughs come in small clubs late at night while his wife and baby wait for him at home, his wife exhausted from her waitressing job.

One day, his stay-at-home-dad routine pays off. The kid sticks his hand in his mouth and makes a noise, laughing, and the funny guy repeats the gag, complete with impressions of celebrities, for an agent, and then to bigger audiences for larger amounts of money and then on the film screen for obscene amounts of money, until the funny man is no longer amused by sticking his fist in his own mouth. Yet sticking his fist in his mouth and talking is the only way people pay him. The funny man begins breaking under the pressure, using different arrays of pills to numb his physical and psychological pain, until he loses his wife and child, his adoring fans, and eventually his freedom, after he shoots a man who tries to mug him.

I just – not ten minutes ago – finished this book, and though I usually like to sit with my thoughts after I finish a book, this was the sort that made me realize I had to write off the cuff, getting my initial impressions down immediately. When I saw this book offered on NetGalley, I was expecting a graphic novel. Why? Apparently  because I can be a real dumbass when I judge books only by their covers. What I found was a true American novel – one that has its pulse on our sometimes-ridiculous, oft-ludicrous, more-often-than-not sad culture (am I allowed to use that many hyphens?).

Told from the funny man’s unreliable perspective (dude is on all sorts of drugs), his mind drifts in jail and during his trial to the sets of circumstances leading up to his incarceration, all while planning an escape to be with a young tennis player he watches obsessively on DVR.

In turns funny, brutally honest, and downright depressing, The Funny Man holds a mirror up to celebrity and comes away with a bleak reflection tinged with a dark humor. Though not unkind, Warner also criticizes the masses who so willingly seek out and drive the insanity of the rich and famous. (If you doubt me, turn on the TV or walk past a newsstand and try NOT to learn about Kim Kardashian’s wedding.)

This is the kind of book that will:

-make you stay up all night reading and blinking rapidly in disbelief at the lives of the rich and famous.

-make you wish you were independently wealthy so you can stay home and read.

-make you wonder what’s for dinner.

-make you wonder what’s on TV.

-make you want to smack someone, usually the characters.