My New York City Reading: The Family Man and Hush
I didn’t get much reading done during my recent trip to D.C. and NYC (clearly, I ought to refer to it as the Acronym Adventure), but I did manage two novels during the latter portion. I just got home last night, but I really want to dive back into blogging, so I thought I’d tell you about them today!
First was The Family Man by Elinor Lipman, recommended by Jenny. This was my first Lipman book, and I chose it because it’s set in Manhattan; it was fun to read it and actually recognise the geographical references! The best way I can describe it is as a romantic comedy in book form. I happen to very much enjoy well-done rom coms (Nora Ephron, anyone?), and this one engaged me from the beginning. Henry, in his fifties, recently retired from being a lawyer, and currently a single gay man, suddenly finds his life turned upside down by the re-entrance of his ex-wife from many years ago and her daughter, whom he loved as a small child, and who is now an aspiring actress in her late twenties. He is thrilled to reconnect with Thalia, the daughter, even as he finds himself drawn into the odd, twisty nature of her life. And his ex-wife, trying to make up for her adultery that ended their marriage (obviously, Henry was not out at the time), begins setting him up with her friends. So his quiet life is suddenly full of relationships, and witty people, and he simply enjoys it to the fullest, while supporting them as much as possible (made easier by the kind of independent wealth that includes a townhouse on the upper East side). The book is a bit silly, but charmingly so, and while I would have wished for a different ending, I’ll definitely be reaching for more Lipman in the future. She reminds me a bit of Wodehouse, but on a far less intense scale, and with an affection for all of her characters, even the badly behaving ones, that makes her books simply heart warming. The writing is neat and fully of witty dialogue, essentially the opposite of ‘purple prose,’ which should appeal to many readers! I’d recommend this if you’re in the mood for a light but smart book that will leave you with a smile on your face. The cover matches it perfectly, so if that appeals to you, give it a go!
Then I read Hush by Jacqueline Woodson, which at just over a hundred pages might be more of a novella than novel. While the books are quite different, with Woodson’s characters enjoying far fewer privileges than Lipman’s, and Woodson’s writing going right to the heart of raw emotions, I found them equally compulsively readable, which is an important quality in vacation books! From the few sentences of the title page, Woodson had me utterly hooked, and I was immediately invested in her narrator. Here they are:
If I was brave, I could belong somewhere.
My name’s Toswiah, I’d say. Toswiah Green. Have you ever heard of me?
But my name is Evie now. And I’ve never been brave.I can never tell anybody the real truth. But I can write it and say this story you’re about to read is fiction. I can give it a beginning, middle, and end. A plot. A character named Evie. A sister named Anna.
Call it fiction because fiction is what it is. Evie and Anna aren’t real people. So you can’t go somewhere and look this up and say Now I know who this story’s about.
Because if you did, it would kill my father.
Don’t you want to keep reading? Toswiah is 13, and has lived a happily charmed life in Denver, until her father testifies against fellow white police officers in the shooting of an unarmed black boy, and her family has to go into witness protection to be safe. Having to change your entire life, when you were completely happy and content where you were, must be a wrenching experience. While the story is told through Toswiah’s eyes, we also see how her sister, mother, and father all have their own reactions to this uprooting. Like the other Woodson books I’ve read, this manages to deal with challenging, confronting material, in a way that keeps me uplifted instead of saddened. Toswiah feels so real and compelling from the very beginning, and I sorrowed and triumphed right along with her. There aren’t any easy answers here, and as usual Woodson resists any urge towards gift wrapped resolutions. But we do see Toswiah find her inner strength, in a completely realistic way, that led to me feeling content and inspired after I’d turned the final page. As regular readers know, I actively seek out POC authors, for a whole variety of reasons. But while I’ve found plenty to love, there are very few I’d classify under ‘comfort’ reads. Woodson is there, and I’d highly recommend you giving her a try, especially if you mainly read white authors. She has a way of bringing you immediately into the character’s world, a world shaped by race and gender and class whether she wants it to be or not, and showing her challenges, without ever losing sight of the fundamental humanity that unites us all. That’s a powerful gift, and I’m so glad she’s been such a prolific author. Most of her books are classified under the ‘young adult’ label; if that makes you hesitate, it shouldn’t. Her protagonists are usually teenagers, hence the label, but her writing is certainly up to any literary standard you care to name. I know there are some unfortunate stereotypes about YA books, and I’d hate to think they’d stand between you and Woodson! Anyone who loves thoughtful protagonists will easily fall in love with Hush, or Woodson’s other books.
Well, with that I’m off to do some final preparations before welcoming my new cat home this evening. I shall definitely do an introductory post tomorrow, so you can all meet her. And I’m sure I’ll be posting photos of her on Instagram today if you can’t wait until then! ;) And as for reading, I’m planning to dive into the Once Upon a Time challenge with open arms. I’ve got several of my very favourite speculative authors lined up, so expect more gushing shortly. After all, it’s more fun to write about books you love!