Dear Readers, I hope your autumn (or spring, hello Australian readers!) has been going swimmingly. Here at Chez O I’m ramping up my night-time knitting (the holidays, and new nieces/nephews approach), so my evenings are not as devoted to reading as they are the rest of the year. Still, recently I finished two books that I’m happy to recommend.
Reputations, by Juan Gabriel Vásquez, translated by Anne McLean
This slim novel (under 200 pages) reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway in two ways. First, Reputations takes place over a short period (three days to Mrs. Dalloway‘s one), but manages to show the contours of the middle-aged main character’s entire life. Second, Mr. Vásquez’s management of tense is remarkable, like Woolf’s. The past and present flow alongside each other easily, almost liquid.
The prose is beautiful (credit to the translator here too!), with long, cascading sentences, and memorable similes. Two of my favorites:
“The night before had been like making love with a memory, with the memory of a woman and not with the woman who was present, the way we keep feeling, after stepping barefoot on a stone, the shape of the stone in the arch of our foot.”
“Forgetfulness was the only democratic thing in Colombia: it covered them all, the good and the bad, the murderers and the heroes, like the snow in the James Joyce story, falling upon all of them alike.”
The plot: Political cartoonist Javier Mallarino is a force to be reckoned with, dashing careers for decades with a bit of ink and a pithy caption. Honored for his work one evening, he is confronted by a forgotten figure from his past the next day, causing him to question memory, honesty, and his own reputation.
The Mothers, by Brit Bennett
If you’re a denizen of the bookternet, there’s no way you haven’t heard of this book, one of the most anticipated of the year. Brit Bennett’s debut novel follows three young people in Southern California—Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey—over the course of a decade.
Reeling after the death of her mother, Nadia becomes involved with Luke, the pastor’s son (and a former football star) during the summer before she leaves for college. But their time together ends in a secret and a coverup, one that if exposed would shake their tight-knit black community badly. After Luke and Nadia part ways, Nadia becomes close with Aubrey, a shy, chaste girl who’s often to be found helping Luke’s mother at their church.
The Mothers is a book about friendship, love, community, mothering, and most importantly, choices. The three main characters’ lives are webbed together not only by the paths they took, but by the paths they didn’t take, and these haunt them.
I loved the writing in this novel (though I wanted more from and about The Mothers, the elderly women who keep Upper Room, the church, running, and who serve as the collective narrator). Here are a few of my favorite lines:
“[ . . .] hard deaths resist words. A soft death can be swallowed with Called home to be with the Lord or We’ll see her again in glory, but hard deaths get caught in the teeth like gristle.”
“The pier was nothing but a long piece of wood that kept crumbling until it was rebuilt, and years later, she wondered if that was the point, if sometimes the glory was in rebuilding the broken thing, not the result but the process of trying.”
“Oh girl, we have known littlebit love. That littlebit of honey left in an empty jar that traps the sweetness in your mouth long enough to mask your hunger. We have run tongues over teeth to savor that last littlebit as long as we could, and in all our living, nothing has starved us more.”
What are your reading plans for this season?