Author: Claire Messud
Title: The Woman Upstairs
Publication Info: 2013: Books on Tape
Messud’s “Woman Upstairs” is her take on the character without an identity such as Ellison’s Invisible Man or The Mad Woman in the Attic, but in this case the nice woman who no one takes notice of. Nora is a school teacher who takes an obsession with the family of one of her pupils who are only in the country for a year. She ends up babysitting the boy, starting an art studio with his mother, and developing a romantic attraction for the father on long walks together. Messud makes her narrator Nora extremely unappealing in her self-absorption, and unreliable in her idealization of the Shahid family. There’s also a sense that the Shahid’s are taking advantage of Nora the whole time. There are some interesting internal narratives of a woman’s place in modern society and as the book is set in Cambridge, MA, some good local color. I’m not sure I’m convinced by the conclusion, which is somewhat predictable, but I don’t get the sense that it is as life changing as Nora claims it to be.
Rating: ** 1/2
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Title: Caleb’s Crossing
Publication Info: [Ashland, Or.] : Blackstone Audio, 2011.
This engaging novel set in 17th Massachusetts, primarily Martha’s Vineyard and Cambridge, is the recollections of a Puritan woman Bethia Mayfield regarding the life of a Wampanoag she befriends as a child who takes the name Caleb. The language of the narrative carries the flavor of language of a colonial American woman although at times a modern, feminist view appears in the narrative. The novel is full of heartbreak and loss, but still there’s a great amount of nobility in Caleb as he adapts to English and Christian ways. The culture and religion of the English and native are frequently compared with the later given a grudging respect. Both the woman and the Wampanoag are subservient in this society and this historical fiction is a great attempt at telling their hidden stories.
Recommended books: The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper, Black Robe by Brian Moore, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick, The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell, and A Mercy by Toni Morrison.
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Title: Cat’s Cradle
Publication Info: New York : Dial Press, 2006, c1963.
I’ve not read much Vonnegut so I’m trying to make up for that. This Cold War novel is a dark satire of the atom bomb (and the scientists behind it), US government support of corrupt “Banana Republics,” and religious cults with a dose of science fiction. The short chapters are full of biting satire and cynicism. Vonnegut creates some memorable, over the top characters and an interesting parallel to our world.
Recommended books: In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan, Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein, and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.