SNAP

71wtI34-tjL   A pregnant mother walks up a British highway to phone for help, leaving her three children in the broken down car; when the children follow her trail later they find a phone receiver dangling from the hook but their mother has disappeared.  With this opening Belinda Bauer’s SNAP slowly unravels into a compelling murder mystery with a thrilling twist.

As the eldest, eleven year old Jack is in charge of his two younger sisters; their father is too devastated to cope. When their father does not return one day from his run to the market to get milk, Jack turns to burglary to sustain the household and keep his younger siblings from being discovered and sent to foster homes.  Five year old Merry mows the front lawn to keep up appearances, while Joy hoards newspapers, clipping articles about her murdered mother.

Their lives are brave but pathetic. Known as the Goldilocks burglar because he naps in the rooms of children, Jack looks for books on vampires he can steal for Joy to read.  He delivers his stolen goods to the neighborhood fence, Louis, another unlikely criminal who proudly pushes his baby son around in a stroller.  With Louis’ connections, Jack can target only empty homes where the owners have gone on extended vacations, but one day he  enters a house where he finds not only a pregnant woman in her bed but also the knife he somehow knows killed his mother.

Bauer cleverly weaves her characters together, introducing each in a different context unlikely to arouse the reader’s suspicion, until they overlap.  Her red herrings become real clues to the murderer’s identity and motive, as Jack and police detectives Marvel and Reynolds make missteps as they close in on the suspect.  The subplots overlap and unravel quickly into a compelling tale filled with survival, manipulation, violence, and murder.

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, SNAP has an unconventional but satisfying ending, and  Jack is now one of my favorite fictional characters. With so many possibilities for discussion,  I considered SNAP as a candidate for book club lists, but after some thought, I decided I would rather keep my own images of Jack, Marvel, and the Whiles in my head, without dissecting them.  Read it and let me know what you think..

Man Booker Time – How Many Have You Read?

images-2The annual  Man Booker Longlist was announced today with five books from the United States –  two books I’ve read, one I do not plan to read, and two with possibilities.

Here is the list – have you read any?

from the United States:

  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – my review
  • Autumn by Ali Smith – a lovely, sometimes humorous, testament to friendship across generations and time, the first in a four part series (think seasons)
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead  – Although I have not read Whitehead’s imagined rail system, my vote for a better examination of the same subject is Yaa Gaasi’s historical fiction Homegoing!
  • 4 3 2 1 by Paul Aster – “What If” books have become popular with treatments from Kate Atkinson, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Peter Howitt, and others.  Auster’s book promises to be easier to follow than most, with chronological exploration of possible lives for Archie.  It’s on my to-read list.
  • History of Wolves by Emily Fredlund –  A strange tale of a teenage babysitter in Minnesota confronting the life-and-death consequences of the things people do—and fail to do.  Sounds like an intriguing 288 pages.

The rest of the list includes:

  • Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
  • Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
  • Solar Bones by Mike McCormack
  • Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
  • Elmet by Fiona Mozley
  • The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
  • Swing Time by Zadie Smith

The shortlist of six books is announced in September – not much time to catch up on reading.

Unfinished Business – Hystopia

9780865479135_p0_v1_s192x300  David Means’ Man Booker Prize longlist finalist – Hystopia – begins with twenty-three pages of a fictional editor’s notes, and I was tempted to skip over them to get right to the story of John F. Kennedy’s fictional third term as President of the United States.  Yet, without these pages and those ending the book, which I read too –  interviews explaining the imagined new order created to deal with Vietnam veterans – the story does not make sense, but maybe it was never meant to make sense anyway.

Hystopia is a novel within a novel.  The fictional editor introduces and ends fictional author Eugene Allen’s story of John F. Kennedy’s continued presidency, until his assassination in 1970.  Allen, a veteran of the Vietnam War participated in a treatment called “enfolding,” involving the re-enactment of past events used with a drug called Tripizoid to repress traumatic war memories.  As a result, he eventually commits suicide, leaving behind his novel, “Hystopia.”

The dystopian landscape is sometimes hard to travel, with Kennedy’s Psych Squad, based in Michigan, hot on the trail of veterans not cured by the enfolding.   The character profiles offer no  relief: Rake, a psychopath who has kidnapped a young girl, Meg, the girlfriend of a soldier who served with Rake and was killed in Vietnam; Wendy , once in love with a veteran who lost his legs in the war and an agent in the Pysch Squad; and Singleton, a soldier who has been successfully enfolded, and cannot remember his trauma.

The book is a wild ride through the United States involvement in the Vietnam War, reliving the anger and its consequences.  This was a ride I couldn’t finish, and the idea of therapeutic forgetfulness is already working – the story and Michigan’s alternative universe  are already fading in my memory.

Maybe I don’t need to read all the long listed books for the Man Booker this year, after all.  Have you read this one?

Crow Lake

Unknown   What if a car accident killed your parents when you were a child, and you were raised by your older brothers?   In Mary Larson’s Crow Lake, two teenage brothers bravely cope with this premise in a story of resilience and perseverance, set in the cold wild isolated area of Northern Ontario.

Kate Morrison narrates her family’s story, as a traumatized seven year old, and later as a successful research  biologist in her late twenties.  With two older brothers and a toddler sister, she remembers how they determinedly grappled with the problems of staying together.  At every turn, heart-wrenching decisions and difficult daily life follow the Morrisons.  Only Bo, a toddler at the time of the parents’ death from a car accident, provides some comic relief, as the assertive and funny terrible-two year old who plays with pots and pans on the kitchen floor.

The Morrison parents have gone to town to buy a suitcase for eighteen year old Luke, who surprisingly has been accepted into a teacher’s college.  His seventeen year old brother, Matt, always thought to have been the smarter of the two brothers, has a promising future too, as he heads into his last year of high school, focused on getting a scholarship to study biology.  When a logging truck kills the parents, the two brothers are determined to keep the family together, despite well meaning offers from their father’s family to send the two little girls to live with distant relatives.

With little money left to them after their parents’ death, the brothers rely on the charity of the small town neighbors who knew their father, a banker.  Luke foregoes college to stay home to care for the two little girls, working part-time on an adjacent farm and later as a janitor in the local one room school.  As the story unfolds, family secrets are revealed, and  Kate looks back on the  “what might have beens” – decisions affecting her brother’s lives forever – Luke’s encounter with a flirty attractive girl,  Matt’s tangling with the violent farm neighbor’s daughter.  Life is hard, with smatterings of humor, but severe turning points mark life-changing choices.

As the only sibling to go on to college and a Ph.D., Kate feels guilty for what she has, and what they lost.  Finally, she faces her demons at a family reunion – her nephew’s eighteenth birthday – and with the help of Daniel, her colleague and lover, Kate makes peace with her family and with herself.

Crow Lake is a page turner.  Lawson’s storytelling style is comfortable and will draw you into the places and the people – the kind of book you can get lost in.

Mary Lawson has published two more books and has been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize since writing this first novel, Crow Lake in 2002. If not for Liane Moriarty, I would have missed this talented Canadian author who lives in England. In responding to an interview for “By the Book” in the New York Times, Moriarty confirmed Crow Lake as the book she wished she had written, “with every character …so beautifully described and developed…”   Lawson’s The Other Side of the Bridge was on the long list for the 2006 Man Booker Prize, and has characters again in northern Ontario.  I can’t wait to read it.

 

 

The Man Booker Baker’s Dozen

Unknown The anticipated Man Booker Longlist announced today has a few familiar titles but some books are not yet published in the United States.  Thirteen books made the prestigious list.

Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, a satirical assessment of racism in the United States, tops the list.  The winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, Beatty’s novel uses a Jonathan Swift premise in his character’s modest proposal to bring back segregation and slavery.

Four other American novels on the list include Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton.  The author of Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys, Strout returns with a short but powerful novel as she tells the story of suffering and relationships.

Ottessa Moshfegh’s suspenseful tale, Eileen, also examines a lonely woman – this one works in a boys’ prison.  Virginia Reeves uses the setting of prison – this one in Alabama in Work Like Any Other, and David Means’ Hystopia imagines a third term for former President John F. Kennedy.

From the United Kingdom, another mother-daughter relationship is explored in Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk,  Graeme Macrae Burnet’s psychological thriller His Bloody Project looks for motivation behind a murder, Ian McGuire’s The North Water has a suspenseful journey of a  ruined doctor volunteering on a whaling ship, and Wyl Menmuir’s The Many has a strange mystery in a coastal village.

The Schooldays of Jesus from Australian Nobel prize winning author J.M. Coetzee will be published in the United States in February, 2017.  David Salzay’s All That Man, set in Prague,  will be published in October, 2016.

Canadian Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing centers on the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 China. From the United Kingdom, A.L. Kennedy’s Serious Sweet offers “a day in the life of London lonely hearts.”  Both are not yet released in the United States.

Thirteen books to digest before the committee proclaims the short list in September, and the winner in October.