This month brings two wonderful novels, perfect for Mother’s Day gift-giving, should you be looking to buy a gift or perhaps gently hinting for one. One is by an established talent, and one by an up and coming author–I hope you’ll enjoy both!
While in school, I hated English classes because the instructor always urged us to poke around in a novel to puzzle out what the hidden meanings were, and what the author might have been trying to say about life or politics or philosophy or some other grander scheme of things. Frankly, I just wanted to enjoy the story. Sue Miller’s newest novel, The Lake Shore Limited, explores the underbelly of writing, watching, and performing in a play in such a way making literary interpretation fascinating. There are four narrators: Leslie, the older sister of Gus (who died on 9/11); Billy, a playwright and Gus’s live-in girlfriend at the time of his death; Sam, an old friend of Leslie’s who she is trying to set up with Billy; and Rafe, the actor, who plays the starring role in Billy’s newest play, The Lake Shore Limited. There are all kinds of complications in the characters’ relationships–Leslie treats Billy like a bereaved wife, even though Billy had been planning to break up with Gus before he died. Sam had an intense crush on Leslie while his marriage was falling apart, which was somewhat requited, although she would never risk her marriage. Billy and Sam feel awkward about having a possible romance orchestrated by Leslie. During rehearsals for the play, Billy and Rafe have a one-night stand whose repercussions echo through his marriage to his chronically ill wife and his interpretation of his role in the play, which affects Leslie, her husband Pierce, and Sam in the audience on opening night. The play within the novel provides the prism through which the narrators interpret their own lives and relationships. Rafe’s stunning turn as Gabriel, the main character whose wife may or may not be dead throughout the play, is a catalyst for their introspection. This novel gave me a new appreciation for the arts of acting, writing drama, and parsing literature. It is one of Sue Miller’s best novels. Starfishing is Nicola Monaghan’s second novel, her follow-up to The Killing Jar, published in 2007.
I loved her first book so much that I worried about her second not measuring up to it. My worry was misplaced–Starfishing is every bit as good as The Killing Jar, although it is totally different. Francesca Cavanaugh, Frankie to her friends, is a bright ambitious young woman who has moved to London to make her fortune in the late 90’s. She soon gets a job as a trader on the London Stock Exchange. This is the go-go 90’s; everyone is rich and getting richer, everyone is out clubbing and doing drugs, everyone is out for all they can get, including Frankie and her sexy, American, but very-married boss, Tom. Soon they begin an affair, and Frankie’s life becomes a merry-go-round of work, drinking and clubbing after work, and trysts with Tom. Fueled by his encouragement, their risky behavior becomes even wilder–shoplifting, skipping out on dinner bills, deliberately crashing a car and running away from the consequences, and more and better drugs. Like Kez in The Killing Jar, Frankie is a survivor, and how she ultimately manages to survive will shock you. Starfishing is filled with British slang, local color, and the manic energy of the late 90’s. Do yourself a favor and read Nicola Monaghan. She is a fantastic writer.
Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.