There's no theme to this set of reviews, other than that they're the ones I have left to post as the year winds down:
→ THE AMADO WOMEN by Désirée Zamorano is a story about a family coping with secrets and resentments, which is right up my fictional alley.
Mercy Amado is pleased about celebrating her sixtieth birthday with her three grown daughters, but she's concerned that none of her girls are as happy in their lives, or with each other, as they might be. And Mercy doesn't even know about the worst of the problems. The narrative rotates among the four Amado women as they face challenges and heartbreak that sometimes bring them together as a family and sometimes drive them apart.
The novel features strong, complex characters who often act against their own best interests, which makes for great dramatic fodder. There's a lot of tragedy and upsetting subject matter in this story, but enough hope to leave readers feeling uplifted. I found this book useful in thinking about my own writing, which covers some similar themes.
→ SELF-HELP by Lorrie Moore: In keeping with the title, most of the stories in this collection are framed as a set of instructions, though the way this premise plays out in the narrative differs between stories. For example, "How" tells the story of a troubled relationship (as so many of these stories do) by directing the reader through a series of steps, some of which include options:
Somehow--in a restaurant or a store--meet an actor. From Vassar or Yale. He can quote Coriolanus's mother. This will seem good. Sleep with him once and ride home at 5 a.m. crying in a taxicab. Or: don't sleep with him. Kiss him good night at Union Square and run for your life.
Not every story in the collection appealed to me, but I love Moore's writing style, which is conversational and clever, full of wordplay, jokes, and unusual but apt descriptions. Like this paragraph:
When you were six you thought mistress meant to put your shoes on the wrong feet. Now you are older and know it can mean many things, but essentially it means to put your shoes on the wrong feet.
That's from "How to Be an Other Woman", the first story in the collection and the one I liked best. As the title suggests, the plot is generic, every mistress's story, but the specificity of the character and her thoughts makes the story gripping, and often wryly funny.