September 1, 2022

August Reading Recap

I've been having an excellent reading summer and enjoying so many great new books!

TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW by Gabrielle Zevin: Sadie and Sam become best friends after bonding over video games when they meet in a children's hospital. But a betrayal sours the friendship, and they don't speak for years, until they run into each other while both college students in Boston. With games again as the point of connection, they rebuild their friendship and design a game together. That first collaboration leads to a wildly successful company, and that success brings pressure, public scrutiny, and new challenges to the friendship. Over the years, there are more games, more betrayals, tragedies, and triumphs. Everything that happens to Sadie and Sam entwines them tighter, but that doesn't make their relationship any easier.

This is a beautiful novel about the complicated nature of human relationships and the lure of imaginary game worlds where things might make more sense. I recommend it to any reader interested in following excellent characters through their messy and occasionally devastating lives. Familiarity with video games isn't required, but I extra recommend this to gamers. The story starts in the 1980s and tracks the advances and trends in gaming over the following decades, which mirrors my own experiences since I'm about the same age as the characters. I'm familiar with most of the real games that make appearances, and I wish I could play every fictional game developed by the characters. This novel gripped me, left me emotional, and is joining my list of favorites.

ANY OTHER FAMILY by Eleanor Brown: After a set of siblings loses the grandmother who cares for them, they're adopted into three separate homes by new parents who commit to keeping the children connected. They come together as a big happy family for Sunday dinners, holidays and birthdays, and now a two-week shared summer vacation. The kids thrive under the arrangement, but the situation is more of a challenge for the three mothers, who have little in common besides the family. Tabitha always dreamed of a large extended clan and is delighted to organize every occasion to make things perfect, but she's frustrated that her efforts are so often met with complaint and pushback. Ginger is averse to chaos and change, and she's tolerated so much already for the sake of her daughter, but she isn't sure she can handle the further complications the family keeps throwing at her. And Elizabeth is exhausted from her baby's difficult first year and the unsuccessful fertility treatments that preceded it, and she's harboring the secret fear that she isn't cut out for motherhood after all. Two weeks of togetherness (carefully scheduled by Tabitha, of course) were going to be enough of a strain before a big piece of family news upsets the status quo.

I love the three complicated women at the heart of this book and the whole joyful mess of their unconventional family. Tabitha, Ginger, and Elizabeth could have been caricatures of easily sketched types of mothers, but instead each one has layers. The way they clash but also care for each other is nuanced and believable, and their interactions make for a great story. The book is full of emotion as well as humor, and it delighted me from beginning to end.

THE LAST WHITE MAN by Mohsin Hamid: Anders wakes one morning, and his white skin has turned brown. His entire appearance has changed, so the people who know him won't recognize the dark-skinned man he has become, and he must try to explain the inexplicable transformation. The first person he calls is the still-white Oona, an old girlfriend he's been casually seeing again. She isn't sure about getting involved in this strange drama, but out of pity, she goes to him in his time of need, and it brings them closer. As other white people turn dark, tension grows around town, and violence erupts. Anders is threatened and goes to stay with his father, who is nearing the end of his life. Oona tries to help Anders while managing her mother's growing racism fueled by online conspiracies. Meanwhile, more and more white people keep changing color.

Like Hamid's wonderful previous novel, EXIT WEST, this story focuses on a relationship between two characters in a world undergoing change on a fantastical scale. In EXIT WEST, the magical doors allowing instant passage between countries lead to migration looking quite different than it does in the real world, and Hamid explores the resulting problems and solutions in fascinating ways. THE LAST WHITE MAN depicts an abrupt version of the browning of America, but since the racism is just the same as in reality, I felt that either the story was missing something, or I was. It was only at the very end that I had a better idea of what the premise was getting at, but the relationships between Anders and Oona and their parents made an engaging enough story for this short book.

THE DAUGHTER OF DOCTOR MOREAU by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Carlota has never left the home she shares with her father in the Yucat√°n of 1871. People rarely visit, either, because Dr. Moreau's work must be kept hidden. But someone is needed to run the estate, and so Montgomery is chosen to be let in on the secret: The doctor is creating hybrids of humans and animals. Dozens of hybrids live and work on the property, but most suffer from health complications that Dr. Moreau is trying to overcome. Carlota is content with her isolated existence among the hybrids, and Montgomery settles in fairly well, though he remains haunted by his past. Then their comfortable life is threatened by the arrival of young men who take interest in the nature of the doctor's work, and in Carlota.

As in Moreno-Garcia's excellent MEXICAN GOTHIC, the story plays out in a vivid, claustrophobic setting where peril looms. But this novel never grabbed me in the same way, and after a strong start, I felt the tension slipped and was slow to redevelop. Despite some pacing problems, there is plenty of conflict and action to be found here, and other readers will connect with the story better than I did. Alternating chapters shift between the perspectives of Carlota and Montgomery, who bring very different experiences and personalities to the events, and the two points of view complement each other well.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ At Literary Hub, Emily Lackey shares the agony of her year of trying to get an agent, and get pregnant: "I start to wonder what a fifteen-minute meeting with an agent is worth to me. If I got into Bread Loaf, would I be willing to pay $4000 just to get my foot in the door? When I start to think about what I would choose if I blow through my insurance’s IVF limit and have to choose between paying to attend conferences and paying for fertility treatments, I slam my laptop shut."