Recommendations from Daniel Goldin at Boswell Book Co. in Milwaukee.
Day For Night
Day for Night: A Novel, by Frederick Reiken, hardcover, 336 pages, Reagan Arthur Books, list price: $24.99
A few of the characters who bounce through the pages of Frederick Reiken's novel Day for Night: Forty-something doctor Beverly accompanies her scientist boyfriend, David, and his son on a trip to swim with manatees. David has leukemia and they are talking about Beverly adopting his son, but she hits it off with their guide, Timmy, and agrees to see his band, featuring the mesmerizing lead singer Dee. Jump to Dee and Timmy traveling on a plane to rescue Dee's brother Dillon, who is in a coma after a motorcycling accident in the Negev desert. Dee is panicked that evil family members are going to harm Dillon. Timmy -- not her boyfriend but sleeping with her nonetheless -- is there for her; his only distraction is the mysterious woman seated next to them, who is reluctant to engage them in conversation. Jump to an FBI report on the whereabouts of Katherine Clay Goldman, a radical '60s fugitive.
As Day for Night progresses, the tendrils of the story reach out, double back, and expand again. This is a story about coincidence and connection, about the stories we tell that keep us apart, and the ones that bring us together, of good and evil, and how sometimes we think we are doing one when we're doing the other. This philosophy plays out in scientific experiments, song lyrics, references to Carl Jung, a literary analysis of 1984 (which happens to be the year in which the book is set) and in the game strategy of Dungeons and Dragons. Day for Night is a joy and a rare thing, a feast for the mind and the heart that almost demands a second reading. (Read about Beverly's swim with the manatees in Florida.)
The Lonely Polygamist
The Lonely Polygamist: A Novel, by Brady Udall, hardcover, 602 pages, W.W. Norton & Co., list price: $26.95
With four wives and 28 kids, Golden Richards has more than he can handle. Financial pressures have led him to take a job doing construction work on a brothel, and it's best not to mention it to the rest of the family. Brady Udall's sprawling story is told through Golden, one of his wives (the most distant one, yet to have a child with Golden) and one of his 28 kids, Rusty.
The Lonely Polygamist reminds me a lot of Middlesex in that it takes something alien to most of us, and makes it intimate, almost banal. Several hundred pages into the story and I was thinking that I surely know several polygamous families. Udall also wraps what turns out to be a history of the American West into a very personal story, filled with humor, heart and darkness, the latter mostly in the repercussions of government atomic testing that went on in the area. Though some have compared Udall to John Irving, I was often struck by similarities to Anne Tyler, particularly in the character of Golden, the bumbling patriarch character, leading on the outside, masking his complete uncertainty within. I love big, fat books and Udall's delivers on so many levels that I wished it went on for another 300 pages.(Read about Golden's attempt to explain a misunderstanding to his four wives.)
The Tortoise And The Hare
The Tortoise and the Hare, by Elizabeth Jenkins, paperback, 288 pages, Virago UK, list price: $15.95
Though Elizabeth Jenkins has written 12 novels and a notable biography of Jane Austen -- she's one of the founders of the Jane Austen Society -- most American readers remain unaware of her work. The Tortoise and the Hare is a delicious tale of life in suburban London in the early 1950s. The heroine, Imogen Gresham, is married to an older man, a barrister, and life with him and her somewhat sullen child is a bit unpleasant.
Imogen almost expects her husband to find comfort in a younger woman, the way she pines after an old beau, a doctor who married a woman far younger than she, but instead, her rival for his affection winds up being Blanche Silcox, an older woman prone to fishing and fast cars. The results are both sharp satire and poignant character study -- just who exactly is the tortoise and who is the hare? Jenkins is Barbara Pym with more bite, a more playful variation on Anita Brookner. And yes, you can see the Jane Austen influence as well.
Yarn: Remembering the Way Home, by Kyoko Mori, paperback, 240 pages, GemmaMedia, list price: $15.95
After leaving her family in Japan, alienated from her father, brother, and stepmother, Kyoko Mori made a new life for herself in the United States. Settling into the small city of Green Bay, Wis., she found herself one of the few foreigners in town, with little comfort from her husband. The hook to Mori's memoir, Yarn, is that she organizes the episodes in the book around knitting projects, some original and others taken from Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitting Without Tears.
The story eloquently stitches together history, culture, craft technique and philosophical musings. Memoirs that use a gimmick to frame the story can be hit or miss, but sometimes they work just right. Knitting is something that is generally a solitary pursuit, and yet it is far more gratifying as part of a community. It is this search for community that drives Mori's story. (Read about Mori's disastrous first pair of mittens, knit in a home economics class.)
Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.
Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman, by Sam Wasson, hardcover, 256 pages, HarperStudio, list price: $19.99
When Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's -- a risque novel about a prostitute and her gay friend -- was published, the movie studios saw it as pretty much unfilmable. How two producers and a screenwriter turned it into a romantic comedy that skirted the wrath of the censors is only one of the remarkable stories that make up Wasson's study. How did they get Audrey Hepburn to star in a role that was very much counter to her deliberately developed image? Can it be possible that one of the producers didn't like Henry Mancini's theme song? And can it also be possible that anyone liked Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi? (True confession: My dad did.)
Wasson's story is part encyclopedia, part valentine, and worth reading just to find out what exactly went into making the amazing party scene. One caveat: I do feel that you need to have seen Breakfast at Tiffany's at least five times to truly enjoy the book, but that still leaves a pretty large -- and devoted -- potential readership. (Read about Truman Capote's relationship with his absent mother.)