Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Nevermore: Donner Party, Lost Lake, Skylight, Villages, and Mysteries!

Reported by Ambrea

This week in Nevermore, our readers explored many interesting books, drifting from journeys on the Oregon Trail with the Donner Party to some excellent fiction by Karin Fossum and Sarah Addison Allen.  Our readers even visited Russell County with Come Saturday by Doris Music and Lisbon, Portugal, with Skylight by José Saramago.

The adventures started with Lisa Unger’s Black Out.  Annie Powers is happy:  she has a wonderful house in an idyllic Florida suburb, she has a husband who loves her and a daughter she loves unconditionally—and life seems wonderful.  Until her past comes back to haunt her.  Besieged by memories she had buried and haunted by a name that she abandoned, Annie must put together the pieces of her past to save herself and her daughter.  Our reader said that Unger’s novel was “unbelievable,” an exceptional novel that she couldn’t put aside.

Our reader also volunteered Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen, which weaves together the stories of Eby Pim, Kate and Devin Pheris, and others who congregate at Lost Lake, “looking for something that they weren’t sure they needed in the first place:  love, closure, a second chance, peace, a mystery solved, a heart mended.”  It involves mother and daughter relationships, as well as the redeeming qualities of love, which our reader said she really enjoyed.

Another reader had an interesting selection of reading material:  Across the Plains in the Donner Party by Virginia Reed Murphy and Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern.  As expected, Across the Plains follows the tragic expedition of the Donner-Reed Party.  After setting out for California, the Donner-Reed Party became snowbound in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and spent the entire winter of 1846-1847 trapped without adequate supplies.  Starved and desperate, members resorted to cannibalism to survive—only 48 of the original 87 members survived.  Our reader said she was “in awe of the people who survived,” and she was amazed at the ability of pioneer travelers to actually meet on the trail and reconnect with other people.

In Sh*t My Dad Says, Justin Halpern has been dumped by his longtime girlfriend and forced to return home with his seventy-three-year-old father.  Sam Halpern, who Halpern describes as being “like Socrates, but angrier, and with worse hair,” is a man without a filter.  He isn’t afraid to say what’s on his mind—and, luckily, Halpern had the foresight to record the best of his father’s wisdom.  Sh*t My Dad Says is uproariously funny, according to our reader, and it was an absolute joy to read.  It comes highly recommended from our Nevermore group this week.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf followed next, unfolding a brand new story in Holt, Colorado.  Addie Moore and her neighbor, Louise Waters, have lived alone for many years, now in reconnecting as neighbors—as friends—they brave new adventures in their small town.  According to our Nevermore reader, it rings true of real life.  “You kind of get sucked in [to their lives],” he said.  “You think it goes one way, but it doesn’t.”  Our Souls at Night explores the depth and breadth of human relationships, chronicling senior realities with a gentle comforting that’s enjoyable.  Our reader definitely recommended reading Haruf’s novel.

Likewise, he was impressed by Karen Fossum’s Indian Bride.  Fourth in the Inspector Konrad Sejer mysteries, Indian Bride starts with a marriage—Gunder Jomann, a renowned bachelor in his hometown of Elvestad, visits India for two weeks and returns with a wife—and a murder.  On the day Jomann’s new wife is set to arrive, a woman is found on the outskirts of town and Inspector Sejer must uncover the culprit among the seeming good people of Elvestad.  One reader said, “It was quite good, I thought,” and he was satisfied with how Fossum wrapped things up; however, another reader in our Nevermore group didn’t hold the same opinion.  She felt that Fossum left her dangling with a dissatisfying cliffhanger.

One of our readers also tried to read Villages by John Updike.  Chronicling the life of Owen MacKenzie from his birth in rural Pennsylvania to his retirement in Haskells Crossing, Massachusetts, Villages is a story about one man’s lifelong education and his relationships.  Unfortunately, for our reader, John Updike’s novel was a grave disappointment.  As she reported, it was “awful, absolutely awful.”

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, likewise, didn’t fare so well for another reader.  Sharp Objects chronicles reporter Camille Preaker’s toughest assignment—her return to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls—and her renewed (and rocky) relationship with her estranged family.  For our Nevermore reader, Flynn’s novel was a study in several generations of very damaged, very disillusioned individuals, which intrigued her, but she thought Flynn seemed to put an emphasis on shock value rather than content.

By comparison, José Saramago’s Skylight performed well.  Skylight is series of intertwined stories—Silvestre and Mariana, an elderly couple who have been happily married for a number of years; Abel, a young nomad who has recently found a home; Adriana, a young woman who loves Beethoven; Carmen and Emilio, an unhappy couple who long to lead separate lives; Lidia, a former prostitute turned mistress—that overlap to weave a tapestry of life and relationships in one apartment in Lisbon, Portugal.  Our reader said Saramago’s writing reminded her of Alexander McCall Smith, but the story made her think of Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett.  Although Skylight seemed to end with a cliffhanger, our reader was glad that she “got to live in Portugal for a little while.”

Last, another of our readers picked up Come Saturday by Doris Musick.  Set in the rural mountains of Russell County during the Great Depression, Come Saturday details the extraordinary events of one Saturday morning at the local mill—and how it changed the county.  Our reader said it was really interesting to slip into the lives of these people, to learn something new about Russell County.  While our reader did say it was an interesting book, she said it would probably be even more fascinating for readers with ties to the area.

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