Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Nevermore:Oates, Laukken, Haruf, Burroughs, & McMinn

Reported by Jeanne

Nevermore was fascinated with fiction this week! The first book discussed was Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carole Oates in which a young neuroscientist becomes fascinated by, and then infatuated with, a patient.  Margot Sharpe first meets Elihu Hoopes in 1965.  He is a handsome, cultured 37 year old whose brain has been damaged by encephalitis:  he remembers his life clearly only until he became ill.  Now he is unable to form new memories and he can only remember things for 70 seconds. The book follows them for the next thirty years as Margot studies Elihu, creating experiments and writing papers on human memory function.  Our reviewer was quite taken with the book, and recommended it to the group as being well worth reading. She especially appreciated the science behind the psychological descriptions.

While Owen Laukkanen’s The Watcher in the Wall is a thriller, it also has psychology at its core.  Investigative team Carla Windermere and Kirk Stevens are looking into the suicide of a teenager when they discover that she was part of an online suicide pact. . . and that other kids may be involved.  Our reviewer thought it was well done, though some suspension of disbelief is required.

Another reader had picked up The Tailor of Panama by John Le Carre, master of the spy thriller.  The main character is Harry Pendel, an ex-convict who has set up a tailor shop in Panama and who caters to the rich and powerful.  He’s recruited by a British agent who wants Harry to use his connections to provide intel—or else he will expose Harry’s past.  It’s not exactly standard Le Carre, but our reader enjoyed it.

Plainsong by Kent Haruf is set a small town in Colorado, where the lives of a disparate group of people—two bachelor famers, two teachers, a pregnant teenager, and two young boys whose family life is unsettled by a mother who retreats from reality—intersect and then intertwine.  Haruf uses plain language to create a complex, emotional story of family and community.  Our reader hadn’t finished the book, so she wanted to reserve judgment.

Next up was a non-fiction book that read like fiction:  Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs is a memoir about a definitely abnormal childhood.  Burroughs mother, a poet, more or less gives him away to be raised by her psychiatrist who has some. . . um, unorthodox ideas, to say the least.  Alternately horrifying and humorous, our reviewer said it was one of those books you just have to read to believe.  It’s been making the rounds in Nevermore and once again it was quickly taken by another member, so future reports are expected.

Finally, Chickens in the Road by Suzanne McMinn is a memoir with photographs, recipes, and crafts.  McMinn was a successful romance writer who decided to move to West Virginia, where she had spent summers as a child.  Her children weren’t exactly thrilled to be moving to a rural farm (one son took his first look at their new home and said, “You’ve brought us to this slanted little house to die.”) but McMinn persevered.  She tells her story with humor and verve.  She also does a popular blog,, which keeps readers up to date with the farm, and much of the book comes from the blog

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