Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Nevermore: Crime, Prisons, Breathing Lessons, Unsheltered, Cigar Factory, Forbidden Place

 Reported by Jeanne

In My Father’s House: A New View of how Crime Runs in the Family by Fox Butterfield was deemed both fascinating and horrifying by our first reader.  National Book Award winner Butterfield investigated a single family, the Bogles, whose members have criminal records that date back decades.  Generations of the family spent time incarcerated; younger members learned the family trade from their elders.  Our reader called the book “unbelievable” but quickly added that was in the sense of amazing, not untrue.  She said it was an excellent book and she recommended it highly.

Another book proved a good companion to Butterfield’s: American Prison by Shane Bauer, a journalist for Mother Jones who took a job working at a for-profit prison in Louisiana. Paid $9 an hour, Bauer found training was lacking and the institution was dangerously understaffed. 

The ever-popular Anne Tyler was up next, with her novel Breathing Lessons.  Maggie and Ike Moran have been married for 28 years, despite it being a union of opposites:  Ike is practical, competent, rock steady, while Maggie is capricious, scattered, and impulsive.  On a long drive to a funeral, the two reflect on their lives and their marriage.  Our reviewer said it was as funny as heck, but with a lot of tender spots.

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver is set in Vineland, New Jersey where a contemporary family has just inherited a house.  Beset by financial woes, including an ailing father and adult children who have returned home, Willa and Iano are first relieved and thrilled to inherit a house. The reality is that the house is falling down and they don’t have the resources for repairs.  Some 150 years earlier, a young science teacher lived in the house and was faced with challenges over his wish to teach the controversial theory put forth by Charles Darwin.  Kingsolver uses the two time lines to comment on current social issues as well as historical ones.  Our reader confessed she didn’t finish it because she didn’t like moving back and forth in time, though the writing was good.

The next book was also a historical novel, The Cigar Factory:  A Novel of Charleston by Michele Moore.  Starting in 1895, the book follows two families who are involved in making cigars: the white McGonegals and the African American Ravenels.  Our reader said it was an easy and fun read, and that it was fascinating to learn about the process.  She also praised the author’s way with dialog and dialect.

Finally, The Forbidden Place  by Susanne Jansson is a thriller about a young Swedish biologist who is doing environmental surveys in a peat bog where human sacrifices had been found in the past.  Now, however, she finds an injured man with gold coins in his pockets, just like those ancient sacrifices—and there are other bodies turning up. Our reader was enthralled by the book, saying that the author knew how to write and to keep the reader guessing.  It was a real page turner, she said.

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