Three books to add to your reading list!
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Will is a college student experiencing a traumatic loss of faith in his religion. He creates a mask/ persona for himself to help navigate the new world he is facing and relate to his peers at his new college. Will falls in love with Phoebe, a charismatic yet elusive character. Phoebe has lost her faith too–in piano. She knows she’ll never be brilliant but without the piano she also doesn’t know who she is. Enter John Leal, leader of a cult, who recruits Phoebe. Will tries to intervene and save Phoebe by joining with her. The themes of faith lost and identity are strong here and uniquely explored. Kwan’s writing is razor sharp- at first, I thought it was a bit unbelievable. I certainly wasn’t thinking this way in college…or was I? Does anyone remember those years? What Kwan does do exceptionally well is to explore the pain of losing your faith—how losing faith or stepping away from religion isn’t always a good thing—and how desperately we want it back. It took R.O. Kwan 10 years to write this book, and it was worth it. Kwan was also at MacDowell—I always like thinking about the book being partly created right here in the little town I live in!
This is a slim novel, I read it in one sitting. Jo is 15 and has killed her best friend in an accident. (This is not a spoiler- it’s on the book jacket.) She can no longer stay in her home town and starts her sophomore year at a prep school in the northeast. There she is quickly targeted by Master- an English professor—who enjoys taking his favorites under his wing. Jo is confused and unprepared – she’s recovering from a tragedy and navigating new experiences and student life. The story is told as if Jo is reporting it to someone later when she is an adult. There is an interesting play on the phrase “the subjunctive mood”. Master tells Jo her writing is stuck in the “subjunctive mood”. According to a ** grammar source online (http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000031.htm) , “A verb is in the subjunctive mood when it expresses a condition which is doubtful or not factual. It is most often found in a clause beginning with the word if. It is also found in clauses following a verb that expresses a doubt, a wish, regret, request, demand, or proposal.” Walbert’s writing is so brilliant here, Jo races out of Master’s office, “I would not say a word or maybe I would say something but not today and not tomorrow. I would maybe tell Lucy, or Michelle. I would tell no one. I would forget it. I would go get a late breakfast. I would drop his class. I would do better next time.” It’s an enraging book but Jo’s voice is finally heard.
This book isn’t new (2014) but I wanted to read something by Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa. The book may feel slow moving at points but if you stay with it, it’s a fun read. Alternating chapters follow the lives of two characters in two far-apart cities in Peru. Ismael, in Lima, has treacherous sons who he decides to deny a further inheritance and Felícito Yanaqué, in Piura, reacts to threats of extortion. Both characters are resolute in their decision and what follows is a series of consequences for their families and friends. There is a recurrence of brothers/sons and the theme of fatherhood. Most interesting is the character Fonchito, who may or may not be conversing with the devil, and who may or may not be using this dynamic to create opportunities to ask his father questions he normally cannot. Why did you work a desk job your whole life if all you care about is art and music? The many dramatic twists to the story and humorous ending make this a very enjoyable read. Llosa won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010.