Saturday, April 30, 2011

Just Jennifer

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson (Harper, June 2011)

We’ve all had days we would like to forget, but what if every morning when you woke up, you had no memory of your life before that moment? Each morning when Christine wakes up she doesn’t know the man sleeping beside her (her husband), doesn’t recognize the forty-seven year old woman staring back at her from the mirror and has no memory of the house she is living in although the man, Ben says it is their house and they are very much in love. Ben patiently takes Christine on a tour of their house each morning and leaves her notes and pictures identifying things and a list of things she might want to do during the day. Christine receives a phone call each morning from a doctor who says they are working together on Christine’s memory loss and directs her to her closet where she finds a journal she has been keeping. As readers read the journal along with Christine, they learn more about her condition and the memories she is beginning to recover during the day that disappear in the night. Through the journal, Christine is getting closer to the truth of what occurred that made her lose her memory and the truth about the life she is currently living and who is lying to her and who she can trust. This book takes psychological thrillers to a whole new level. It is fast-paced, believable and has an element of “what if something like this every happened to me?” Readers will unravel Christine’s life with her and are sure to be as surprised as Christine when the final page is turned.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Just Jennifer

There is No Year by Blake Butler (Harper Perennial, April 2011)

What begins as a deceptively simple novel turns into an allegory for the banality of everyday life. A family without names has moved into a house that often turns into a house of horrors with holes in the walls and a room filled with hair, and a copy family that torments father, mother and son. Everyday occurrences are brought down to their most basic and visceral elements in this novel and will be recognizable by all of us, even though we may not want to see them. Butler brings to life the secrets we hid from each other and ourselves and the mindlessness and inattentiveness we give to our daily tasks. The novel explores the things we discover about ourselves and others when we remember to stop and pay attention to the details, the things from our past that keep a hold on us, our longings and our hopes and how we recognize the best and worst in each other and ourselves.

The physical format of the book, pages in varied shades of grey remind us that nothing is black and white; the sparseness of words on the pages reminds us how we need others to fill our lives. Stark but elegant prose conveys the lack of connectivity we all feel from time to time, from our environment, families and from to ourselves. Blake is a clever writer and it often feels that he is playing a trick on the readers in this dystopic novel.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Just Jennifer

Devotion: a Memoir by Dani Shapiro (Harper Perennial, February 2011)

When her young son asks Dani questions about God, she realizes that in her early forties, she has no good answers for him. As a teenager, Dani rebelled against her father’s Orthodox Judaism, a religion her cantankerous mother lived, but never really believed; Dani has always called herself Jewish, but never really practiced. Now, as she grows older, tries to raise an emotionally, morally and physically healthy child she finds herself searching for something, though just what she is not sure. As an infant, her son faced a life-threatening illness that had possibly devastating lifelong effects if he survived it. Jacob lived through his seizures and shows no ill effects, but Dani still suffers from panic attacks and high anxiety levels. She finds comfort and peace from a combination of three unlikely sources: a yogi, a Buddhist and a rabbi. She reconnects with her large family and finds, and recognizes, grace in unusual places. This is a joyful journey that readers will gladly undertake, finding a certain amount of peace and contentment for themselves in Dani’s revelations.

Just Jennifer

Sister by Rosamund Lupton (Crown, 2011)

When Beatrice (Bee) gets the news that her younger sister Tess, a bohemian artist living has killed herself, she cannot believe it and returns home to he UK where she moves into Tess’s apartment to live Tess’s life, trying to find who murdered Tess and convince the police to continue investigating Tess’s death. Told in the form of a letter to Tess, the narrative shifts back and forth between the present, an interview Bee is giving to the magistrate and Tess’s last few weeks. Bee knows Tess was pregnant and very excited to be; what she learns upon arrival in the UK is that Tess’s baby was likely to be born with cystic fibrosis, the disease that killed their younger brother as a child. Bee learns that Tess actually gave birth to a stillborn son a few days before her disappearance and that she had been involved in a clinical trial involving the cystic fibrosis, a trial Bee now finds questionable. Tense and moodily written, readers will see Bee go through several stages from grief, to anger, to helplessness as she wonders what she could have done to save Tess. Rosamund Lupton’s prose is very eloquent, as evidenced by phrases such as “grief is love turned into an eternal missing." Not only a suspenseful mystery, but a beautifully written psychological profile of two sisters.

Just Jennifer

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarity (Amy Einhorn, June 2011)

Alice passes out one day in the gym and wakes up thinking she’s 29 and pregnant. In reality, she is 39, has three children and is in the middle of an ugly divorce with her soon-to-be-ex-husband Nick. She also wakes up a lot more relaxed than she was before the fall off the exercise bicycle and can’t imagine what caused her to become so driven and appearance conscious. She learns she hasn’t spoke to her sister in years, something she can’t ever imagine, her mother has married Nick’s father and the once shy wallflower is now salsa dancing. Alice must deal with the loss of her memory, her fractured relationships, Elisabeth’s infertility and the discovery that she witnesses her best friend Gina’s death in a freak car accident. Alice’s journey to rediscover herself will appeal to anyone who has ever wished for the chance to reinvent themselves. Alice faces her challenges with grace and good humor and Liane Moriarity writes with a light touch that has readers never giving up hope that all will work out well for Alice in the end.