It seems that this month, we’re reading stories that have some kind of disability at their core (or, in one case, death). The dramas, real or fictional, that surround morbid obesity, infertility, amnesia, depression, failure and broken bones sound much more appealing in these reviews than one might expect. Indeed, these titles touch the broken side of humanity in variously appealing ways. Read on for our recommendations.
Fiction Co-Editor Kristina Riggle shares, “I’m reading The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg, about a suburban Chicagoland woman named Edie Middlestein who has become obese to the point that her very life is at stake. Her husband, Richard, leaves her after watching her health slowly erode and putting up with years of her nagging and nitpicking; thus he puts her reluctant and uncomfortable grown children in the position of trying to save her. A book like this could easily go wrong by cruelly lampooning an overweight character, but Attenberg hits just the right notes of genuine feeling, gentle satire and dark humor.”
Fiction Co-Editor Suzanne Kamata writes, “I just finished reading The Art of Falling by Kathryn Craft, a beautifully written novel about a modern dancer who finds herself in the hospital after plummeting from a fourteenth story balcony. Although she survives, she has no memory of the fall. Those around her suspect that she was suicidal, but she has retained her will to dance and is eager to get back in motion. At the heart of this book is the unraveling of those events that led her to the balcony. We also learn about her relationship to her mother, a woman whose body shape she abhors. Craft is a former dancer and long-time dance critic, well aware of the pains and punishments that dancers put themselves through for art. This is an eloquent and moving debut.”
Amanda Jaros, Blog Co-Editor, raves about her current read: “I am currently reading Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. The story is about 13-year-old Ava, whose family runs an alligator-wrestling theme park in a Florida swamp. When Ava’s mother dies, none of the family can effectively voice or cope with their pain. Slowly the family begins to fall apart, as does their park. As things deteriorate and each family member finds a way to run away from reality, Ava is left with only her imagination as she tries to find a way to save Swamplandia! and her family. Though I am only half-way through, I am spellbound by this dark tale that balances both Ava and the reader on the fine line between the real and the imaginary.”
Christina Consolino, Profiles Co-Editor, recommends a non-fiction selection: “I’ve just finished The Baby Chase: How Surrogacy is Transforming the American Family, by Leslie Morgan Steiner. The book is a very real and detailed description of the lives of Rhonda and Gerry Wile, a couple who turn to gestational surrogacy when Rhonda fails to become pregnant the traditional way. On account of the cost of gestational surrogacy in the United States, Rhonda and Gerry choose to travel to India, where surrogacy is cheaper and increasingly common. Steiner balances the science of infertility with a touching and sometimes humorous narrative; she successfully tells the story of Rhonda and Gerry while at the same time examining the legal, medical and religious issues surrounding gestational surrogacy.”
Profiles Co-Editor Rachel Epp Buller is also enjoying a true tale of family life: “I recently finished Traveling With Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor. This memoir-travelogue traces two women’s journeys of self-discovery, with mother and daughter taking turns narrating alternating chapters. Over the course of several trips together, the mother comes to terms with the milestone of turning 50, while at the same time struggling with her as-yet-unfulfilled desire to write fiction; the daughter faces her depression after a series of rejections and eventually embraces her calling as a writer, not because of but in spite of her mother’s already charted path. Having devoured Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees several years ago, I was particularly interested to read about her circuitous process of developing that story, pieces of which are woven throughout this book.”