I'm not even kidding--she tore the cover off the new Franzen book.
I have good news and bad news regarding my reading life: the good news is that Margaux has learned to take (very, very short) naps in her crib, which means I don’t have to hold her to sleep every day! The bad news is that I don’t have to hold her to sleep every day, and now I’m reading less than I was. It’s wonderful to have baby-free hands twice a day, but I miss the heaviness of sleeping baby on my chest, and I miss the hours I got to spend reading, trapped under the weight of her.*
But! I’ve still gotten a few things read. Here’s their power ranking.
8. Villa America by Liza Klaussman- This novel focuses on Gerald and Sara Murphy, most well-known, for me anyway, for hosting beautiful, boozy weekends for their artist friends, including Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, still in his first marriage and dipping his toe into the second. This book capitalizes on the glamour and tragedy of the Lost Generation cast who pass through the doors of Villa America, the Murphys’ home in France, and, to me, relies a bit too heavily on their theatrics. But the most effective and affecting part of the book is the complex marriage of Gerald and Sara, two people who love each other in a very real, very pure, very complicated way. They are, for example, fiercely loyal to each other but not faithful. Each admires the other, their affections are real and profound, but their marriage requires each to abandon a part of themselves, and it’s in this exploration of marital give and take that the novel truly shines.
7. The Wife by Meg Wolitzer- Joan Castleman is the titular wife, the spouse of a charismatic and celebrated novelist, and as the novel opens--and the pair are en route to Helsinki where Joseph will be receiving a prestigious literary award--Joan decides that she will leave him. She relives their courtship and marriage, the disappointments and vitriol and resentment that bloom over the years, the hurt and oppression that brings her to this moment, flying into a foreign country and ready to finally leave. The big reveal of the end is predictable, telegraphed from the early pages of the novel, and thus kind of a letdown, but it’s hard to put down, even if you’re unsurprised at the final turn.
6. Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont- When I had read about 20% of this book, I stopped and Googled Julia Pierpont because I was jealous of how talented she obviously is…then I got even more jealous (about to reveal how petty I truly am) because Julia Pierpont is my age and got a six figure book deal for this book, her debut novel! One day, a package arrives for Deb Shanley but is intercepted by her children. Inside the box, they discover a letter for their mother and correspondence between their father Jack and his mistress, who has decided to reach out to Deb. The Shanleys’ world shatters, and the book follows the summer in which everything breaks down. I was enthralled by the story and the language for most of the book, but about halfway through, the point of view pulls back, and Pierpont offers us a peek into the family’s future, weeks, months, years past the arrival of the letters, and then she takes us back into the present of the story, where everything moves forward as if there has been no interruption. The glimpse of what’s coming is beautifully spare, but I found I cared less about the present after I got to see the future.
5. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante- Did you get swept up in Ferrante Fever? I had never even heard of her until literary Twitter lost its mind over the release of her final book in the Neapolitan series, which follows the lives of Lila and Elena as they grow up in impoverished Naples. My Brilliant Friend, the first novel of the series, is the story of the girls’ childhood and their complex friendship. The series has gotten attention for, among other things, Ferrante’s depiction of what relationships between girls can truly be like: genuine and competitive and rich and painful all at once. Both Lila and Elena are brilliant—each considers the other her brilliant friend—and banking on that brilliance to get them out of Naples. But the stranglehold her neighborhood has on its residents is strong and real, and the girls learn to fight with whatever weapons fate happens to hand them. It took me awhile to get into it, pretty much from age eight until the girls are teenagers, but the ending stings and is, to steal a word from Ferrante, brilliant.
Top four coming tomorrow!
*Guess what! I've had this post written for awhile but haven't had a chance to put it up, aaaaand now, thanks to a marathon stomach virus, teething, and a sleep regression, Margaux is no longer napping by herself. So. There's that. Haha.