Not really “Marching” on…

March 2007
Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, Ayelet Waldman

From Publishers Weekly How a five-year-old manages to make the adults in his life hew to the love he holds for them is the sweet treat in this honest, brutal, bitterly funny slice of life. When Emelia’s day-old daughter, Isabel, succumbs to SIDS, her own life stalls. She can’t work; she can’t sleep; Central Park, once her personal secret garden, now is a minefield of happy mother-child dyads. Since Isabel’s death, husband Jack’s only solace for the guilt of breaking up his sexless marriage with Carolyn for Emelia’s (now-absent) passion and love is joint custody of William, now five. What Emelia cannot bear most are Wednesdays, when she must cross the park to collect William at the 92nd Street Y preschool and take another shot at stepmotherhood. Carolyn, William’s furious mother and a renowned Upper East Side OB/GYN, lives to nab Emelia for mistakes in handling him. Carolyn’s indicting phone calls raise the already sky-high tension in Jack and Emelia’s home, but they don’t compare with Carolyn’s announcement that, at age 42, she is pregnant. The news pushes Emelia to confess to Jack two things she shouldn’t. William is charmingly realized, and Waldman (Daughter’s Keeper) has upper bourgeois New York down cold. The result is a terrific adult story.

Funny and relatable, almost uncomfortably so at times as far as Emilia’s thorny relationship with her stepson. Some of the scenes where William “acts out” with her could come from my nightmares – but the facts that I have previous parenting experience and didn’t have a role in ending the marriage of my stepkids’ parents may have something to do with why they’ve never happened in my real life.

The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova

From The New Yorker
In this smart retelling of the Dracula story, a young girl’s discovery of a mysterious book, blank save for a sinister woodcut of a dragon, impels her father to divulge, reluctantly, details of his vampire-hunting days back in grad school. Halfway through his tale, which is told over several sessions in various atmospheric European locations, he vanishes. His daughter’s quest to find him is interwoven with letters that reveal the past in full. Kostova’s knowledge of occult arcana is impressive, and she packages her erudition in a graceful narrative that only occasionally lapses into melodrama. The structure—a story within a letter within a flashback—is an innovative complication, but it is soon shaken off by the swift-moving plot. Kostova never strays far from the conventions of the genre, and her historical thriller feels somewhat indebted to best-sellers of the recent past; there are Christian heresies, scholarly sleuths, and a malaprop-prone Eastern European guide.

Despite all the enthusiastic reviews, I’ve had trouble making my way through this one. I’ve actually put it on hold to start on Waiting for the April Book Club meeting, and while I fully intend to go back and finish it after that, I’ve left it at a not particularly compelling point where the backstory is getting more backstory. It’s giving me a little more understanding about why people get impatient watching Lost.

Just to update that as of April 23, I still haven’t returned to The Historian, and since I’ll be taking that vacation trip to Tennessee in a couple of weeks, I think it will be waiting a while longer. I had the book with me at Starbucks one day, and the barista asked me how I liked it. He said he had 100 pages left to go – since last year. I think I understand that better now.

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