The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin is the story of an American family gone awry. When father Ellis Skinner, dies suddenly of a heart attack, his family falls apart. Noni, the mother retreats to her room and leaves her four children, Renee, 11, Caroline, 10, Joe, 8 and Fiona, 4 (she at 102 narrates her family’s history). Renee assumes the role of caretaker and for two years, she and Joe ran the household. After their aunt steps in and their mother reemerges from her depression, life becomes more normal again. But two years is long enough to leave scars on the four Skinner children, scars that go so deep, they don’t show up until much later. Especially for Joe, who was always viewed as the golden boy, handsome and extremely athletic, but never lives up to his potential. Caroline despite her mother’s cautionary tale, marries her high school sweetheart. Renee never wants children, having had to care for her siblings for two years and becomes a surgeon. Fiona, who in later years becomes a renowned poet, tells their story in a series of poems as we discover how the four children lived their lives and shared their grief.
If you are a fan of the works of Mel Brooks, you must listen to All About Me: My Remarkable Life in Show Business by Mel Brooks. By the end of the book, you will know the plot of every TV show, movie, play, and award that Brooks has worked on. And he’s worked (written, directed, produced and acted) on many. I thought I knew them all but apparently not. Yes, he goes into a little more detail than I would have liked, (sometimes it’s like listening to your grandfather go on and on) but he has led an amazing life and knows a lot of famous people. He wrote this book in his mid-90s which he calls his “Third Act”. I now have a yearning to watch some of his old movies which somehow, I’ve missed!
Happy Go-Lucky by David Sedaris—Oh how I love David! His essays and talks range from pathos to bathos (yes just learned the difference) and I love his take on The Pandemic, the lockdown to the ever-present BLM marches in New York. Yes he is getting older…and crankier but his humor is just as sharp, and his stories of his family are just as funny…and sad. I’ve been listening to him talk about his father throughout his books and it is still cringeworthy. But through Sedaris’ eyes as the old man loses his anger, we see the father he might have been.
The Mercies by Kiren Millwood Hargrave—1617, in a small fishing village in Northern Norway, all the men went out to fish one stormy night and never returned. The women were left to fend for themselves. And they did. They learned to fish and to tan hides and basically to learn to live without men. And then Absolom Cornet arrives, on orders of the king, with his young bride to take control. Apparently, the women of the village were fending for themselves a little too well, and not with the church’s permission. He was there to make sure the indigenous Lapp tribe did not overly influence the Christian women. Based on the real witch trials of 1621, this novel includes a fierce friendship, betrayal and the power of the church. It was an unputdownable book.
French Braid by Anne Tyler—Known for her character-based novels, Tyler often focuses on families. Her newest book is no exception. We meet Mercy and Robin on their once in a lifetime vacation at Deep Creek. With their two teenaged girls and young son, it should be a memorable occasion. It is but for all the wrong reasons. Everyone wants something different. Mercy simply wants to paint and boy crazy Lily has her first big crush. David does not want to learn to swim, despite his father’s urging and Alice becomes the DeFacto mother. As I began French Braid, it felt almost like connected short stories, exploring one Baltimore family through 40 years of dysfunction and the ties that bind and unbind.
See you all next month and hopefully we’ll have beautiful September weather so we can read our books with the windows open.