Below are the first lines of the 6 books I finished reading in April. I see a faint outline of a common theme this month: imprisonment, literal or figurative, not of the character’s own making.
My name is Cara Romero, and I came to this country because my husband wanted to kill me. Don’t look so shocked. You’re the one who asked me to say something about myself.
The hills of Jerusalem are a bath of fog. Rami moves by memory through a straight stretch, and calculates the camber of an upcoming turn.
Though the sun was hot on this July morning Mrs Lucas preferred to cover the half-mile that lay between the station and her house on her own brisk feet, and sent on her maid and her luggage in the fly that her husband had ordered to meet her.
Answelica was a goat with teeth that were the mirror of her soul—large, sharp, and uncompromising.
A Wild and Lonely Place
Fortrezza, Near Bondeno, 1561
Lucrezia is taking her seat at the long dining table, which is polished to a watery gleam and spread with dishes, inverted cups, a woven circlet of fir.
Day 1,299 of My Captivity
Darkness suits me.
Each evening, I await the click of the overhead lights, leaving only the glow from the main tank. Not perfect, but close enough.
The titles and authors revealed:
How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water, by Angie Cruz. 2022. 208 pages.
Hilarious and yet poignantly sad, all at the same time. Recommend.
I read this for book club, for the discussion in July or August. But these days, when the book arrives on my kindle from the library (due to an injustice that is just added to other much greater injustices in the world), I have to read it.
Apeirogon, by Colum McCann • first pub 2020. 480 pages.
A singular book that requires a lot of effort by the reader because of the narrative style. I usually admire a book that has a structure that reflects the book’s theme – this one has that in spades. The subject is difficult; the characters are fascinating and likeable. I gave it 5 stars on StoryGraph but caution that it takes concentration to read. The author classifies this book as fiction, but it is very much based on real people and real events, centering around the killing of two girls, one Israeli and one Palestinian. The page count is somewhat misleading, as there is more than usual blank space on each page. I read it for book club, which is where I learned that the narrative structure is called "kaleidoscope."
Queen Lucia, by E.F. Benson. The Mapp & Lucia Novels #1. 1920.
I chose to read this because some list somewhere tagged it as a comedy of manners. Sometimes a reader requires a 1920s comedy of manners in order to escape current events. I stopped reading this one in order to finish some book club books. And when I came back to it, I had forgotten some of the details about the characters. The characters are amusing, but the woman who wants to be “queen” of her little town gets a bit tiresome after a while.
For those who may think that children’s literature has nothing to tell us, I will just say that this book is set in a culture that does not allow girls to learn how to read. Much to my own surprise, I currently live in a country where the powers in charge want very much to oppress women and girls, and want certain people to just stay in their place, and want the entire populace to be ignorant of history. This book is about a person who fights against such things. It also has the best-named goat I have ever encountered in literature.
The Marriage Portrait, by Maggie O’Farrell. 2022. 333 pages
I can’t say this was a joyful book to read, but Maggie O’Farrell’s writing just carries the reader right along. In a certain way this book reminded me of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, which deals with a toy rabbit who has no agency of his own. The main character here is the unfortunate teen Lucrezia de Medici who becomes the child bride of the Duke of Ferrara in the 1550s, and despite being part of a rich family, seems to have precious little agency.
I spent 5 minutes on the internet looking up general European history at that time. There was an awful lot of beheading and burning people at the stake; this book features yet other ways of doing in your royal enemies, including members of your own family. What fun! And yet, somehow, the book seems relevant to our situation today, in which basic bodily autonomy is being reversed, using justification not quite from the 16th century, but with similar results in the personal agency category.
I read this for book club. There will be plenty to discuss.
I think the book cover design is brilliant.
Remarkably Bright Creatures, by Shelby Van Pelt. Published 2022. 355 pages.
An enjoyable story, with interesting plot and enjoyable characters, including an octopus. Includes an excellent heavy metal band name.