Brad Watson, Maggie O’Farrell & Claire Louise Bennett

Watson_JaneMiss Jane by Brad Watson is a surprising, exquisite book. Its subject (a woman born with a genital birth defect in rural Mississippi in the early 20th century) wasn’t initially appealing to me. But boy can this man write. He quietly tells Jane Chisolm’s story (based on that of his own great aunt), describes her family and their hardscrabble life on the farm, and lets us know the country doctor who befriends her in a way that moved me deeply. This is a book that stays with you. Two notes: as one who’s always been a sucker for cowboys, the author photo is a bonus. And the section about oysters is priceless.

OFarrell_placeIrish author Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must Be the Place is a big, rich, exuberant story about a French-English reclusive former movie star and a complicated New Yorker (who’s Irish but seems sorta Jewish) and their children together and apart and joys and tragedies and more (stuttering, eczema, alcoholism, anorexia,.this book is chock-full). It’s told from multiple points of view and moves from London to rural Ireland to Brooklyn and for all kinds of reasons it shouldn’t work but, in fact, it does and left me feeling very satisfied in a way few contemporary novels do.

Bennett_pondPond by Claire Louise Bennett (another Irish writer … I’m on a jag) is a first novel that reads like a memoir. I’m a reader who likes traditional narrative and this is definitely not that, more a stream of consciousness from a young woman living alone in a cottage in rural Ireland. And it’s funny and eccentric and wonderful … in particular I loved the section on why being with men requires drinking (amen!), also ruminations on ottomans and the control knobs on her oven. Plus gardening and cooking. Jynne Martin at Riverhead, one of the jewels of the publishing world, raved about this book and I always listen to Jynne.