It’s been such a jangly time. My inability to focus is only heightened by the pandemic, so when I read some good fiction I feel compelled to share. Here are a couple of recent books I liked.
Debra Jo Immergut’s You Again tells of Abagail, a middle-aged woman who runs into a younger version of herself in New York city. Not someone like her younger self, but her actual younger self. Abigail now is in a long marriage, the mother of two, with a soul-killing corporate job. Her double is an artist, as she once was, and is involved with the same dangerous man.
Immergut is skilled at describing the artist’s thought process, especially when she explores color: I like to imagine the top of my head open, and the colors pouring in from some higher plane, some great source. Not God, not the sky. Instead, it’s the bright storm of energy that clangs and sloshes over and around every existing thing….”
The book is also a mystery with a neurological and psychological underpinning as experts try to unravel the explanation for Abigail’s experience.
Throw in some radical antifa activity, the evolution of a long marriage, Manhattan’s changing landscape, and the process of extinguishing and then re-lighting one’s creative spark and you’ve got a the material for a very satisfying read.
The concept itself is fascinating. What kind of warnings would you give your younger self? And, scarier still, what might your younger self tell you if they could see you today?
I listened to the audiobook version (on libro.fm) of Emma Donoghue’s The Pull of The Stars, a novel set in Ireland during the influenza epidemic of 1918 in the maternity fever ward of a severely understaffed hospital.
The main character Julia, a 29-year-old nurse/midwife, rushes from crisis to crisis, attempting to treat her patients’ fever and bring their babies safely into the world, aided by a young volunteer who’s the product of one of Ireland’s notoriously neglectful and abusive orphanages. If you read Room, you know Donoghue does wonders with the intensity of confined spaces.
This book is all about women, their bodies (in excruciating detail), their lack of any semblance of power in Ireland, at home or in society—“She doesn’t love him unless she gives him 12 is a well-known saying about what Irish women are said to owe their husbands—and their magnificent strength.
Just at the point in the book where I was beginning to tire of Julia’s self-sacrificing heroics, the book took an unexpected turn and became bigger than its story, encompassing a searing critique of the Catholic church, the overall injustices of Irish society, and the redemptive power of love,
The book’s afternote gives some historical background on the events it describes making it even more resonant. I was especially interested to learn about one of its real-life characters, Dr. Kathleen Lynn, who had a role in Sinn Fein’s 1916 uprising and was wanted by the Dublin police. I want to know more about her.
As you won’t be surprised to find, Little Brown rushed this book out in only four months considering the plot’s parallels with the current pandemic, face masks, incompetent government and all. It would be easy to be cynical about that but thank god it was worth it. Donoghue really has something to say.