Lifelines by Heidi Diehl

Last year I read a book about swimming and Berlin and hydrology and the nuances in the German language, and it was like it had been written just for me.

Lifelines by Heidi Diehl is about the German psyche (their collective grief and shame), Düsseldorf, and urban planning. Another book written just for me?

Lifelines is also about music and art, the 1970s, what is expressed and what is left unsaid, and how we fit into our environment. Continue reading

Dietland by Sarai Walker

I was too squeamish for bulimia and lacked the masochism needed for anorexia, so once I had cycled through every diet I could find, I went back to Waist Watchers.

The Beauty Myth meets Fight Club meets Fat is a Feminist Issue meets Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – that sums up Sarai Walker’s satirical novel, Dietland.

The novel focuses on Plum Kettle. Plum is in her twenties and works behind the scenes at a popular teen girls’ magazine, answering fan mail (which is generally about boys and body image). Plum is 300 pounds, and has spent a lifetime wishing she was ‘normal’.

In my real life I would have more friends, and dinner parties and overnight guests, but my life wasn’t real yet. Continue reading

First Love by Gwendoline Riley

Sometimes the most frightening books aren’t found on the ‘thriller’ shelf. Such is the case with Gwendoline Riley’s First Love.

Neve, the narrator, tells the story of her relationships – with her mother and father; with Michael, the man she was involved with in her youth; and with her husband, Edwyn. Each relationship is fraught, each abusive in a different way. Moving back and forth in time, Neve recalls particular moments in each relationship, and the story builds to a dark and unnerving end.

Finding out what you already know. Repeatingly. That’s not sane, is it? And while he might have said that this was how he was, for me it continued to be frightening, panic-making, to hear the low, pleading sounds I’d started making, whenever he was sharp with me. Continue reading

The View From Penthouse B by Elinor Lipman

My introduction to Elinor Lipman was the humorous campus novel, My Latest Grievance. I read a few more of her books but they were fluffy and lacked the edge of Grievance. However, there was one more Lipman on my shelf – The View From Penthouse B – and I picked it up, needing some froth after a book I found traumatic. And I’m glad I did.

The View From Penthouse B is a farce. The story revolves around sisters Gwen and Margot. Gwen is unexpectedly widowed, and Margot invites her to join forces as roommates in Margot’s luxurious apartment. Margot has her own woes – divorced amid scandal (her ex, Charles, was a doctor who got caught in a terribly unsavoury malpractice situation) and then made poor by a Ponzi scheme, Margot is struggling to make ends meet.

Though we call ourselves roommates, we are definitely more than that, something in the order of wartime trenchmates. She refers to me fondly as her boarder – ironic of course, because no one confuses a boarding house with an apartment reached via an elevator button marked PH. In a sense, we live in both luxury and poverty, looking out over the Hudson while stretching the contents of tureens of stews and soups…   Continue reading

Exploded View by Carrie Tiffany

Exploded View by Carrie Tiffany is a brutal and intense novel about the abuse of a teenage girl.

The unnamed narrator focuses on her family – her mother, her brother and her mother’s new partner, referred to as ‘father man’. The man runs an unlicensed mechanic’s workshop in the backyard. The girl shows her resistance with the only weapons she has at her disposal – silence and sabotage. She slips out at night to remove bolts, sever pipes and loosen screws in the engines the man is working on. Continue reading

A Really Good Day by Ayelet Waldman

Think suburban mothers doing drugs and you might go to some sort of Valley of the Dolls scenario. But Ayelet Waldman’s story, A Really Good Day, is quite different.

The idea of becoming a ‘self-study psychedelic researcher’ felt ridiculous. I am a mother of four children. I am, to use my children’s gibe, “totally basic.” I wear yoga pants all day, I post photos of particularly indulgent desserts on Instagram.

Continue reading

One thriller and one crime novel

 

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

I have a poor track record when it comes to reading thrillers. Mostly because they’re simply not thrilling – I either spend time guessing what has happened and then watching it unfold (The Girl on the Train) or thinking “This is just far-fetched stupidity” (Gone Girl). So how did the bestseller, The Wife Between Us, hold up? Very, very well. Continue reading