Well, I didn’t have to look too hard to find patterns in the last three books I finished. Spoiler alert: each of the books dealt with the dead or the dying, specifically dead stripper, dead girlfriend, dead mother.
After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman starts with Felix Brewer, a Baltimore Goodfella, skipping town to avoid facing prison in 1976. He leaves behind a wife, three daughters, and a stripper mistress with a heart of gold. When the mistress disappears on the tenth anniversary of Felix’s disappearance, everyone assumes she’s gone to be with him – until her body is discovered near the home of his abandoned family. The novel alternates perspective between the detective investigating the cold case 26 years later and the women Felix left behind. While some of the characters are predictable (the sad sack investigator, the spoiled daughter, the proud wife), this is a solid read for a plane ride.
If you’ve read The Hours by Michael Cunningham, you’ll have a good sense of the dark tone in his latest novel The Snow Queen. It’s the story of two brothers. One, miserable after his latest failed relationship, sees a light in the sky over Central Park that seems to look back at him. The other, a failed musician, tries to write a love song for his terminally ill fiancee. Both seek transcendence as they struggle with the reality of mortality – one through a newfound religion, the other through the creative release of drugs. It’s bleak, dark, haunting, and beautifully written.
Finally, I read The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits. I didn’t know what to expect when I picked this up, but it wasn’t this. Julia is a student at an institute for psychics, where she assist her mentor during her psychic regressions. When it becomes clear that Julia is potentially even more powerful than her mentor, Madame Ackerman launches a psychic attack on her, tormenting her with the suicide of her mother and making her physically ill. As Julia recovers – in a succession of spas that cater to people being psychically attacked and people recovering from plastic surgery – she astral projects back to her mother’s youth and discovers her connection to a mysterious filmmaker/performance artist. It’s part detective novel, part comedy, and is often funny and always strange. I’m not sure I liked it at all, but I’m still thinking about it, so that’s something. Also, Lena Dunham should play Julia if this ever becomes a movie.
Next up, book number 37 for 2014: The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker.