‘The Porpoise’ by Mark Haddon

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The Porpoise by Mark Haddon is a masterfully rendered retelling of Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Haddon takes all of the elements of Shakespeare’s work, and layers on it a multitude of intricacies that elevate the story to an entirely different emotional plane.

Haddon sets his reader up in contemporary France where a plane has just crashed: a wife is dead, a daughter survives. Angelica, the daughter, is raised by her father Phillipe who develops a muddled and monstrous relationship with his her as she grows. Just as Shakespeare’s Pericles’ own adventure starts with the unveiling of a scandal between father and daughter, so does Haddon’s Pericles. This Pericles though is at first a con artist named Darius who comes to visit Phillipe and uncovers the untold lies surrounding Phillipe and Angelica. After being chased away by one of Phillipe’s henchmen, Darius, now Pericles, finds himself upon a ship, The Porpoise, with a new name, a new history, and a new destiny to fulfill.

Haddon follows not only Pericles, but also a host of other characters whom have only minor or momentary parts in Shakespeare’s original. Haddon, instead of simply following Pericles’ narrative as it stands, weaves together characters and elements in unique and magical ways. In doing so, the reader is intimately tied to all of the characters whether she despises them or holds her breath for them. Through elements perhaps of magical realism, of mental instability, or musings on the veil between life and death, characters, times, and places start to blend together as themes and narrative threads are woven into a brilliant and moving tapestry that is Mark Haddon’s The Porpoise.

While there are points in the novel where Haddon’s musings seem to run away and leave the reader wondering at the thread of his thoughts, overall the piece is a beautifully set puzzle with some odd curves, but a marvelous finish.

A masterful and poetic work, The Porpoiseby Mark Haddon is slated for release by Doubleday on June 18, 2019. You can preorder a copy of the book at your local independent bookstore today.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘The Book of Jeremiah’ by Julie Zuckerman

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The Book of Jeremiah by Julie Zuckerman mirrors its original counterpart, only in so much as it’s a book of prophecy in many ways.

Jeremiah is the central character in Zuckerman’s book, but he’s not the only narrator. Spanning both time and mind, The Book of Jeremiah is told from a multitude of perspectives all connecting to one another through Jeremiah. His wife, his daughter, his brother: every major character who plays a part in Jeremiah’s life has a voice in the novel.

Over the span of the book, we see Jeremiah grow from a mischievous child who just wants to have fun, to a pedantic professor who can’t remember what fun is. We see Jeremiah take on the role of punishing his children for behavior not dissimilar to his own as a child, though we could’ve never have imagined him doing so in the story just before. And we often see it all through the eyes of another character, giving us different perspectives on each characters’ action and thoughts.

By the time we get to the end, we see that Zuckerman has carefully crafted a novel out of her stories, and one that repeats an echo throughout. It reads almost like a prophecy: something happens in the past and we know it will effect the future, we just don’t know how. Again and again, themes and objects and people reappear in different stories and each time, we see them in a different light. Love and loss, courage and fear, religion and passion all take on new meaning as we move through the novel. Similarly, we vacillate between both sympathizing with and rooting against Jeremiah as we come to know him more truly. We love him and we hate him. We feel for him and we are annoyed by him. As Zuckerman tastefully compiles her stories to give just the right effect.

An artfully crafted novel that pulls you in and keeps you reading, The Book of Jeremiah by Julie Zuckerman is slated for release by Press 53 on May 9, 2019. You can preorder a copy of the book at your local independent bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Lights All Night Long’ by Lydia Fitzpatrick

lights-all-night-long-fitzpatrickBrilliant and beautiful beyond comprehension, Lydia Fitzpatrick’s Lights All Night Long is a novel that pulls the reader in starting on page one.

Fitzpatrick tells the story of a Russian exchange student, Ilya, and his mission to save his brother, Vladimir, from punishment for a series of murders Ilya knows (or at least thinks he knows) Vladimir did not commit. Ilya is in Louisiana though and doesn’t quite know how to help his brother except by sending him lengthy emails detailing his life in America and his insistence that Vladimir is innocent. While in America, with the help of both fate and some new friends, Ilya begins to unravel bits of the truth about his brother’s life and his confession of the murders.

Told through a blend of past and present, the reader slowly starts to piece together Ilya’s history and the life he’s lived in Russia. We start to understand Ilya and Vladmir’s relationship as well as Ilya’s relationship with his hometown, his dead father, and what’s left of his family. A story of drugs and murder, of family and companionship, of honesty and dishonesty, of honor and love, Lights All Night Longis impossible to simply sum up in a few paragraphs. It’s a novel that has to be read and by being read almost lived.

Fitzpatrick is a dazzling and poetic writer who creates characters that are difficult to forget. Since the book is told from the close third perspective of a teenage boy, we hear a lot about his sexual fantasies and desires, and while this at times can detract from the flow of the book, the reader just has to remember the age of the main character, and it’s easy to move through some of these more staccato descriptions.

Overall, Lights All Night Long is a captivating book that will pull readers into an entirely new world.

Slated for released on April 2, 2019 by Penguin Press, you can preorder a copy of Lights All Night Long by Lydia Fitzpatrick at your local independent bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Bowlaway’ by Elizabeth McCracken

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Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken is the acclaimed author’s latest release. This multigenerational novel explores themes of love, connection, and imperfection all within the setting of a bowling alley.

McCracken starts the novel off with the finding of a body in a cemetery. The body though is alive, and its keeper, Bertha Truitt, comes to wholly change the town of Salford, Massachusetts. Against all odds and all societal norms, Bertha, a white woman, marries an African American doctor when segregation is still very much alive and opens a candlepin bowling alley where women of the town come to bowl and show their worth as more than just housewives.

Over the span of the novel, characters die, leave, and keep coming back. Through a series of mysteries and missed connections, the bowling alley sees a number of new owners with new agendas as Bertha’s family, both blood and not, try to unravel their inherited mysteries and find their own place in the world.

While the story is intriguing, I often found myself unable to be fully pulled into Bowlaway. Much of the novel is told as summary as we are whisked through time to new places and new periods where the characters are often unfamiliar and unknowable because of the constant shifting. Further, while the plot of the novel has unbounding potential for interest, the stakes for the characters in many of the scenes feel distant or not wholly there.

A quick read with an element of humor and remorse, Bolwaway is slated to be released by HarperCollins on February 5, 2019. You can preorder a copy of Bowlawayby Elizabeth McCracken at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘The Golden Child’ by Claire Adams

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The Golden Child by Claire Adams is the latest release from SJP, Sarah Jessica Parker’s new sub-imprint within Hogarth. The Golden Child is the story of a family living in modern-day Trinidad and grappling with issues of love, family, and disability.

Peter and Paul are twins. Peter is the smart one. Paul is the different one. After a complication at birth, Paul’s family writes him off as being disabled, and they never leave an opportunity for him to forget it. He goes through life always measured against his brother’s successes as his family tries their best to ignore any strength of Paul’s that might be different from what their culture, their world, and they have told themselves is worthy.

Not long after the family’s house gets robbed, Paul goes missing. His father shoos away the thought that anything bad has happened, chalking up Paul’s absence to late night partying and being a teenager. When Paul’s kidnappers call the next day with a ransom price though, the boys’ father is faced with a choice of saving the life of his less than perfect son or saving the financial future of his perfect son.

An absolutely heart wrenching and infuriating novel, The Golden Child, reveals what a lot of us don’t want to remember exists in our world: hatred, greed, and a lack of compassion. If you’re looking for a fast and easy read without that quintessential happy ending, The Golden Child might be just what you need.

Slated for release in January of 2019, you can preorder a copy of The Golden Child by Claire Adams at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘The Island of Always’ by Stephen Evans

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Stephen Evan’s the The Island of Always is the continuation of his acclaimed novel The Marriage of True Minds originally published in 2008.

The books’ protagonists, Lena and Nick, are partners? Lovers? Enemies? Divorced? Even that’s a question. The two, it seems, are constantly trying to figure out what they are to each other. All they know is that they love each other (most of the time) and they can’t seem to live without each other, except when they are driving each other literally or metaphorically insane. Both are environmental attorneys who once owned a law practice together fighting the injustices of Minneapolis’ less enlightened. Then they got divorced, and either before or after the divorce, Nick might have developed a mental illness.

At the outset of The Marriage of True Minds (which is also included in this edition of The Island of Always), Nick is committed to a mental institution after relocating 144 lobsters to the mayor of Minneapolis’ personal pool. This kicks off a new chapter in Nick and Lena’s romantic comedy as they realize that despite their short comings, they may still love each other.

An echo to Cervantes’ Don Quixote in more than one way, The Island of Always, while comedic and lighthearted in most of its telling, does explore some deeper themes. Evan’s seems to suggest that the definition of insanity may be fluid, indefinable really, human-made definitely. Similarly, love is equally indefinable, always illusive, and never perfect, normal, or what you expected.

Evan’s brings his experience as a playwright into the novel with his descriptive and vivid sentences. The reader can always see the character: exactly what she’s doing and the emotions crossing her face. A fun and utterly enjoyable read, The Island of Always is the perfect feel-good book to boost your spirits and make you think a little differently about your life, even if only for a moment.

Slated for release by Time Being Media, LLC in January of 2019, you can preorder a copy of The Island of Always from your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘McGlue’ by Otessa Moshfegh

mcglue-moshfegh.jpgMcGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh is a novel born into the American literary tradition in an explosive way. Echoing beacons like Edgar Allan Poe and Nathanial Hawthorne, McGlue is a dark and nuanced novel.

Moshfegh takes us through the mind and madness of an alcoholic, McGlue, living in the late 1800s. McGlue is being held on a ship, tied to his bed and raving. The captain and other men on board tell him that he’s killed his best friend and lover, Johnson, but McGlue knows this can’t be true. Then again, he can’t exactly remember, especially without a drink to put his mind in order. Going from near dead drunk to a tormented withdrawal, McGlue tries to piece together exactly what happened, and the reader is beside him the whole way.

We sit in the jail cell with McGlue, and Johnson at times, wondering ourselves what’s true and what isn’t. Sometimes we are with McGlue and his mother, or in McGlue’s past as a child with his now dead siblings. Moshfegh weaves together past and present in ways that often make it hard to parse out exactly where we are in time at all, which it seems is also true for McGlue. In this tight first-person narration, we are so close to McGlue we start to feel his madness, his anger, his unbelievably unfair circumstances, and yet we know something is missing.

Moshfegh does a fantastic job of creating a voice for a character that remains constant and unbroken throughout the entire 145 pages. The drunken banter, the desperate pleading, all of it is McGlue the whole time, and it’s fantastic.

Slated for release by Penguin Books on January 8, 2019, you can preorder a copy of McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh from your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘If Cats Disappeared from the World’ by Genki Kawamura

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If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura is a fun and unusual novel. Originally published in Japan, the international bestseller, translated by Eric Selland, is being released in the United States in 2019.

The narrator of Kawamura’s story is a postman who opens the novel by telling the reader that he has just been diagnosed with brain cancer. Suddenly, in the throes of contemplation about what to do with the little time he has left on Earth, the postman is visited by the devil. The devil offers him a deal: one day in exchange for one thing gone from the world. The narrator weighs his options: give up the material things of the world or give up his life? Day One, he decides, he can give up phones: the devil’s first price.

In a day without phones, the postman discovers that maybe he would’ve been better off without phones all along. He meets up with the woman he once loved and reminisces about the time they spent together as college students: mostly on the phone. After the day, which isn’t all bad, he decides to try Round Two with the devil. This goes on as the narrator grapples with what it means to lose the objects of his life and his life itself. He travels back in his memory to times that were happy, times he wished had never happened, and he begins to pull apart what it means to regret, to have joy, and to be alive.

Meant to be a feel-good exploration of life and our purpose in living, Kawamura’s If Cats Disappeared from the World accomplishes just that. While at times the novel can feel overly moralizing, it is nonetheless a silly and deeply introspective book that leaves the reader asking questions about the value of a life.

Slated for release from Flatiron Books in March 2019, If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura is available for preorder at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

 

‘Shelf Life of Happiness’ by Virginia Pye

shelf-life-pyeShelf Life of Happiness by Virginia Pye is a book about the expiration of happiness: the end of its shelf life.

In Pye’s collection of short stories, ordinary characters find themselves with everything they could’ve wished for, or nothing they ever wanted, and either way, the equation equals despair, longing, or defeat. While some characters may find glimmers of the happiness they seek or even the insight of a way out, we as the reader are left to wonder if they’ll pursue that happiness or not.

In “Redbone,” a painter is confronted with the meaning of love and art at the end of his life as he literally battles rough waves to stay alive. “My Mother’s Garden” explores what it means to be stuck in a cycle of life that isn’t your own.

In these and Pye’s other six stories, characters struggle to find themselves and to discern what it is that might elongate or inspire the happiness that has worn out in their lives. For most of Pye’s characters, there is at least the recognition of a next step, even if it’s not taken.

Slated for release on October 23, 2018 by Press 53, you can pre-order a copy of Shelf Life of Happiness from your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘The Great Believers’ by Rebecca Makkai

the-great-believers-makkaiLife is beautiful. Life is terrible. Life is blind and unforgiving. Rebecca Makkai delves deeply into what it means to be alive, what it means to feel like the last person alive, and what it means to leave someone behind and keep living in her latest novel The Great Believers.

Told from a dual perspective, Makkai sets one storyline in Chicago during the AIDS epidemic in the early nineteen eighties paralleling this narrative with a continuation of the story in 2015 Paris. Yale is the main character on the Chicago scene: a man in his late 20s living both a dream and a nightmare he never thought possible. The story begins with Yale attending the funeral of one of his best friends, Nico; the first of many funerals to come. Yale’s friends it seems are disappearing, literally disappearing into themselves as they are ravaged by diseases so uncommon, so debilitating and rampant, that there’s hardly anything left of the friends he knew.

AIDS has hit Chicago; and Yale, a gay man living in Boystown, is learning just what that means. But Yale is safe, he and the love of his life, Charlie, have gotten tested. They don’t have it. They have lucrative and fulfilling jobs, a home, a perfect life. They’re safe. He hopes.

In 2015, Fiona, Nico’s sister, is desperately trying to find her daughter. Fiona, whose seen so many die, whose lost so many to an unknown emptiness, has somehow lost her daughter too, a daughter she knows (she hopes) is alive in Paris. Fiona spent her youth caring for Nico and his friends in Chicago acting as their saviors, their families, their friends. While in Paris, Fiona finds herself at battle with the ghosts from this past: a past so dredged in love and hatred that she can’t separate it from the present; a past that haunts her and her daughter, someone who hardly lived through its darkness; a past that reminds Fiona over and over again that no one has really “survived” it, there’s too much left that’s broken.

Running beside Yale and Fiona is an unsuspecting character, a character that spans all time and space, that stands for social justice, inequity, and everything in between: art. Art features prominently as both a source of remembrance and a way to be forgotten in the histories that follow.

Makkai tells a compelling and absolutely necessary story with The Great Believers, one that asks questions about the meaning of life, love, and art. Beautifully told and impossibly true on levels much deeper than the plot (which Makkai based on real events but which are in fact entirely fictional), The Great Believers is a book no one should miss.

Released by Viking in June of 2018, The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai is available for purchase at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.