Friday, May 21, 2010

Reading List...

More from our last visit to the bookstore.

Eventide
by Kent Haruf - The sequel to Haruf's bestselling Plainsong (see February 9th) continues in its setting of hardscrabble Holt, Colorado. The McPheron brothers, who took in pregnant Victoria when she was 16, now watch her and her baby go off to college. In town, a social worker does everything she can to keep what's left of a family together, despite the parents' lack of intelligence and common sense and a violent uncle who threatens everything. A mother and her children struggle for survival when her husband doesn't return from Alaska. In a role reversal, a young boy must care for his alcoholic grandfather.

The characters in Eventide all deal with the harsh realities of their shared existence, but it's that sense of community and interpersonal connections that helps them through it. This novel has received glowing reviews for Kent Haruf's subtle and unassuming prose that paints all the nuances of these lives and landscape. The Christian Science Monitor says, "Eventide never swells with climactic tragedy or heartrending triumph. Haruf holds the pace of his narrative to the slow passage of winter on the plains, letting moments of salvation thaw between hard frosts
."

The Road by Cormac McCarthy - Some unnamed catastrophe has scourged the w
orld to a burnt-out cinder, inhabited by the last remnants of mankind and a very few surviving dogs and fungi. The sky is perpetually shrouded by dust and toxic particulates; the seasons are merely varied intensities of cold and dampness. Bands of cannibals roam the roads and inhabit what few dwellings remain intact in the woods.

Through this nightmarish residue of America a haggard father and his young son attempt to flee the oncoming Appalachian winter and head towards the southern coast along carefully chosen back roads. Mummified corpses are their only benign companions, sitting in doorways and automobiles, variously impaled or displayed on pikes and tables and in cake bells, or they rise in frozen poses of horror and agony out of congealed asphalt. The boy and his father hope to avoid the marauders, reach a milder climate, and perhaps locate some remnants of civilization still worthy of that name. They possess only what they can scavenge to eat, and the rags they wear and the heat of their own bodies are all the shelter they have. A pistol with only a few bullets is their only defense besides flight. Before them the father pushes a shopping cart filled with blankets, cans of food and a few other assets, like jars of lamp oil or gasoline siphoned from the tanks of abandoned vehicles—the cart is equipped with a bicycle mirror so that they will not be surprised from behind.

Through encounters with other survivors brutal, desperate or pathetic, the father and son are both hardened and sustained by their will, their hard-won survivalist savvy, and most of all by their love for each other. They struggle over mountains, navigate perilous roads and forests reduced to ash and cinders, endure killing cold and freezing rainfall. Passing through charred ghost towns and ransacking abandoned markets for meager provisions, the pair battle to remain hopeful. They seek the most rudimentary sort of salvation. However, in The Road, such redemption as might be permitted by their circumstances depends on the boy’s ability to sustain his own instincts for compassion and empathy in opposition to his father’s insistence upon their mutual self-interest and survival at all physical and moral costs. The Road was the winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Literature.

The Good Thief by Hanna Tinti - Twelve year-old Ren is missing his left hand. How it was lost is a mystery that Ren has been trying to solve for his entire life, as well as who his parents are, and why he was abandoned as an infant at Saint Anthony’s Orphanage for boys. He longs for a family to call his own and is terrified of the day he will be sent alone into the world. But then a young man named Benjamin Nab appears, claiming to be Ren’s long-lost brother, and his convincing tale of how Ren lost his hand and his parents persuades the monks at the orphanage to release the boy and to give Ren some hope. But is Benjamin really who he says he is?

Journeying through a New England of whaling towns and meadowed farmlands, Ren is introduced to a vibrant world of hardscrabble adventure filled with outrageous scam artists, grave robbers, and petty thieves. If he stays, Ren becomes one of them. If he goes, he’s lost once again. As Ren begins to find clues to his hidden parentage he comes to suspect that Benjamin not only holds the key to his future, but to his past as well.