They don’t have to be great to promote great discussions. So at this summer’s Wine in the Woods or the many cookouts you will attend, between the Cab Sauv and the Malbec and the BBQ chicken, here are three worth talking about!
The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan
“Ye’re born, ye suffer, and ye die. What made ye think ye deserved different?” barks the inscrutable seaman, John Hardie, of the miserable shipwrecked survivors, now shivering in an overcrowded lifeboat.
Reading Charlotte Rogan’s much-hyped debut novel, The Lifeboat, I think I deserved better. The premise was certainly intriguing: In 1914, Grace, a young newlywed, is at long-last reveling in a life of privilege now that she’s married Henry Winter. But their honeymoon aboard a regal ocean liner is short lived. An unexplainable explosion tears a hole in the ship, and in the ensuing chaos, Henry vanishes—although somehow he’s managed to secure a seat for Grace in Lifeboat 14.
Lucky for her and the other thirty-nine co-habitants, their leader (and Rogan’s most intriguing creation) is John Hardie. Enigmatic and relentless, he was at times too reminiscent of Wolf Larsen, the demonic sea captain in Jack London’s brilliant adventure novel, The Sea-Wolf. That aside, his actions distinguished him from the rest of the characters whose lack of intricacy and dimension seemed to anesthetize some wrenching moments.
This is especially evident in the narrator herself, Grace Winter. Despite the fact that when the book opens she’s on trial for her life, her recount (told in flashbacks) of her harrowing nightmare at sea, is in a voice so devoid of feeling that it was a challenge to invest emotionally in her.
Tedious, and at times as dry as sailor’s hardtack, The Lifeboat, nevertheless is sure to tantalize book discussion groups lured by its probing and sinister theme about survival and natural selection.
In the Woods by Tana French
In sharp contrast, Tana French’s In the Woods offers both characters pulsing with complexity, and a cat’s cradle of taut storylines.
When the body of a twelve-year-old girl is found on the site of an archaeological dig at the outskirts of a Dublin suburb, Detective Rob Ryan struggles to make sense of a dark coincidence: Twenty years earlier, on a summer’s day, he and his two best friends, with a promise to be home for tea, embarked on an afternoon of play and fantasy in the very same woods.
Problematic is the fact that after two decades, those sun-filled moments remain all that Ryan can remember. Why police found him clinging to a tree, his sneakers filled with blood, while the bodies of his friends were never recovered, has remained a mystery—until now.
With his best friend and partner, Cassie Maddox, (the only one, incidentally, who knows Ryan’s story), solving this case may open the doors to his own, especially as they dig deeper into an investigation that may link one person to both crimes.
It also reveals the depth—and ferocity—of Cassie’s feelings for a man who’s spent years insulating his. Ryan, highly intelligent, and possessed of a razor-sharp wit (the scenes with his self-absorbed roommate are hilarious) is nonetheless an imperfect creature who screws up big time. But the fact that French grants him the free-will to do so makes In the Woods all the more powerful.
Cool, Calm and Contentious by Merrill Markoe
Writer and stand-up comic Merrill Markoe is no Margaret Mead, and her new book, Cool, Calm and Contentious does not pretend to be field research into human behavior. Still it’s a pee-your-pants hilarious look at the progress we’ve made, if any, as social animals.
She begins by attributing much of who we are to “crazy mommies,” but let’s not leave out the OCD daddies. Markoe’s dad could take up to an hour to slice a carrot.
Markoe’s own mommy liked to remind the author of her failures, such as Markoe’s “feeble attempts at eyebrow grooming” which once, pretty much “ruined the entire family vacation to Mexico.”
Markoe also dissects—as her 18 essays attest—the stupid, arrogant and detestably vain. For example, who doesn’t know the person with a “competitive angle on everything?”
“My life is such a mess. There are three different incredible guys in love with me right now, but none of them is the ‘one’”.
Of course some of Markoe’s research took its toll, and therapy was necessary. But in the end, there was breakthrough—like the moment she realizes that both her middle-class parents, “who enjoyed picking fights with waiters,” and her “off-beat boyfriend of the cowboy shirt and motorcycle boots” were weirdly, almost impossibly related: They were all narcissists!
Lose control. Read Cool, Calm and Contentious.
Additional posts by Aimee Zuccarini
- Three Books that Are Spring-Fresh and Fun!, 06 Apr 2013 in Book Reviews
- Challenge Yourself (And Your Book Discussion Group) With a Big Book this Winter, 30 Jan 2013 in Book Reviews
- Inner Peace on Earth, 05 Dec 2012 in Book Reviews
- Steamy Summer Fiction, 13 Aug 2012 in Book Reviews
- Girls Rule: 3 Writers Prove that Women Authors Can—and Should—be Taken Seriously, 11 Apr 2012 in Book Reviews
- Steller Reads for the New Year, 01 Feb 2012 in Book Reviews
- Feast on These, 02 Dec 2011 in Book Reviews
- Books You (and the Men in Our Lives) Will Enjoy, 02 Nov 2011 in Book Reviews
- Page-gripping Beach Reads, 08 Aug 2011 in Book Reviews