Summer reading is the best reading. (Okay, winter reading is pretty cozy, too.) But the beach, the cabin, the heat, or just the season’s surprisingly ceaseless demands want different kinds of books. Maybe something superficial but satisfying, maybe something cold and cutting, maybe just something wacky and weird: I haven’t yet ticked all these boxes , but I’m making my way:
Rabbit Cake (Annie Hartnett) is the (gently) weird one. It's narrated by ten-year-old Elvis Babbitt, who reports on her family’s disjointed progress through grief after her mother Eva’s death. Eva, a notorious sleep-swimmer (!) who died in a drowning accident, was the full-of-posthumous-surprises life force that held her family together. After her death, Elvis watches as her dad wears her mom’s bathrobe and lipstick, and her sister obsessively makes the rabbit-shaped cakes Eva baked for special occasions. Elvis wonders, with preternatural acceptance, how to make sense of her mother's death, jolt her dad out of his stupor, and stop her sister from sleepwalking into madness. Rabbit Cake is farcical, funny, and refreshing: Elvis and her family’s grief seem so particular and strange but are narrated (and ultimately felt) as intuitive and universal.
Who is Rich? (Matthew Klam) is messy and manic. And it makes a surprisingly good foil for Conversations with Friends (described in the last books post). Whereas the latter explores the restraints and release of sexual, sensual, or just potential intimacies, the former narrator obsessively—and hilariously—mulls over the extravagant fantasies (on which he sometimes acts) generated by the confines of his marriage, children, and job. The book makes marriage and parenthood a Sartrean prison of love and hate that no one can or really deserves to escape. It’s so funny, but its sharply desperate edge makes it cut way too close to the bone.
One of Us Is Lying (Karen McManus) is for the beach! It’s a YA, epistolary-style narrative in which four high-schoolers (who are a bit more multidimensional than their stereotypes suggest), must rigorously defend themselves after their classmate dies in detention. The book is often compared to The Breakfast Club, but it’s a little closer to American Vandal: It’s an episodic, winking whodunit set in the gossipy milieu of high-school self-seriousness. It’s a bit silly, but it’s also a lot of fun.
The Art of Fielding (Chad Harbach) was recommended by best friend of MWS, Katie Levin. Set at a small midwestern college, it connects a handful of key characters through the school’s once struggling but now stellar baseball team. The character-driven book (check out those names!) offers a John Irving-inspired take on multivariant masculinity, represented by Moby-Dick on the one hand, and “The Art of Fielding,” a fictional bible of baseball held dear by one of the book’s nominal protagonists, on the other. It’s a bit diffuse and meandering, but in that sense it capably recreates Ishmael’s narrative (and possibly baseball’s enactment of the futility of strategy in the face of chance).
Okay, that's a bit of a stretch, but, hey, it’s summer! What are you reading?
English PhD, former arts administrator, obsessive cook, native East Coaster, mom to two rabblerousers.
English PhD, former high school teacher, obsessive organizer, native Midwesterner, mom to three troublemakers.