In the words of Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” The craziness of the back-to-school season has died down, and even though the temperature hasn’t yet turned crisp in New England (where we are still fully in summer weather), the crisp smell of falling leaves fills the air and that perfect autumn light is divine. And this October, I’m finding more time to settle in, read and wander.
I began the month with Nicole Krauss’ latest novel, Forest Dark. Hands down, this is one of the best novels I have read. The story follows two narratives: an older man and a writer in mid-life each find themselves at personal crossroads, which lead them both to Tel Aviv. While the two characters never cross paths, their stories run parallel with stunning similarity – both are trying to rediscover aspects of themselves at an existential turning point in their lives. Krauss’ prose is haunting and spare, and her musings on Kafka to ground the story are fascinating. This is a book to get lost in and savor. It’s a contemplative meditation on the aching disconnection we all recognize – that feeling of being utterly outside of oneself and alone, even when surrounded by those we love.
In all honesty, I was first drawn to Rachel Khong’s debut novel, Goodbye, Vitamin, for the intriguing title and the beautiful, pop art-inspired cover – and with these pulls, I discovered a breathtaking book. Khong tells the story of 30-year-old Ruth, recently separated from her fiancé and now home to take care of her father who is suffering from dementia. Quite simply, she is in a pause, taking a moment to figure out who she now, at the center of chaos. Goodbye, Vitamin is a tender stories and a breath of fresh air, and the vein that runs through it – the subjective nature of memory and what we hold close – lingers long after the final page.
I left Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling sitting on my bedside table for ages – first the advanced copy, and then the actual first edition. I knew I had to read it – I had seen the reviews, and they were glowing. Stephen King called My Absolute Darling a masterpiece, and Celeste Ng, whose writing I adore, said she finished it in one sitting. But I had also been warned that the abuse central to the story was too horrifying, too monstrous. I am someone who chooses her television shows, movies and other entertainment carefully – there are certain images I can’t seem to shake, and when I sense bad things are going to happen to children, I run the other way. And so, I couldn’t bring myself to begin reading this one – I was terrified by the very idea. I haven’t felt that confronted and that nervous about a book in a long time.
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Yet, I came to realize that it was because I felt so confronted that I simply had to dive in. Not reading something based on rumor and fear is a place I never want to stand. When my husband and kids went out of town for a weekend, it seemed like the perfect time to crack the spine and not look back.
I read the story in one day (just like Celeste Ng), and I am so glad that I did, because the author’s talent is boundless. Tallent’s writing is so vivid and exacting. I was immediately immersed, practically smelling the coastal salt air of Mendocino. His heroine, Turtle, is one of the most realized characters I have come across – her strength is magnificent. And her father is a monster – a fully rendered and completely human monster. This novel is gorgeous and frightening, upsetting and hopeful. It is wholly unique. And though I’ve finished it, My Absolute Darling continues to confront, leaving me speechless. It is well worth the emotional challenge, and my advice to you would be to read it in one go, too.
And finally, here’s a preview of a book to come: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin will be released in January, and it is fantastic. Benjamin’s story revolves around one question: if you knew the date of your death, would you live your life differently? The premise is that four siblings visit a psychic as kids, and each learns the impending date of his or her own demise. The book then divides into four sections, all devoted to one sibling. The book goes in unexpected directions, making it an extremely compelling read.