Book clubs: Signs of trouble ahead
Kaitlyn Greenidge makes an accomplished debut with the provocative novel We Love You, Charlie Freeman. Laurel and Charles Freeman and their daughters, Callie and Charlotte, are an African-American family with a remarkable command of sign language. None of the Freemans are deaf, but they picked up signing from Laurel, who learned to communicate with her hands during her childhood in Maine. In 1990, the Freemans are enlisted by the Toneybee Institute, a research facility in Massachusetts, to foster a chimpanzee named Charlie and teach him to communicate. Shifting back and forth in time, the novel is narrated by various characters, but Charlotte tells most of the story. A teenager who’s coming to grips with her sexuality, Charlotte discovers that the institute has an alarming history, and that its interest in her family isn’t quite what it seems. Greenidge’s timely exploration of race and precise observations of family dynamics will give book clubs rich topics for discussion. A visionary first novel, this marks the arrival of a major new talent.
In the wonderfully engaging Everybody’s Fool, Richard Russo continues the story of Donald “Sully” Sullivan and the residents of North Bath, New York. Ten years have passed since the events recounted in Nobody’s Fool (1993), and time has been kind to 70-year-old Sully, whose inheritance and gambling earnings allow him an easy lifestyle. But now he’s faced with the reality that he only has a couple of years left to live—a fact that he tries to hide from his old flame, Ruth, and his good pal, Rub. A lesser character from the previous book, Doug Raymer, North Bath’s chief of police, plays a major role this time around. Raymer gets wrapped up in a mystery involving the lover of his late wife, even as he and Sully grapple with the reappearance of bully Roy Purdy. Russo writes with humor and compassion about the working class, and he continues to be a wonderful stylist. His many fans will cheer the return of Sully and friends.
TOP PICK FOR BOOKCLUBS
Samantha Hunt’s eerie, acclaimed novel, Mr. Splitfoot, is the story of two teens brought up in a cult-like orphanage. At the Love of Christ! Foster Home, Ruth is drawn to Nat, who has the ability to communicate with the dead. With the help of the conniving Mr. Bell, Nat uses his otherworldly abilities to turn a profit. The novel moves into the future to take up the story of Ruth’s niece, Cora, who gets pregnant by mistake. When Ruth—now mute—enters Cora’s life, the two women set out on a life-changing quest on foot. Hunt deftly balances the unsettling story of Ruth and Nat with that of Cora and the journey, and the two compelling narrative strands illuminate one another. The result is a one-of-a-kind thriller—a mesmerizing blend of mystery and fairy tale that readers won’t soon forget.
This article was originally published in the February 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.