Book Clubs: The silent treatment
In Outline, Rachel Cusk’s shrewdly observed eighth novel, Cusk explores the nature of identity and the power of self-presentation. The book’s narrator, Faye, is a divorced writer flying to Athens to teach a summer course in creative writing. On the plane, she meets an elderly Greek man who tells her about his previous marriages in a way that seems terribly slanted to Faye. What he leaves out, she realizes, is as important as what he discloses—an idea that’s central to the book. Over the course of 10 chapters, Faye relates the anecdotes and memories that friends, pupils and other writers share with her during her time in Greece—tales of broken marriages, failed families and personal regrets. Though Faye herself rarely speaks, she comes slowly into focus during the narrative, exposing the tangled threads of her own failed relationship. A smart, insightful novel that reveals Cusk’s remarkable understanding of the human heart, Outline will get readers thinking about the importance of stories—personal and otherwise—and the ways in which they define our lives.
LUST AND REVENGE
Jeffrey Lent delivers another meticulously crafted historical novel with his fifth book, A Slant of Light. Malcolm Hopeton returns to New York state after serving in the Civil War to find that his wife, Bethany, and hired hand, Amos Wheeler, have both vanished from his homestead. When he discovers they’ve betrayed him, he seeks revenge. Hopeton murders Wheeler and accidentally kills his wife—acts that resonate throughout the evangelical community where Hopeton lives. Meanwhile, Harlan Davis, a teenager who helped on Hopeton’s farm and witnessed the murders, works to defend him, collecting evidence in his defense. Also involved is Enoch Stone, an esteemed leader in the community, who decides to serve as Hopeton’s attorney. But as events unfold and Hopeton’s future hangs in the balance, hints of the community’s dark past come to light. A novel of somber beauty and electrifying suspense, Lent’s latest is also one of his best. It’s a compelling work of fiction that explores the nature of community and religious faith.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
Kate Atkinson’s masterful novel A God in Ruins is a story of epic proportions with a common man at its center. Teddy Todd, who was introduced in Atkinson’s previous book, Life After Life (2013), is the younger brother of Ursula. Now a veteran RAF pilot with a wife and daughter to care for, Teddy struggles to find a place for himself in an England transformed by war. Feeling remorseful for having survived a conflict that took the lives of countless others, Teddy contends with nightmares, a crippled homeland and—eventually—the untimely death of his wife. As usual, Atkinson moves effortlessly from era to era, flashing back to Teddy’s heroic turn as a World War II flyer. As a novelist, it seems there’s nothing Atkinson can’t do. She tackles the big events of history and the small particulars of the human experience with equal ease and aplomb.
This article was originally published in the January 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.