Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Two novels so breathtakingly good I could even read during daylight

Confession: I find it almost impossible to read during daylight hours. In June, at a garage sale, I bought a lovely little pink chair with a matching ottoman. Price: $12.  "This is my reading chair," I proclaimed. "From now on, I will sit in it and read during the day." Didn't work. Didn't, that is, until two novels appeared on my desk: "The Girls of August," by Anne Rivers Siddons and "Life Drawing," by Robin Black. Couldn't put them down. Daylight or not.

Leave it to Siddons of Charleston always to hatch a great plot. Four friends have been gathering for decades in August to spend a week somewhere along the coast. Ocean front and isolated. But this year, one of the four -- Melinda -- is dead. In her stead is Melinda's widower's new (very young, very fit, seemingly very needy) wife Baby. This year's locale -- a remote barrier island off the coast of South Carolina -- adds to the psychological combustion as each of these women makes a "startling discovery." During their stay,by the way, the four drink enough alcohol to embalm a whale. But it's a light, quick read and highly engaging.

I was tipped to Robin Black's "Life Drawing" when it showed up on the long list for this year's Flaherty-Dunnan first novel prize. Black lives in Philadelphia and is a graduate of Warren Wilson's MFA Writing program. So I was curious. Still, I had no idea I was in for one of the best reads in ages. This is my favorite kind of novel -- a literary page-turner, which, sadly, doesn't come along often enough. Black burrows under the mind's skin, articulating the things we're only vaguely aware of thinking. She's a painter. Her husband Owen is a blocked writer. They've moved to an old farmhouse in the country to try to put behind them Augusta's affair. Allison moves in next door. Augusta and Allison become quick friends. Owen becomes unblocked. The novel builds, builds, until it's practically on fire.


Anonymous said...

nothing personal but please do everyone a favor and use a breathtaking pic of yourself back at least to 1960 or beyond ... thanks

Jason Ellis said...

How did you not include a picture of your daytime reading chair and ottoman. How dare you make me use my imagination!