Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Cleaning House

Since it's almost time to post this year's list of quirky reads, I happily happened upon Cleaning Nabokov's House by Leslie Daniels. It fits the bill rather nicely. Platypus and all.

Tired of eating lettucini cooked on a hot plate in her motel room in Upstate New York, Barb decides she needs to get her children back from her ex. Working through a court-ordered checklist, she sells her car to buy a house. After moving in, she finds out Nabokov once resided there. While sorting out her daughter's extensive purse collection, she opens a stuck drawer to find a pile of note cards. On them are the notes and sketched out plot of a novel about Babe Ruth.

Discovering the unfinished novel allows her to expand her circle of support. The underwear she orders online is certainly not doing the job. She meets an agent (married to her mailman) who convinces her to write the missing scenes. A lawyer in the city helps put her in touch with authenticity experts. While in the city, she comes across an idea for a lucrative business. Since her job writing customer service letters for the Old Daitch Dairy isn't quite enough to put food on the table, she decides to open a "day spa" for the women of the town. 

And yes, it does have a happy ending.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Breathing Out

I started doing yoga in March. Sure, my arms are a little more toned, and my core is a little stronger, but I've stayed in it for the mental benefits. More often than not, the difference between a good day and bad one is whether or not I made it to yoga. This was made clearer to me during a class I took last week. At the end of class, after we eased into this pose, the teacher instructed us to let go of something we were holding on to with every exhale. I thought to myself, "Well, this shouldn't take too long." However, 17 breaths later, I was still breathing out resentments, disappointments, and insecurities I wasn't even aware were still hanging around.

The protagonist of Susanna Daniel's novel Stiltsville also grapples with letting go. At the novel's beginning, twenty-something Frances travels to Miami for a college friend's wedding. After one of the guests invites her to a house standing on stilts in the middle of the bay, Frances not only falls in love with the ocean, but she falls in love with the house's owner Dennis. Soon after, she gives up her life in Georgia and moves to Florida to be with Dennis.

Frances and Dennis marry. Frances has a baby and falls in love again...with motherhood. However, after several miscarriages, she has to let go of the idea of her daughter having siblings. They continue to travel to the stilt house on weekends. Occasionally leaving Margo with relatives, they host friends at the house. But one weekend, a flirtatious guest leaves Frances wondering if her marriage will last.
Frances and Dennis stay together as Margo grows up and leaves for college. Now an empty-nester, Frances takes up tennis. And the attentions of her tennis coach. Another near indiscretion is avoided when Frances must comfort her daughter after a tragic incident at her college.  

More years pass. Frances watches Margo marry, and finds out Dennis has a debilitating illness. Faced with his death, Frances must decide if she is willing to let go of her life in Miami once he has gone.   

This is a story of a marriage. And as with all marriages, it never hurts for the main players to breathe deeply every once in a while and let go.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

All That Is

Clever asides: "As it happened, Enid Amour knew Bacon." Familiar observations: "Anet noticed almost with surprise that all the newspapers were in French." And old friends: "At the foot of the Ngong Hills."

All can be found in the aptly titled All That Is by James Salter. Beginning in war, the novel follows Philip Bowman through his first jobs in publishing, multiple relationships, trips to Europe, and meetings with old friends and past lovers. 

Salter is a master storyteller and satisfying wordsmith.  

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Man Your Ships

I probably have mentioned this before, but most nights in Japan at 9:00 p.m. would find me camped out in front of the TV. That was when the NHK began broadcasting shows close captioned in English. Consequently thanks to NHK's coverage, I watched more of the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics than I have of any other games. Although the broadcast included more judo and softball than we are accustomed to seeing in the US, it was refreshing to see a running tally of medals from countries other than the US. One event that wasn't on my radar at the time was cycling. However, after reading Gold by Chris Cleave, I will be paying more attention during the Rio 2016 games. 

Kate and Zoe are London's top cyclists. Both in their early thirties, they are facing their last chance at an Olympic gold medal. Although they began as rivals under the same coach, they have slowly become friends over their years of strenuous training sessions and races.  Zoe needs this win to maintain her lucrative endorsements. Kate needs this win, period. She missed her previous two chances to compete to care for her sick daughter.

Describing training kits, electrolyte drinks, and grueling hours on the track, Cleave puts the reader in the midst of the action. We fly when they fly. Our legs burn as they burn every last ounce of energy straining for millisecond wins. Meanwhile off the track, Kate's daughter Sophie battles leukemia. She is also battling her parents' worries by putting on a brave face, plugging into her Star Wars daydreams, and hiding just how miserable she is really feeling.  Both story lines, although psychologically draining, are exhilarating and even touchingly humorous at times. The novel shows both the mortal side of Olympic athletes and the superhuman strength of a child facing death. 

Gold for the win.