Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Story of Arthur Truluv

Arthur, a man in his mid-eighties, has lunch with his wife Nola every day of the week.  No big deal, you are probably thinking.  Where else is a man of that age more likely to have lunch than at home with his wife?  In Arthur’s case, it’s not quite that simple.  Nola, you see, is dead, so Arthur brings his lunch and a little folding chair to the cemetery every noontime so that he can talk to Nola while eating.  Some would say that Arthur is pretty obviously ready to cash in his own chips so that he and Nola can be together again – and maybe there’s some truth there.  But then Arthur meets Maddy, a teenager who spends almost as much time at the cemetery as he does, and his world gets interesting.

Maddy, whose mother died in an auto accident when Maddy was just two weeks old, is as lonely as Arthur, and as the friendship between the old man and the teen becomes more and more important to each of them, Maddy (because she is so impressed with Arthur’s lasting love for his deceased wife) tags him with the nickname “Truluv.” Things really get interesting when Arthur’s elderly next-door neighbor Lucile, having observed the new relationship between Maddy and Arthur, decides that she wants to get in on some of the fun herself. 

The Story of Arthur Truluv is one of those rare coming-of-age novels that are just as much about the end of life as they are about growing up.  Two of its three central characters are very near the end of their lives, and the third is just on the brink of beginning hers.  The beauty of the novel is that all three of them bring something unique to the communal relationship, something that adds to the feeling of family that soon develops between them. 

Bottom Line: The Story of Arthur Truluv is a little too predictable to keep the reader guessing much about how it all will end, and that’s a shame because there are some great moments in the novel.  But even though there is never any doubt that things are going to work out well for Arthur, Maddy, and Lucile in the end, Elizabeth Berg is good enough a storyteller to keep readers turning the pages anyway.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Long Black Veil

Long Black Veil is a difficult novel to get into because the author immediately introduces about eight characters known only by their first names – and since several of the first names are non-gender-specific nicknames, it is difficult even to be certain at first of the sex of some of the characters.  I would suggest jotting down a note or two for each character as they are introduced as a way of maybe easing yourself into the story.

The story itself is about a group of misfits who become friends during their freshman year of college.  And what misfits, they are.  I’m trying hard here to think of one of the bunch that is even remotely normal, but I’m coming up empty.  They were lucky to find each other and even luckier that the friendships endured for four years because not long after leaving school, one of them was dead under very mysterious circumstances, circumstances that ended the friendships.

The group’s fatal mistake is to visit an abandoned Philadelphia prison on a “dark and stormy night” during which someone decides to lock them inside.  In the near-panic that followed, one of the girls, Wailer,” disappears and is never seen again – never seen again, that is, until thirty years later when someone discovers her remains where the body had been hidden all those years ago.

Now the pressure is on to figure out why Wailer died, who killed her, and who has been covering up the crime for so long.  Is a member of the old group guilty?   Will they turn on each other?  Do others have to die before Wailer’s murder is finally solved?

Jennifer Finney Boylan is certainly not afraid to move her plot along, and in the process, she takes the reader on quite a ride.  Just about the time you begin to believe that the plot has been stretched to its breaking point, Boylan stretches it even farther (but for some readers these additional stretches may be stretches too far to retain credibility).  Long Black Veil makes for fun reading but it’s a hard novel to take very seriously.  If this were a movie, it would probably be playing at your local drive-in theater…if you still have one of those around.

"What It's Really Like to Be a Book Nerd"

From Barnes & Noble:

"What It's Really Like to Be a Book Nerd" - and it's only slightly exaggerated.  Lots of truth here, guys.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Native Believer

Native Believer is the story of M., a second-generation Muslim American who knows almost nothing about the faith.  M., who was raised in the South, is married to Marie-Ann, a white Southerner, and the two have made a rather comfortable life for themselves.  It is only when M. throws a party for his co-workers and invites their new boss that things start to go bad for him – in a hurry.

The rather odd Germanic man seems to be enjoying M.’s company but when he spots a tiny Koran on the top bookshelf in M.’s apartment, the new boss makes an offhand comment about finding the Koran placed “above” all the other books on the shelves, especially those of some of the world’s most respected philosophers.  The very next day, M. is called into the man’s office and fired.

M. wants nothing more from life than to be an American, a man with roots and children he intends to raise as modern Americans, not as Muslims.  But after the murders of 9-11, it is not that simple.  M. carries a Muslim name, and in today’s America, he is ethnically challenged enough to be seen as a suspicious person almost everywhere he goes.  Now his life is falling apart.

His wife resents that he cannot find work, and the tension between the two aggravates the medical condition that causes her to gain huge amounts of weight in a matter of weeks.  Their marriage is beginning to fall apart, and there is little that either of them seems to care to do about it. 

M. is at a crossroads.  As he wanders Philadelphia’s streets on foot, he runs into a group of devout Muslims who mistrust his lack of piety and want to convert him; he befriends a Muslim pornographer who says he is trying to get Americans to see Muslim men as anything other than terrorists; and Marie-Ann’s job brings him into contact with other Muslims who want him to help spread the good word about life in America to suspicious Muslims all around the world.  In the meantime, M. feels like his world is being ripped apart.

Native Believer makes for a bit tedious reading at times, but it is filled with characters I wanted to know more about.  M.’s struggle for a self-identity seems very real in today’s world, and I very much wanted to see how Eteraz would resolve his main character’s dilemma.  Let’s just say that the book’s final two pages are nothing like I expected it would all end – so do not, under any circumstance, read the end of Native Believer first.  Please.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Lola - by Melissa Scrivner Love

When it comes to feminism, women have a wide range of feelings and dedication regarding it.  Some embrace it so heartily that feminism is the core of everything else they do or think…everything.  Others look at it out of curiosity but are so little affected by feminism’s key issues that they shrug and get on with the rest of their lives, hardly allowing feminism ever to cross their minds again.  And then there are some women, maybe most women, whose attitude about feminism fits somewhere between the two extremes.

Lola, an LA gangbanger, is most definitely a feminist – and she will kill any rival (or even fellow gang member) who fails to take her seriously as head of the South Central “Crenshaw Six,” a small drug gang that controls only a tiny portion of South Central Los Angeles.  Lola may be a feminist, but she is also smart enough to recognize the advantages of flying under the radar of rival gangbangers and the LA cops.  In public, it is Garcia, Lola’s boyfriend, who takes the role of Crenshaw Six leader.  But the gang (all of whom were there when Lola put a bullet between the eyes of her predecessor) understands just how ruthless and ambitious Lola is.  She has big plans for herself and the gang, and as long as everyone she deals with outside her gang underestimates her, she might just pull off those plans.  But when a Mexican cartel comes to the Crenshaw Six with a proposition that is as likely to get them all killed as it is to make them rich, a proposition they are not going to be allowed to refuse, things start getting complicated. 

When things do not go as the cartel instructed, Garcia and the Crenshaw Six have to find a way to make things right.  If they don’t, as supposed girlfriend of the gang’s leader, Lola will have to pay with her life – and hers will be neither a quick nor an easy death if it comes to that.  Lola knows that if her life is to be saved, it is up to her to figure out how to get it done.  In the meantime, while she wrestles with serious threats from the cartel, two rival drug gangs, and her own brother, Lola intends to fight back from the shadows.  But staying in the shadows irks the feminist that Lola is, and when her cover story finally breaks, she begins to have the time of her life – short as that life might turn out to be.

Lola is an interesting character, one who may not be quite as tough or as ruthless as she wants everyone to think she is, but one who will do whatever it takes to protect her gang and her family (well, not so much her mother, as it turns out).  The novel is one that demands a sequel or maybe even a whole series, and it would not surprise me to be binge-watching it on Netflix in a few years. 

I’m giving it four of five stars.