Of course, you could spend those pre-summer days doing outdoor activities — but wouldn’t you rather read? For those whose answer to that question is an enthusiastic “yes,” here are four new books worth keeping inside.
“Love Marriage: A Novel”
by Monica Ali (Scribner, $27.99).
It’s one of those enchanting books full of people who make bad decisions, but you still find yourself supporting them. Ali, a former Booker Prize finalist for “Brick Lane,” introduces us to two small families: the Ghoramis, made up of Indian-born parents Shaokat and Anisah and their adult children Yasmin and Arif, and the Sangsters, a British national and single mother. Harriet and her adult son Joe. Yasmin and Joe are doctors (as is Shaokat), engaged at the start of the book, but Yasmin worries about her traditional parents’ reaction to Harriet, a well-known and outspoken feminist writer. She’s right to worry, because the months leading up to the wedding are filled with declarations, misunderstandings, sexual missteps, and a gradual examination, by all the characters, of love and passion.
Ali creates a rich world of contemporary London, with even some nicely and oddly fleshed out minor characters (I loved Arif’s girlfriend’s grandmother, La-La, “which was her stage name when she was a dancer with a troupe called Legacy & Co. who appeared on ‘Top of the Pops'”). And the author makes the interesting choice of keeping Harriet, the book’s larger-than-life character, mostly on the sidelines. gap; Ali knows that sometimes a bright color is brighter when used sparingly. Instead, we most often see the story through the eyes of Yasmin, a smart young woman trying to love her family and to understand what she wants. Ultimately, she and the reader come to appreciate the wisdom of Anisah, who knows that love, like a seedling planted and uprooted, can regrow.
“Tracy Flick Can’t Win: A Novel”
by Tom Perrotta (Scribner, $27, out June 7)
More than 20 years after the 1998 novel “Election” (turned into a darkly comedic film the following year), Tracy Flick is back, and she’s still bitter. The young girl determined to win the presidential election at her high school at all costs – because she deserved it – is now a woman in her forties who hates the holidays, struggles to connect emotionally with others (including her own daughter) and convinced herself that a dark incident in her past doesn’t mean anything, because she’s moved on. Now acting principal of another high school, she thinks she deserves the top job, but just like in high school, there are obstacles in her way: intriguing colleagues, tedious committee assignments, a parade of people. who just won’t recognize Tracy’s obvious value.
Perrotta, not a writer you’d think would be interested in sequels (although I wish he’d written one for “The Wishbones”), tells the story through a web of different characters and perspectives. . It’s a book populated by middle-aged people disappointed with what life has brought – and yet, “Tracy Flick Can’t Win” is a strangely uplifting read. Perrotta’s great gift is that he lets his love for his characters, flaws and all shine through, and Tracy comes across as a much richer and more likable character than in the previous book; she grew up, just like her creator. “I desperately wanted to go back in time,” Tracy reflects, “to find the girl that I was and tell her how sorry I was for letting her down, that fierce young woman who never had a luck, the one who got run over.” I wanted Tracy Flick to finally win.
“The woman from the library: a novel”
by Sulari Gentill (Poisoned Pen Press, $16.99, out June 7).
Of course, I needed to include some mystery in this mini-report, and the delightfully delicate structure of this book-within-a-book-within-a-book won me over instantly. Australian author Gentill (whose previous work includes Ned Kelly Award-winning Best Mystery Novel ‘After She Wrote Him’) clearly had fun with mirrors while plotting her book: At the center is Freddie, a young Australian woman in Boston on a writing scholarship. She’s working on a novel – and it’s actually a hero created by another Australian writer named Hannah, who sends her chapters to an American writer friend for feedback (his name is Leo, and he’s also in the book of Hannah). It’s understood? Either way, Freddie and his fellow writers think they may have heard a murder in the Boston Public Library’s reading room – it’s, Freddie notes, the opposite of a mystery in a locked room. Investigations are launched, fingers are pointed, potentially dangerous liaisons unfold, and I flip through these pages like there’s cake at the finish line. And, hmm, what exactly is going on with Leo?
Gentill works in some sly observations about the language (Australian English and American English aren’t exactly the same) and writing, plus a decent little detective story, but really the fun of “The Woman in the Library” is this clever structure; a literary layered hall of mirrors that is great fun to get lost in.
by Bonnie Garmus (Doubleday, $28.95).
It’s interesting that I was reading Garmus’ delightful debut at the same time as watching “Julia,” the new HBO series about Julia Child: both are stories set in the 1960s, in which a woman found a surprisingly off as the star of a TV cooking show. But Elizabeth Zott, the imperturbable heroine of Garmus, is not a cheerfully singing child: she is a sensible presence, a single mother and a brilliant chemist who lost her job in a research laboratory because (according to them) she was pregnant and single. Through a series of unexpected circumstances, Elizabeth ends up hosting the local cooking show “Supper at Six”, where she focuses on the science of cooking and empowering women ahead of her time. “She never smiled. She never made jokes. And her dishes were as honest and down-to-earth as she was.
Garmus, a former Seattle resident now living in London, deftly shifts her narrative back and forth, filling in the blank spaces in Elizabeth’s story. It’s a novel full of dark moments – there’s trauma in Elizabeth’s past, and Garmus doesn’t sugarcoat the harassment and worse that a female scientist of this era could encounter. And yet “Lessons in Chemistry” is plenty funny, from the portrayal of Elizabeth Six-Thirty’s beloved dog (who leaves the room when Jack LaLanne’s dog Happy appears on the TV screen) to her struggles to raising his daughter Mad, the kind of kid who, when mud pies are suggested, “frowns, then writes 3.1415 with a stick in the dirt”. Elizabeth Zott is a unique heroine, and you find yourself wishing she wasn’t fictional: many of us – maybe even Julia Child – might have enjoyed watching “Supper at Six.”