THE GIRL IN THE POLKA DOT DRESS by Beryl Bainbridge

The late Beryl Bainbridge, who died in 2010, is better known in Britain than over here. The winner of the Whitbread Award, and five times shortlisted for the Booker Prize, she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2000, joining AS Byatt and preceding Margaret Drabble. She published sixteen novels over the course of her life, and was working on her seventeenth, THE GIRL IN THE POLKA DOT DRESS at the time of her death. Cast in a clear trajectory heading for an unmistakable conclusion, it does not feel unfinished, though the enigmatic compression which I gather is typical of all her books may perhaps be a little more enigmatic than usual.

August 31, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: United States, World Lit, y Award Winning Author

AFTER LYLETOWN by K.C. Frederick

“In his mid-forties, he feels he’s come to a pretty good place in his life, and he couldn’t have got there if he hadn’t been able to survive some of his earlier selves, forgiving, maybe, but also forgetting, even erasing. From his present vantage point, it isn’t exactly magnanimity he feels toward the passionate but confused graduate student he’d been twenty years ago. From that time onward he’s been acutely aware of the importance of chance in the affairs of human beings, and he hopes it’s given him a better understanding of people who are down on their own luck. But what he feels toward the person he’d been then is mostly relief that he’s been able to move beyond him.”

August 1, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Facing History, y Award Winning Author

RICH BOY by Sharon Pomerantz

Family sagas have long been a staple among American best-sellers; the examples are wide and vast. The very predictability of the family saga genre promises an absorbing yet familiar reading experience: the once-poor yet highly attractive and charismatic main character who overcomes all kinds of adversities, goes through heartbreak and scandal, and then emerges older, wiser, and in most cases, wealthier than before (or at the very least, with enough knowledge to BECOME wealthier).

July 14, 2011 · Judi Clark · One Comment
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: Class - Race - Gender, Contemporary, Debut Novel, Family Matters, Reading Guide

DAUGHTERS OF THE REVOLUTION by Carolyn Cooke

Carolyn Cooke is a master of the short story form—she won the O. Henry Award for her collection, THE BOSTONS. Cooke’s debut novel, Daughters of the Revolution, is also set in New England in the late 60’s, in a town called Cape Wilde.

The epicenter of much of the action, even if might not seem so at first, is the Goode School—a prep school for boys. Principal Goddard Byrd, known simply as “God,” is absolutely against allowing co-education in his school. “Over my dead body” is his constant refrain when asked about it.

June 27, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Class - Race - Gender, Contemporary, Debut Novel, Facing History, NE & New York, Reading Guide

THE COLOR OF NIGHT by Madison Smartt Bell

I have chosen this rather longer quotation to show how Madison Smartt Bell can turn on a dime between a realistic description of a California druggie cult in the late sixties to an evocation of the revels of Dionysian maenads from the earliest age of Greek mythology. The link here is an acid trip, but Bell does not need chemicals to effect his alchemy. In 2001, when the book opens, the narrator Mae is a middle-aged croupier in a Las Vegas area casino. Bell’s description is realistic and immediate: “Only the whirl of lights and the electronic burbling of machines, rattle of dice in the craps table cups, and almost inaudible whisper of cards, the friction-free hum of roulette wheels turning.” But two sentences later, he has already made the shift: “It was a sort of fifth-rate hell, and I a minor demon posted to it. A succubus too indifferent to suck.”

April 6, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: 2011 Favorites, California, Contemporary, New York City, US Southwest, y Award Winning Author

BAD PENNY BLUES by Cathi Unsworth

I’d heard of Jack the Ripper and the Yorkshire Ripper, but before I read British author Cathi Unsworth’s crime novel, BAD PENNY BLUES, I’d never heard of Jack the Stripper. Jack the Stripper was the name given to a serial killer who operated in London during the 60s. His victims were young women–6 in all–whose bodies were found in 1964 and 1965. The crimes–also known as the Hammersmith Murders or the Hammersmith Nudes were never solved, but they had some features in common. The women were prostitutes and they died from strangulation. Some had teeth missing and some of the bodies bore traces of industrial paint. The police eventually connected these 6 murders with two other similar, earlier crimes. They acknowledged that the total murder toll might stretch back to include an unsolved murder committed in 1959, and that a dead woman found in 1963 was possibly yet another victim of the same killer.

February 19, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: Facing History, Mystery/Suspense