The very first thing I did after finishing The Tragedy of Author – Arthur Phillips’s ingenious faux-memoir – was to Google to see what was true and what wasn’t…only to find that much of Phillips’s traceable past has been erased.
Did he really have a gay twin sister named Dana, a scam artist father who spent his adult life in prison, a Czech wife and twin sons of his own? Methinks not. What I do know is that Arthur Phillips shares his birthday with the Bard himself, that he was born in Minnesota, and that he is indeed a writer to be watched very carefully. Because what he’s accomplished in this novel – er, memoir – is sheer genius.
Julian Poulter, the first-person narrator of Rebecca Frayn’s DECEPTIONS, is a somewhat priggish individual who says things like, “I’ve always believed one must strive to put painful episodes behind one with the minimum of fuss and bother.” He is a master of denial who, in flashback, tells how he and Annie Wray, a teacher, tried to forge a permanent relationship when he moved in with her and her two children by her late husband. Annie is flightier and far more spontaneous than Julian; each provides a quality that the other lacks.
Jennifer Haigh exerts a sublime spin on the unreliable narrator in this probing, poignant saga of an Irish-American family hailing from Boston’s South End. Sheila McGann, the central narrator, left Boston and her Catholic faith years ago while her family stayed in “Southie.” The cardinal premise is the question of whether her half-brother, Art, a once esteemed and trusted but now disgraced and defrocked parish priest, is really guilty of the alleged sexual abuse of a child. This is 2002, when the Archdiocese of Boston is in the whir of sexual scandalâ€”the exposure of crimes of pedophilia.
Itâ€™s a tough world thatâ€™s inhabited by Gin Boyle Toad â€“ an albino, a classical pianist, an unloved woman whose life has been reduced to freak show status with the indelicate stares, the gossip, the pointing. Although she was raised in Perthâ€™s wealthy environs and showed early and sustained musical talent, she is abused and ultimately institutionalized by her cruel and loathsome stepfather.
Her unlikely rescuer is Agrippas Toad, a dwarfish and crudely mannered farmer who happens to hear her play piano and immediately marries her. By doing so, he attempts to stave off the rumors about behavior that is deemed aberrant in his small-minded farm community. It is the â€śstrangenessâ€ť of these two that binds them together. Gin Boyle reflects, â€śIt wasnâ€™t happiness. It wasnâ€™t love. But it had been tolerable, so long as there was nothing else.â€ť
THE POISON TREE, the debut novel from British author Erin Kelly, begins with a young woman named Karen driving her child, nine-year-old Alice to pick up husband Rex. This may sound like a fairly routine domestic errand, but the difference here is that Rex has just been released from prison after serving 10 years for murder. The novelâ€™s first chapter is a window into the delicacy of a fractured familyâ€™s difficult reunion as parenting roles shift to a thinly structured “normalcy.” The underlying question is why was Rex in prison for murder? Just what happened to put Rex behind bars is slowly doled out to the reader as first-person narrator Karen goes back to the mid 90s when she was a university student at Queen Charlotteâ€™s College and met the intriguing, free-spirit, budding actress Biba and her brother Rex.
I’d read wildly different reviews of a Thomas Bernhard book. One review was overwhelmingly positive while another review thought the same book (THE OLD MASTERS) pointless. After reading both reviews and salient quotes, I leaned towards the pointless reaction, but then again, the reviewersâ€™ reactions to the same book were so different, I was curious to try a Bernhard novel. This brings me to CONCRETE, and after reading it, I now understand how this author could provoke such vastly different reactions from readers.