Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Best Reads Lately....

I have a small backlog of books to tell you about! The first being The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostava, a big brooding book with ties to art and psychology, two of my prime obsessions. Psychiatrist Andrew Marlow is a mild-mannered psychiatrist whose hobby is oil painting. His life gets a whole lot more interesting when he tries to solve the mysteries surrounding one of his patients, artist Robert Oliver. An esteemed painter and college professor, Oliver attacked a painting in the National Gallery and since then stopped speaking. Marlow learns a whole lot more about the Oliver by spending time with the women who have loved him. There is also a second storyline set in the nineteenth century involving a woman painter. I am not always fond of parallel plotting, but in this case as the book marched on, I became caught up in the interconnections between both stories. Further appeal was watching Marlow move beyond his comfort zone, challenging his own issues and lack of deep relationships.

On a much lighter note, I enjoyed The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes. Set in Dublin, largely at some flats at 66 Star Street, where the love lives of its tenants are in constant flux and turmoil, the novel has a caring, fond tone. If this is chick lit, I'm a convert. There is an unusual element herein that makes the book hard to describe. A spirit enters the building at times, seeming to influence lives with a karmic hand. I know, I know -- sounds flaky, but it works, and is never overbearing. I love books where some colorful cast of characters all living in the same building are brought to life; see also the 44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith. A similar device is used by Maeve Binchy when she examines the lives of a bunch of fellow bus riders in The Lilac Bus.

Darkest fiction I've read in a long time, difficult to recommend, but a real heart-stopper is: Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich. Exploring love/hate and the fine line dividing them in a marriage between a Native American artist, Gil, and his wife, Irene America, who he obsessively paints, this novel reminded me of the play, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Their stormy relationship is detailed in two diaries written by the wife, one for her eyes only and one for her husband to put his hands on. Their three children strongly sense and react to the marital chaos. Alcohol heightens deep dysfunction. Although the madness and emotional turmoil are clearly not for everyone, Erdrich's provocative literary prowess kept me reading.

As always, happy reading!

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