Tag Archives: realism

Life After Life, After Life After Life

Neither U.S. nor UK copyright law protects titles of books. This means  that someday I can call my memoirs In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran without fear of legal reprisal (though I’d gladly entertain a hand-delivered cease and desist request). On a more practical note for you, the Eleventh Stack reader, however, it means that every now and again you’ll run into multiple books with the same title, which can prove a wee bit confusing when it’s time to make a catalog reservation.

Dear John: call me, maybe?

Dear John: call me, maybe?

Exhibit A: two novels called Life After Life, released just six days apart. What could have been a marketing nightmare turned out to be a boon for both novelists and their publishers, as the coincidence has piqued interest in both books. That means longer library waiting lists, though, so here’s a quick-and-dirty overview of each novel, to help you decide which one you’d like better, or if you’d be happy to  read both.

Jill McCorkle

mccorkleThe residents, staff, and visitors of Pine Haven Retirement Center are the focus of Jill McCorkle’s novel about the sweet memories and painful regrets that can rise to the surface as life winds down. A hospice volunteer dutifully records her charges’ dying moments, to teach herself about living well. Another staff member does her best to care for the residents while pondering how own difficult history and uncertain future. A once-powerful man fakes dementia to avoid meaningful conversations with his combative son. As the narrative point of view shifts from character to character, the reader sees how each person affects, and is affected by, the rest of the community, and how much power a single kindness–or cruelty–can have. Although the subject matter is unavoidably heavy–we all have to die sometime–it is also laced with what I can only describe as “realistic hope,” the notion that one person’s voice can be heard, that a single life is precious. On the whole, McCorkle’s given us an honest look at what it means to live well and die well, one that will resonate with anyone who’s ever pondered her/his own mortality or otherwise dealt with hospice/end-of-life issues.

Reserve this if: you enjoyed The Secret Life of Bees or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (originally published as These Foolish Things); you like fiction set in the American South (think Sarah Addison Allen, but with more realism and less magic); you’re looking for fiction that strikes a balance somewhere between “literary” and “beach-read”; you don’t mind the uncomfortable looks people give you when they ask what the book is about and you say “death.”

Kate Atkinson

If anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, what happens to you when things kill you over and over? This far-fetched atkinsonrhetorical question is no joke for Ursula Todd, who dies–sometimes quite horribly–and is reborn again and again, always into the same family. Atkinson–whose Jackson Brodie mysteries already have quite a following–will earn plenty of new fans with this speculative twist on the historical novel, which focuses heavily on England’s participation in WWII. Atkinson’s ambitious premise is that the life of one person can mirror the life of a nation, and as Ursula rises, falls, and rises again, so does England. The tone is decidedly British, which includes not only the loving descriptions of everyday objects Anglophiles adore in their fiction, but also the pluck and dry wit that embody the national sense of humor.

Reserve this if: you enjoyed Code Name Verity or Downtown Abbey; your television set is perpetually tuned to BBC America; you’ve ever spent far too much time contemplating the Hitler Murder Paradox.

See why you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover? If both of these titles were in your hands right now, which one would you check out first, and why?

Leigh Anne


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Sweet and Sour Chick Lit

Today I am wearing ridiculous shoes.

By “ridiculous” I mean “high-heeled,” which is normally not my style.  Alas, my favorite comfy shoes have finally worn out. And because you can’t run around barefoot in a public building — or, at least, you shouldn’t – I’m forced to navigate between the Scylla of wearing the one pair of fancy footwear I own, and the Charybdis of shoe shopping.

Thus is life for a certain type of broad, er, dame.  She doesn’t wear makeup, she doesn’t carry a purse, and, under most circumstances, she refuses to wobble around the library like a bad imitation of Grimm’s “The Little Mermaid.”

[Oh, quit that laughing.  Especially you menfolk with your consistently sensible, yet stylish, footwear!]

While the trappings of a certain kind of femininity don’t appeal to me in real life, I find them fascinating when they turn up in books.  In fact, I think I get a bigger kick out of reading about characters who are nothing like me; one of the primary reasons for reading, after all, is to learn more about who we are by examining who we are not.

Still, I reach what I call a “sugar point” in a book if the heroine is too pretty / perfect, or if her biggest problem in life is which of her many outfits she should wear to her glamorous job.  I like my chick lit with a bit of a twist, just enough doom and dismay to keep things interesting.  Here are a few examples from the county’s extensive collection.

The Late Lamented Molly Marx, Sally Koslow.  Molly is extremely wise, witty MollyMarxand stylish.  She’s also quite dead, and, justifiably, a bit miffed about it.  After all, if your corpse were found in a public park under mysterious circumstances, you’d want to know what happened and why.  With her newly-discovered post-life powers, Molly reviews her life to unravel the mystery around her death.  Designer clothes, dual infidelity, and a sexy angel named Bob add punch and pucker to this Manhattan mystery.

On My ListThe Next Thing On My List, Jill Smolinski.  June Parker drove the car that Marissa Jones died in, so of course she feels just awful about it, even though the accident was in no way June’s fault.  To make matters worse, Marissa’s “bucket list” turns up, a plan for all the fun and wonderful things she intended to do with what she thought would be the rest of her life.  To atone for her guilt, and what she perceives as her crime, June decides to complete the items on Marissa’s list, even though she finds some of them downright scary.  As June stumbles outside of her comfort zone, her life changes for the better in delightful, albeit sometimes difficult, ways, which makes for a page-turning treat.

If you’re fond of non-fiction that reads like fiction, you’re going to love Lorna couchMartin’s Girl On the Couch.  Martin has a great job, a great life, great friends, and a great boyfriend.  The only problem is, she can’t stop crying and she doesn’t know why.  Jetting from one cushy newspaper assignment to another can’t keep the demons at bay, so Martin reluctantly agrees to try psychoanalysis, with hilariously funny results.  Written in a dry, self-deprecating tone, this chronicle of the neuroses that can lurk underneath a polished surface will have you cheering as Martin learns to let down her defenses and change her self-destructive behaviors.

On a completely different, but no less complicated note, readers who like Iron_Duketheir romance novels both action-packed and bittersweet will want to check out Meljean Brooks’s The Iron Duke.  When the Horde ruled England, they used technology to enslave the populace; after the Iron Duke’s liberation mission, half-caste citizens like Mina can get a fresh start on life.  However, the “star-crossed lovers” plot that eventually unites Mina and the Duke is complicated by issues of racism, class warfare, and technological ethics.  If that sounds a bit too intelligent for a romance novel, let me assure you that the conventional romance parts are no less, er, arresting for all the high-falutin’ sentiments.

Your turn, Pittsburgh:  do you like your chick lit tart, or sweet?  Do you like to read about heroes/heroines who are just like you, or nothing like you?

–Leigh Anne


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