Saturday, April 29, 2017

Two by Tin House

Little Sister by Barbara Gowdy (forthcoming from Tin House, May 2017)

What happens when an everyday life is suddenly infused with magic?  Rose Bowan has many blessings - steady if not especially lucrative work managing the family second-run movie theater, an aging mother whom she loves, but who needs increasing supervision due to dementia, a reliable but predictable long-term boyfriend. Not exactly glamorous, but a good life nonetheless. One day, during the height of a particularly unstable Canadian thunderstorm, Rose leaves her own body and finds herself inhabiting someone else - a woman caught up in an unraveling affair. Rose is terrified at first, but as the storms continue and the inhabitances become more frequent, she is drawn further and further into the mystery of this woman, Harriet.  Though very different than herself, Harriet also reminds her of her little sister, who died as a child. Rose sets out to find Harriet in real life and save her in a way she couldn't save her beloved sibling. By reaching out to this other troubled soul, Rose is able to reconcile with her past and break open her present. She, too, is saved.

I very much enjoyed this charming and unique novel. I loved Rose, I could very much relate to her reliance on habit and routine, and I was drawn in to the power of the magic - not so much by the inexplicable circumstances of the storm episodes in and of themselves, but by how the events intensified and deepened her relationship with Harriet. I found Little Sister to be a lovely, moving and suspenseful book. Look for it in bookstores next month.

Swimming Lessons, by Claire Fuller (Tin House, 2017)

I have been eagerly awaiting Swimming Lessons practically from the moment I finished Claire Fuller's prior novel, the exquisite Our Endless Numbered Days.  Like Little Sister, Swimming Lessons, too revisits the past to find healing in the present.

Twelve years ago, Ingrid Coleman disappeared, leaving behind two young daughters and a philandering, book-hoarding novelist of a husband. All these years later, aging Gil thinks he sees Ingrid and follows her, falling off a pier in pursuit. The accident brings his daughters home to oversee his care, and in doing so, forces the family to address long-simmering resentments, betrayals, and misunderstandings.

Interspersed through the novel are letters from Ingrid, each tucked away in one of the many books Gil so diligently collects for their marginalia. They are raw and beautiful letters, telling her truth of the marriage, the story she never spoke aloud to him, the things she knew that he didn't think she did. The emerging narrative of the letters pairs brilliantly with the present story as it unfolds, and there is a particular delight for the reader, too, in the notations telling us which title the letter is placed in.  Beautifully written, captivating in its structure, and so observant of the complicated relationships that exist inside families, Swimming Lessons is a book to lose yourself in, which I happily did.

I received a complimentary review copy of Little Sister from the publisher, and purchased my copy of Swimming Lessons.

Happy reading!

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