Saturday, January 30, 2010

Fiction Corner

It's still winter and a good time for settling in with an engaging novel. I recently finished one by a favorite British writer of mine, Penelope Lively. This one's called Family Album, and it's about a contemporary family with six kids living in a London suburb in a big, sprawling, run-down but once elegant house. The mother is sort of a supermom type who loves kids, cooking, and everything to do with family. The father is remote and bookish and tends towards escape from family. The live-in au pair "girl" has been there for forty years. The "children" have all (but one) escaped to far-flung places but keep being drawn back to home and parents and their own childhood secrets, fears, and memories from time to time. Lively is an excellent writer of literary fiction and a Booker Prize winner. There are layers and depths to this novel and very astute perceptions about human interactions, even though the plot appears on the surface to be lighter and more contemporary than in some of her other works.

I'm almost finished with the latest by Elizabeth Berg, called Home Safe.  This is a family relationships book of a sort too. I usually try to alternate themes, settings, etc. but it just worked out this way this time, I guess. But this is very American, set in Chicago -- a mom who's a writer and who has just lost her husband a year ago, an adult daughter with whom she's close but sometimes too close -- and a "dream house" her husband secretly had built for her in California. Like other Berg novels, it's light, funny, quickly readable, and enjoyable.

Next on the docket will be the collection Day out of Days, short stories by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright (and still a real "hunk") and actor Sam Shepard. I've read most of his plays and seen him in a number of films, but I haven't read his stories before and am looking forward to it. I don't read short stories as often as I do novels (major exception: Alice Munro -- would never miss anything she wrote), but I do like them. My trouble is that sometimes I have to read in bits and snatches and it's easier to pace with a novel ("at the end of this chapter, I'll stop and feed the cats") than with a story that you want to read to the end in one sitting.

I would love to know what you are reading right now. Please comment and recommend your favorite authors and books!


  1. Glad to hear you enjoyed Family Album - Penelope Lively is one of my current favourite authors. I'm glad she is so prolific so I still have more of her novels to read. I'm glad I came across your blog via Lively!

  2. ps - my goodness I am awfully 'glad' tonight. Yikes. ;)

  3. I' so "glad" you commented, Melwyk. Seriously though, it's always nice to find someone who likes the same writers you do. I started with Penelope Lively with her Booker Prizer winner Moon Tiger and went from there. The most recent ones before Family Album were Consequences and The Photograph, both excellent.