Thursday, October 14, 2021

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Apples Never Fall
by Liane Moriarty
Published September 2021 by Holt, Henry and Company, Inc.
480 pages
Source: check out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
The Delaney family love one another dearly—it’s just that sometimes they want to murder each other . . .

If your mother was missing, would you tell the police? Even if the most obvious suspect was your father?

This is the dilemma facing the four grown Delaney siblings.

The Delaneys are fixtures in their community. The parents, Stan and Joy, are the envy of all of their friends. They’re killers on the tennis court, and off it their chemistry is palpable. But after fifty years of marriage, they’ve finally sold their famed tennis academy and are ready to start what should be the golden years of their lives. So why are Stan and Joy so miserable?

The four Delaney children—Amy, Logan, Troy, and Brooke—were tennis stars in their own right, yet as their father will tell you, none of them had what it took to go all the way. But that’s okay, now that they’re all successful grown-ups and there is the wonderful possibility of grandchildren on the horizon.

One night a stranger named Savannah knocks on Stan and Joy’s door, bleeding after a fight with her boyfriend. The Delaneys are more than happy to give her the small kindness she sorely needs. If only that was all she wanted.

Later, when Joy goes missing, and Savannah is nowhere to be found, the police question the one person who remains: Stan. But for someone who claims to be innocent, he, like many spouses, seems to have a lot to hide. Two of the Delaney children think their father is innocent, two are not so sure—but as the two sides square off against each other in perhaps their biggest match ever, all of the Delaneys will start to reexamine their shared family history in a very new light.

My Thoughts:
Publisher's Weekly calls this book a psychological thriller and I suppose it is. Which actually comes as something of a surprise to me, even though Moriarty keeps readers in suspense as to what happened to Joy Delaney. Even though she gradually reveals truths about the Delaneys and their home that begin to point to nefarious activity and an obvious suspect. 

Having read Moriarty before, though, I just knew that the obvious suspect wasn't the suspect, even as an arrest was about to be made. Because having read Moriarty before, I've come to see a pattern in her books and (I suppose this is true of any even remotely decent thriller) the obvious suspect won't be guilty but the guilty party will definitely be someone who's been around all along. Moriarty will skewer suburban life. Check. She'll load her book with gossip as a means of delivering the truth. Check. She'll give us perfectly ordinary families who aren't so perfect after all. Check. All of those elements are in this book. 

This book as an extra element - that stranger who shows up on the Delaneys' doorstep and, in so doing, begins to unravel the truths about the Delaneys and their relationships. 

Those truths? Those I really enjoyed, the way small cracks began to appear in the facade of a happy family. The way parental expectations can both shape and undo a child. The way those same expectations can undo a marriage. I enjoyed seeing these sibling struggle with how to or whether to support a father who they believe has, maybe, killed their mother. 

But that stranger? I have very mixed feelings about that stranger and how she came to ensconce herself in Stan's and Joy's home and their lives. Moriarty's written nine books now and been successful enough that I can't help but wonder if she's not allowed more leniency with the final product than a newer writer might be given. Would an editor advised a less successful writer to cut back on the stranger's story? It's just a little...too much. 

Still, I raced through this book once I got into it. There were plenty of surprises, I liked the way Moriarty used neighbors and friends and the people who provide services for the Delaneys to drop snippets of gossip; but are those snippets the truth or merely a sliver of the full picture? And as much as I thought there was too much of that stranger, I did like that she was multi-dimensional. Oh yeah, the tennis; I liked the tennis. Even though I'm not a tennis player or a particular fan of the sport I liked the way Moriarty used it to develop her characters and her story. 

Fan of Moriarty's won't be disappointed. I wasn't. I just think it could have been just that much better. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Harlem Shuffle
by Colson Whitehead
Published September 2021 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
336 pages

Publisher's Summary:
"Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked..." To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably priced furniture, making a decent life for himself and his family. He and his wife Elizabeth are expecting their second child, and if her parents on Striver's Row don't approve of him or their cramped apartment across from the subway tracks, it's still home.

Few people know he descends from a line of uptown hoods and crooks, and that his fa├žade of normalcy has more than a few cracks in it. Cracks that are getting bigger all the time.

Cash is tight, especially with all those installment-plan sofas, so if his cousin Freddie occasionally drops off the odd ring or necklace, Ray doesn't ask where it comes from. He knows a discreet jeweler downtown who doesn't ask questions, either.

Then Freddie falls in with a crew who plan to rob the Hotel Theresa—the "Waldorf of Harlem"—and volunteers Ray's services as the fence. The heist doesn't go as planned; they rarely do. Now Ray has a new clientele, one made up of shady cops, vicious local gangsters, two-bit pornographers, and other assorted Harlem lowlifes.

Thus begins the internal tussle between Ray the striver and Ray the crook. As Ray navigates this double life, he begins to see who actually pulls the strings in Harlem. Can Ray avoid getting killed, save his cousin, and grab his share of the big score, all while maintaining his reputation as the go-to source for all your quality home furniture needs?

My Thoughts:
Colson Whitehead is one of the best writers out there right now. Two Puliter Prizes say I'm not alone in believing this to be true. Which means that expectations are high for any book he writes. This is the third of his books that I've read and I've been wow'd by every one of them. 

Is this one a crime thriller? The story of a family? An homage to 1960's Harlem? Yes, yes, and yes. And every one of those elements is marvelous. 

"Living taught you,’ Ray believes, ‘that you didn't have to live the way you'd been taught." Sort of, anyway. Ray's father was the kind of criminal that people are still talking about long after his death. Ray is not that man. But Ray also wants a better life for his family - a home that will get his in-laws off his back, room for his children to have space to grow, a view out the windows and no elevated rail outside his building. So if he has to bend a few rules to make that happen, he's ok with that, as long as it's done quietly. You can't help but like Ray. Life's been hard he only wants what every man wants for his family. 

“Crooked world, straight world, same rules,” Ray thinks. “Everybody had a hand out for the envelope.”

When he tries to move up in the world in a more above board way, Ray learns a lesson about the morals of the men he thought were the cream of the neighborhood that doesn't sit well with him. Then Freddie, who has been getting Ray into trouble since they were little boys, really brings the heat down on him. Between Ray wanting revenge and trouble Freddie brings to Ray's door, things get really tense and dark.

It was as hard to read as The Underground Railroad or as heartbreaking as The Nickel Boys, but it is, once again, a reminder for white readers that life for black people has always been just that much harder. That the system is set up against black people and poor people. That there is corruption around every corner. 

You can take those lessons from this book. Or you can just enjoy is as a crime thriller. Or a book about a family's struggles to rise above poverty and their past. Or one of those rare books where the setting plays as big a role as the characters and the action. I liked it for all of those reason. 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Happy Sunday from a very tired me! As it gets darker earlier, my body keeps thinking that it's bed time by the time it's been dark for a couple of house and I'm on the struggle bus to stay awake after 8 p.m.! 

We made a quick trip to Kansas City this weekend for a surprise birthday party for Miss H's roomie. First stop was City Market because I needed to go spice shopping and to pick up some flowers for the birthday girl and we needed some lunch. Then it was off to visit the roomie's (relatively) new storefront, Whiskey + Bone. If you live in K.C., especially in the Leawood area, you should definitely check it out! We spent the night with The Big Guy's niece and her family so we got to catch up with them. And, of course, there was the birthday dinner. It was a bit of a whirlwind, and we didn't actually get to see much of Miss H, but it was fun to get out of town. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: Patrick Raddon Keefe's latest, Empire of Pain. I can't say I thought much of wealthy people, big pharma, or big business to begin with and this book is definitely confirming all of my opinions. 

Watched: The usual. 

Read: I finished Liane Moriarty's Apples Never Fall and started Miriam Towes' A Complicated Kindness for book club next week. 

Made: Steak salad, nachos, caprese pasta - as long as the temperatures stay warm, summer meals will continue. 

Enjoyed: See above! Plus dinner with a friend I haven't seen in several years one night and happy hour with friends on their deck another night. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On transplanting some perennials. 

Thinking About: The friend I had dinner the other night has cancer and her treatment is just buying her time. I'm heartbroken for her and trying to think of ways to make life easier for her and to bring happiness to her life. 

Feeling: Happy. We enjoyed our trip and also managed to get a lot done around the yard while we were home. It was a good weekend. 

Looking forward to: We have some fun plans for next weekend but I can't tell you about them just yet. 

Question of the week: We both enjoy a quick weekend trip to recharge our batteries. Do you? 

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Any Dumb Animal by A. E. Hines

Any Dumb Animal
by A. E. Hines
Published November 2021 by Main Street Rag
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and Poetic Book Tours

Publisher's Summary:
Any Dumb Animal (Main Street Rag, 2021), the debut poetry collection by AE Hines, presents a memoir-in-verse as told by a gay man raised in the rural South who comes of age during the AIDS crisis. Flashing back and forth in time, a cast of recurring characters and circumstances are woven into a rich tale of survival and redemption, exploring one man's life as a queer son, father, and husband, over a span of more than thirty years.

My Thoughts: 
A few weeks ago, I posted that a group of anonymous donors would match, dollar for dollar, each pre-sale of this collection of poetry and donate it to The Trevor Project. Having read the publisher's summary for this collection, I thought I knew the reason why. I only knew half of it. 

Perhaps A. E. Hines never attempted suicide. Perhaps he never contemplated it. I don't know that. What I can tell you, after reading this collection that is a memoir of Hines' life, is that it would have been perfectly understandable had he contemplated it. There has been so much pain in his life, so much unrelenting pain and it is so very palpable in this collection. 

The collection opens with a poem, "Phone Call," about a drunken call to tell his father that he hates him and that his only son is gay "like it's some kind of punishment." His father responds "I blame myself...Wasn't hard enough on you. I failed." Trust me when I tell you that is simply not true. In "How We Learn," we learn that Hines' father, understanding his fear of water, "became fond of tossing me into the deep end of pools..." and told Hines that "any dumb animal can learn." 
"Childhood was all about drowning: 
first in the ocean, a few year later
in the river named Fear.
I was too young to understand 
this would be a metaphor for my life."
Early on Hines' learns that his entire family can "only love a man down on his knees." They seem determined to keep him there and Hines' seems to have, for many years, been determined to do that as well. He made poor choices in men, including a spouse who was every bit as abusive as the father who had taught Hines that he deserved nothing better. 

Hines takes readers through the end of his marriage and his divorce; through being a parent, through committing his mother to an asylum; to surviving the AIDS epidemic and then CoVid; and finally, at last, learning to swim in all of the ways that counts. 

As you know, I don't read a lot of poetry, although I'm not sure why not. It is, perhaps, the easiest way to see inside of a person, to feel their pain and their joy. What I've read in the past few years has felt incredibly honest. This collection is the most raw, most heartbreaking, most honest collection I think I've ever read. But it's a tough read and it perhaps explains why I don't pick up more poetry. When it is this emotionally draining, it takes time to recover. 

Thanks to Serena, and Poetic Book Tours for including me on the tour for this collection. For other opinions, check out the full tour here

About the Author: 
AE Hines (he/him) grew up in rural North Carolina and currently resides in Portland, Oregon. His poetry has been widely published in anthologies and literary journals including I-70 Review, Sycamore Review, Tar River Poetry, Potomac Review, Atlanta Review, Crosswinds Poetry Journal and Crab Creek Review. He is winner of the Red Wheelbarrow Prize and has been a finalist for the Montreal International Poetry Prize. He is currently pursuing his MFA in Writing at Pacific University. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.