Tag Archives: Atria Books
The Roundup – Some Quick Looks at Books
Wife 22: A Novel by Melanie Gideon (Ballantine Books) – Gideon’s creative novel is an all-too-much-fun story of a mid-life crisis wife who elects to take part in a marriage survey, and then decides that she might have fallen in love with the researcher assigned to work with her. “Soon I’ll have to make a decision – one that will affect my family, my marriage, my whole life.” Will Wife 22 sacrifice everything for a man she’s never seen or spoken to (and only exchanged e-mail messages with)? This is a story with an ending that the reader will never see coming – unless that reader just happens to remember a certain quite clever hit song from the year 1980.
“…when did the real world become so empty? When everybody abandoned it for the Internet?” Wife 22 is a novel about current times, in which human beings communicate by each and every means except true personal, face-to-face communication.
Jack 1939: A Novel by Francine Mathews (Riverhead Books) – Mathews came up with a great premise in this fictional account of a young John F. Kennedy. President Franklin D. Roosevelt secretly recruits JFK to be his spy in Europe during the period preceding the outbreak of World War II. The engaging, charismatic personality of JFK is here, but the intelligence of the future world leader is missing in action.
Fairy Tale Interrupted: A Memoir of Life, Love and Loss by Rosemarie Terenzo (Gallery Books) – John F. Kennedy, Jr.’s former executive assistant tells us about what it was like to have the “dream job” of working for America’s Prince. It’s a fascinating account told by Terenzo, a young blue-collar Italian-American girl from the Bronx who became John’s scheduler and gatekeeper. The problem is that it feels like half a memoir; the deaths of John and his wife Carolyn Bessette in July of 1999 tragically interrupted the charged personal lives chronicled here. (Terenzo recalls that her final conversation with John was sadly banal.)
Discretion: A Novel by Allison Leotta (Touchstone) – Some readers will no doubt find this to be an exciting political-thriller about a young woman killed while visiting a U.S. Congressman’s hideaway office in the U.S. Capitol Building. But I was never able to suspend my disbelief in the main characters, especially the female protagonist, Assistant U.S. Attorney Anna Curtis. Curtis’s criminal investigation extends into the most sordid sexual aspects of the District of Columbia. It just seemed unnecessarily overblown.
The Distance Between Us: A Memoir by Reyna Grande (Atria Books) – This is a sad, yet moving and life affirming true story of three impoverished children in Mexico whose parents abandon them in order to escape to “El Otro Lado” (The Other Side, the United States). Overcoming many obstacles, the two sisters and their brother eventually find their way to Los Angeles, where they discover that their parents are living apart from each other. Despite such a horrendous upbringing, the siblings survive and Reyna goes on to both forgive her dying father and to graduate from the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC).
Review copies were provided by the publishers.
From This Moment On: An Autobiography by Shania Twain (Atria Books, $27.99, 448 pages; Audioworks/Simon & Schuster Audio, $29.99, 7 CDs)
An autobiography from a 45-year-old? Oh my, yes! Shania Twain has done enough living in her 45 years to put most everyone else in her age group into the category of slacker. Shania’s deep love of music and the comfort it has provided through a really hard life gives her the right to tell her story. Although she has received the accolades only dreamed about by singer/songwriters the world over, it is doubtful many of them have experienced the level of childhood deprivation and anxiety that motivates her career.
The version reviewed here is an audio book that is unique because the introduction and epilogue are recorded in Shania’s own voice. The text of the autobiography is read by Broadway actress and writer, Sherie Rene Scott. Scott’s voice resonates with the simple, straightforward attitude conveyed by Shania’s words. Most autobiographies are intended to provide the writer’s side of a story or an event of particular note. In this case, the narrative serves to inform the public that becoming a world-wide success in the music industry is a daunting task with serious downsides.
Ms. Twain, who began her singing career very early in life as Eilleen Twain, did so at the prompting of her mother. The family often did not have enough to eat or a secure roof over their heads. The tale is straight out of a mournful country song. Daddy and mommy are trapped in a cycle of poverty and spousal abuse, the children are forced to become self-indulgent at a very young age, and tragedy strikes just when Eileen thinks she has escaped the grip of her childhood.
There’s no need to dwell on the timeline or life events that serve as milestones. The internet has taken care of the particulars for anyone who can use Google. Rather, it is the one-on-one experience of hearing about Shania’s feelings of yearning and betrayal that are the payoff for a reader/listener. In some way, the audio book seems the best way to experience her life. True, there’s no checking back a few pages when a particular passage is noteworthy; however, enough of her wisdom comes across in the telling that the essence is clear and well experienced.
One curiosity of note is that the vocabulary and grammar in the book are well beyond the level of formal education that Shania received in her childhood. She states that when she was out on her own, she spent time writing songs and playing music while her roommates attended college. Perhaps Shania absorbed the tone of the more educated people around her. There’s no doubt that she has a great capacity to learn and benefit from her diligent efforts. That said, a thoughtful and sensitive editor no doubt assisted in making this a compelling read (or listen).
A copy of the audiobook was purchased by the reviewer’s husband. From This Moment On is also available as an Audible Audio, Kindle Edition, and Nook Book download.
History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life by Jill Bialosky (Atria Books, $24.00, 252 pages)
“The tragedy of suicide is that only in its aftermath does everything that came before suddenly seem important and clear.”
This is a memoir that expresses the author’s unimaginable grief over the loss of a sister and a daughter within three and one-half months, and it is primarily a tribute to her late sister Kim. Kim was just 21 when, after being dumped by her boyfriend, she killed herself by leaving her mother’s car running in the garage of the family home. The work is an attempt by Bialosky to understand the depths of her sister’s long-time depression, and any hereditary factors that may have entered into it (this is a family that experienced three suicides in three generations).
In her personal research, Bialosky found that Kim had been depressed at least since high school. At that time she wrote: “I wish I would get (a major illness) or something so I could just die. I don’t want to live anymore this way. It’s too unsatisfying… I need a way out. Please help!”
Bialosky also came to realize that her mother’s detachment from the realities of lie may have been a factor: “Perhaps my mother was able to sustain herself through her dark times by creating a hazy world of dreams and fantasies for a future in which everything would eventually work out.”
“I have private conversations with Kim on the beach. I am thinking about you, I say to her. Can you hear me?”
Despite her careful and caring research, Bialosky winds up being unable to pinpoint the exact nature of her sister’s inherent struggle with life and living. She comes to see that persons who have been affected by suicide are often twice victimized – first, by the unexpected (and often violent) death; second, by the stigma attached to the act. She cites as an example a young male in her neighborhood who was ostracized at school after his sister killed herself… Punishing one of the victims of the act thus turns into a type of psychological piling on; it’s no wonder that those who were closest to the person who committed suicide often feel lost – literally without direction – for long periods of time.
Bialosky comes to find a measure of recovery and balance in her life by attending a monthly suicide survivors support group: “…in the white room… sealed off from the cacophony of traffic on the avenue below us – …the litany of what ifs and why didn’t I and if only rings like a chorus of voices in a Greek tragedy… It seems to me that it isn’t as if they wanted to die but more that they wished to feel better and didn’t know how.”
The author’s sister Kim left a suicide note: “I know everyone loved me very much. Please don’t feel you could have helped. I am very happy now. All my love, K”
This all-too-sad memoir reminds us that the world holds “mystery and terror far beyond our grasp,” but also contains a great measure of forgiveness, acceptance and eternal love.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. Note: The reviewer worked as a volunteer suicide prevention counselor, and was taught that (as a counselor): “You never lose someone and you never save someone.” Mystery and terror, indeed.