Monthly Archives: April 2012


By Barbara Delinsky

(Knopf Doubleday, $25.95, 320 pages) 

Who is this author?

Barbara Delinsky has published a raft of best-selling books about marriage, parenthood and friendship. But while her name may be familiar, you probably did not know that it is not the one she was born with, which is Ruth Greenberg. Or that she also has written under the pseudonyms Bonnie Drake and Billie Douglass. Or that she lives in Newton, Mass., lost her mother to cancer and is a cancer survivor herself, is a kayaker and was once a newspaper photographer and writer.

Not that those things matter: what you really need to know is that Delinsky made the difficult jump from a writer of mass-market romance novels to an admired author of what Barnes & Noble calls “hardcover escapist fiction,”  books that appeals to women but never condescend to  readers, presenting complex plots and characters that hold their attention.

What is this book about?

“Escape” gives you the main point of its plot in its title. In it, Delinsky offers escapist fiction about a woman who actually does flee her overly busy, underly satisfying life – an impulsive move that just might reflect a fantasy of many of her readers.

Emily, a lawyer married to another lawyer, is drowning in details, obligations and work demands. Her husband, whom she loves dearly but sees too rarely, is similarly overwhelmed. One day, she just snaps, and takes off for a seaside New Hampshire town, Bell Valley, where, a decade earlier, she had found happiness, until her boyfriend, who was her best friend’s brother, dumped her. She has fence-mending to do with her ex-friend, and would you be surprised to learn that her former lover is back in town? Meanwhile, Emily’s husband is not giving up on her, and a legal case in Bell Valley has re-energized her lawyerly talents.

Why you’ll like it:

You could dismiss this as a mere “beach book,” but it has more going for it, such as interesting characters and a plot based on their relationships. Delinsky “gets” women and their concerns, and she is not afraid to explore a taboo subject: the secret desire some women have to just chuck it all and begin over. You might never act on such a fantasy, but it’s fascinating to read a story that shows what you might gain – and lose – if you were to do it. 

What others are saying:

“Best-selling author Delinsky’s… novel features a scenario many readers likely fantasize about, but it also has a protagonist whose actions may induce mixed feelings. While Emily puts her happiness first and escapes the life she no longer wants, her selfishness affects others, especially her husband. Ultimately, this thought-provoking book will be popular summer reading.” says Library Journal.

“Delinsky nails it in her trademark latest, a captivating and moving story about a woman who’s had enough of her life and wants a fresh start… Delinsky keeps the story moving with some nice twists on a familiar plot, rich characterizations, and real-feeling dilemmas that will keep readers hooked,” says Publishers Weekly.

“A soul-tugging romance by a proven master of the craft,” says a  Barnes & Noble review.

When is it available?

You can escape into the world of “Escape” now. Copies are available at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and Albany, Blue Hills, Camp Field, Dwight, Park and Ropkins branches.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Oh. Oh. Back up. You’ll love this. When I was in high school, I was kicked out of Honors English because I couldn’t keep up! No, I never did go back to gloat. The truth is that though I came from a family of lawyers and never dreamed of publishing books, I did learn the basics of writing in high school, and, yeah, that skill has come in handy, too. 

Following graduate school, I worked as a researcher with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and as a photographer and reporter for the Belmont Herald. I did the newspaper work after my first son was born. Since I was heavily into taking pictures of him, I worked for the paper to support that habit. Initially, I wrote only in a secondary capacity, to provide copy for the pictures I took. In time, I realized that I was better at writing than photography. I used both skills doing volunteer work for hospital groups, and have served on the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and on the MGH’s Women’s Cancer Advisory Board. 

I became an actual writer by fluke. My twins were four when, by chance, I happened on a newspaper article profiling three female writers. Intrigued, I spent three months researching, plotting, and writing my own book – and it sold. 

My niche? I write about the emotional crises that we face in our lives. Readers identify with my characters. They know them. They are them. I’m an everyday woman writing about everyday people facing not-so-everyday challenges. 

My novels are character-driven studies of marriage, parenthood, sibling rivalry, and friendship, and I’ve been blessed in having readers who buy them eagerly enough to put them on the major bestseller lists. Family Tree was published in 2007, The Secret Between Us in 2008, While My Sister Sleeps in 2009, and Not My Daughter in 2010. My latest, Escape, is a 2011 publication.


By Joseph Olshan

(Minotaur, $24.99, 304 pages)

Who is this author?

Joseph Olshan, who divides his time between Vermont and Cambridge, Mass., has written 10 novels and has garnered awards for his work. His first novel, “Clara’s Heart” won the Times/Jonathan Cape Young Writers’ Competition and was adapted for a feature film starring Whoopi Goldberg as the Jamaican housekeeper who befriends the lonely young boy in her charge.

He’s also been a contributor to the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine,, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, the New York Observer, Harper’s Bazaar, People magazine and Entertainment Weekly and wrote book reviews for the Wall Street Journal during the 1990s.  Olshan also has been a professor of Creative Writing at New York University. His other novels include “Nightswimmer” and “Vanitas.”

With “Cloudland,” he moves from writing literary fiction to crime fiction, but brings his descriptive talents with him.

What is this book about?

Set in Vermont’s rural upper Connecticut River valley region, generally a safe place for its well-off and working-class residents alike, “Cloudland” tells what happens when a serial killer disrupts the peace and quiet, murdering young women by strangling or stabbing them and leaving not a trace of his identity.

It’s a book based on true events. Olshan became the friend of a woman who found one of the six victims and was haunted by its horror.

In the book, he tells the story through Catherine, a divorced former journalist and teacher whose life is a mess: she lost her teaching job for having an affair with a student, her daughter won’t talk to her, she lives with her dogs and pot-bellied pig. Now a household hints columnist and teacher of writing for jailed prisoners, she sets out for a walk and sees a woman sitting under an apple tree. Except the woman is not enjoying the afternoon sunshine: she’s dead.

Catherine can’t resist getting caught up in the investigation, which also involves a neighbor who is a forensic psychologist.  And she realizes that details of the case reflect the classic Wilkie Collins novel, “The Moonstone.”  Worse, she thinks the killer may be someone she knows – and that she might be his next victim. Meanwhile, her younger forbidden lover has shown up, giving Catherine another puzzle to resolve.

Why you’ll like it:

Olshan spins an intriguing tale here, mixing the hunt for a killer, the complexities of a troubled woman’s life and echoes of the Collins book that many consider to be the first mystery novel. This multi-level plot will keep you hooked.

What others are saying:

Kirkus Reviews says: “In this refreshingly cliché-free serial-killer tale, Olshan tries his hand with a female narrator/heroine, whom he handles just as deftly as his sensitive male heroes (“The Conversion,” 2008, etc.). Although all these chilly, hurting souls are well worth your time, the real keeper is Catherine, still grieving the death of the husband she’d divorced and the loss of the younger lover she’d pushed away. ….Even as you wonder who the killer will turn out to be, you’ll worry mainly about how she’s going to come through all this.”

“Unlike the more common, adrenaline-fueled serial-killer thrillers, this is literary, character-driven fiction with remarkable empathy not only for those whom murder leaves behind but also for the perpetrator. Another fine performance from a critically acclaimed author,” says Booklist.

 “Rarely do you find a story with characters so fully developed that you feel as if they might live next door. Conjuring a distinctly 19th-century atmosphere, Olshan excels at crafting a Dickensian literary piece, but the amount of detail may put off some readers expecting more action. Wilkie Collins fans, on the other hand, will be delighted by the role of the author of “The Moonstone” in this plot,” says Library Journal.

“Joseph Olshan’s latest novel, “Cloudland,” captures a neglected part of the Northeast with verve and accuracy. The rural places of Vermont — away from the ski condos and golf courses which lure the high-end city folks from Boston and New York — where head in the heavens college professors and dirt-stained farmers mingle on lands that seem barely settled is the setting for a story about savage murder, about misshapen love and about the emotional debts that are carried inside us all. While ostensibly a tale about serial killings in this isolated part of the nation, it probes deeper into the darker and more complex realms of the heart. It is a thriller in the widest sense of the word — where not only does the reader wonder what happens next, they wonder why it will happen. Written in consistently elegant prose, with memorable psychological acuity, “Cloudland” is both exciting and compelling and will keep readers turning pages energetically,” says bestselling author John Katzenbach.

When is it available?

You can borrow it now from the Downtown Hartford Public Library or the Blue Hills Branch.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World

By Eve Ensler

(Random House, $13, 192 pages)

Who is this author?

Eve Ensler’s name may not be immediately familiar to you, but I’ll bet the title of her internationally performed and powerfully provocative play, “The Vagina Monologues” is.

Ensler, who lives in New York and Paris, is a bestselling author and a playwright whose works also include “Necessary Targets” and “The Good Body.” She has also written a political memoir, “Insecure at Last,” and she founded V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls, which has raised more than $70 million for grassroots groups dedicated to doing just that around the world.

The Hartford Public Library selected “I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World” to be its One Book One Hartford choice this spring, and is now offering an intriguing program of book discussions, forums, readings, films, art exhibits and more at the Downtown Library and all its neighborhood branch libraries, culminating in a free talk by Ensler at the Downtown Library on May 6 at 4 p.m., followed by a ticketed appearance presented by the Mark Twain House &Museum Center, Harriet Beecher Stowe Center and World Affairs Council that day at 7:30 p.m. at Cheney Hall in Manchester ($45 and $75).

Information on library One Book events: 860-695-6096

Information on the Cheney Hall event: 860-647-9824 or

What is this book about?

The book is a collection of fictional monologues, poems, blog entries, conversations and stories inspired by girls the world over.  Ensler based the pieces in this book on actual conversations she had with young women in many countries. They speak out and up about problems they face, from something as seemingly trivial as wearing the wrong color boots (and paying an outsized social price for not fitting in) to coping with sex slavery. Just as “The Vagina Monologues” aimed at empowering women about their bodies and sexuality, this book’s goal is to give legitimacy to the feelings, thoughts and problems of teenage girls.

Why you’ll like it:

Ensler brings the skills of a dramatist to her book, employing vivid and compelling voices to express the concerns she heard about in her many discussions with young women. The book opens a door to their world, and while some may find disturbing things there, reading it is a valuable experience.

What others are saying:

“The collection shines when dealing with more serious material (arranged marriages, genital mutilation), but those powerful pieces unintentionally overshadow the more common concerns of girls struggling to fit in or cope with the popular crowd. As such, the average American teenager should gain a good bit of perspective…” says Publishers Weekly.

“Written in the same format as her watershed work, “The Vagina Monologues” (1998), Ensler’s latest mélange of dramatic voices continues the mission of her philanthropic organization, V-Day, to stop violence against women. Published for adults but aimed straight at young adults, this volume provides a searing look at the inner lives of young females today in entries that explore sex, violence, love, body image, materialism, identity, family, friends, and the future,” says Booklist.

“ ‘I am an Emotional Creature’ is a collection of writings – including monologues, dialogues, poems, and stories – that paint a picture of what it is like to be a teenage girl in contemporary society. Ensler writes from the perspective of a wide variety of girls dealing with vastly different issues, from the girl living in an American suburb suffering from anorexia to a Chinese factory worker who works twelve-hour days to make the heads of Barbie dolls. The common thread amongst all of these characters is the unique balancing act of pleasing others and pleasing one’s self that is characteristic of being a teenage girl,” says a female reviewer on Goodreads.

“As a male, it was hard to read Ensler’s work without going through stages of denial, guilt, recognition and solidarity with women. As the acclaimed author of “The Vagina Monologues,” Ensler has been recognized as a pioneer. In this work, she enters territory that has been explored but mines it more deeply…. Yes, the work is written for girls, but it could also deepen the insights of boys,” says a male Goodreads reviewer.

When is it available?

It is available now at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its branches.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

The Expats: A Novel

By Chris Pavone

(Crown, $26, 326 pages)

Who is this author?

Chris Pavone had a 20-year career as an editor. “book doctor” and writer – but a lot of it was of the ghost-writing variety. He edited “The Wine Log” and such cookbooks as Giada De Laurentis’ “Everyday Italian.” Then his wife got a job offer she couldn’t refuse in Luxembourg, of all places, and off the Pavones went, two kids in tow. There, Chris became a European Mr. Mom, hanging out with expatriated moms, all of whom had left interesting lives behind, as he had. Noticing that, he began to muse about what those lives might have been like. In no time, he had cooked up his first novel, “The Ex-Pats,” which went on to spark some of the best book buzz of 2012.

 What is this book about?

It’s a spy fiction thriller, but unlike the popular espionage novels by Graham Greene, John Le Carre and Robert Ludlum, this one has a female protagonist, and she is a struggling working mom, balancing the demands of career, kids and marriage. Then Kate Moore’s husband gets a job offer he can’t refuse in Luxembourg, of all places, and off the Moores go, two kids in tow. (Pavone was following that old saw: Write what you know.”

But there is something else in the balance, and that is Kate’s very secret double life as a CIA operative for 15 years, something even her husband didn’t know about. Moving to Luxembourg offers a chance to start over, which Kate embraces, learning a new language and becoming a dutiful housewife – but she finds her husband is growing oddly distant. Then another American couple arrives and Kate becomes suspicious that they too are hiding deep secrets. She begins to dig into them and finds herself in a dangerous place, uncovering a “long con” that threatens to destroy all she holds dear.

Why you’ll like it:

Who doesn’t like a good puzzle — especially one with clever twists that keep readers on the edge of their chairs? Pavone is getting raves for the plot of “The Ex-Pats” and for how deftly he handles the complex intrigues his characters spin. If you like a spy story that keeps you guessing right up to the end, check this book out (in both senses of that phrase.)

What others are saying:

Says The New York Times: “Sly. . . . Pavone strengthens this book with a string of head-spinning revelations in its last pages. . . . The tireless scheming of all four principals truly exceeds all sane expectations.”

“Brilliant, insanely clever, and delectably readable,” says Library Journal in a starred review.

“Meticulously plotted, psychologically complex. . . . The sheer amount of bombshell plot twists are nothing short of extraordinary, but it’s Pavone’s portrayal of Kate and her quest to find meaning in her charade of an existence that makes this book such a powerful read,” says Publishers Weekly in its starred review.

Says the San Francisco Bay Guardian: “Hard to put down. . . . ‘The Expats’ is as much a novel about a woman trying to balance a job, a husband and kids as it is a spy thriller. . . . It works.”

When is it available?

“The Expats” is hiding in plain sight on the shelves of the Downtown Hartford Public Library and the Mark Twain Branch.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

The Great Northern Express: A Writer’s Journey Home

By Howard Frank Mosher

(Crown, $25, 256 pages)

Who is this author?

Devotees of fiction set in New England are familiar with bestselling author Howard Frank Mosher, who has written 10 novels, including “A Stranger in the Kingdom,” which won a New England Book Award for fiction and was adapted for a film, as were “Disappearances” and “Where the Rivers Flow North.”

 His “On Kingdom Mountain,” the story of an eccentric, savvy Vermonter who makes exquisite bird carvings, falls in love with a dashing pilot and won’t be moved off her family place, would have made a terrific vehicle for Katherine Hepburn at her prime. Mosher has won a New England Independent Booksellers Association’s President’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts and a Literature Award from  the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  He has also written two memoirs.

What is this book about?

“The Great Northern Express” was inspired by bad news, but it is good news for readers. Just shy of 65, Mosher was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent 46 radiation treatments. Undaunted, he followed that up with a coast-to-coast “Great American Book Tour” and road trip in his 20-year-old Chevy (which had 280,000 miles on the odometer and was dubbed the “Loser Cruiser”) to explore America while he still could. He encountered an angry moose, homeless hitchhikers, country singers, exotic dancers and would-be writers, among many others, in his travels.

Why you’ll like it:

Mosher has mastered  the art of vivid description and has an unerring eye for the quirkiness of ordinary life. This book can be read as a travelogue, a memoir or a wise analysis of current life in these United States. Its 65 short chapters celebrate such things as America’s independent bookstores (long may they live) and swing back and forth from what Mosher recalls about his past and what he sees – and feels – in the present. Written with humor and sweetness, this is a captivating book.

What others are saying:

Says Publishers Weekly: “Mosher colorfully weaves stories about his teaching in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont with his misadventures in the Loser Cruiser, cheap hotels, and at readings and book signings to create a brilliantly vibrant quilt that covers us with his warmth, humor, and love of discovery, reading, and writing. …With vivacious humor, Mosher carries readers along on this adventure that offers him a chance to gain a fresh perspective on what he loves enough to live for.”

“Rather than presenting a linear career story, he refreshingly alternates chapters between past and present. With equal aplomb, Mosher also looks back at challenges such as moving a piano, raucous motel patrons, rest-stop brawlers, limited audiences that included only the staff that organized the event and being mistaken for homeless….Mosher provides a genial reminder that adventures are possible at any age. One man’s appreciation for curious experiences, portrayed with self-effacing wit; best suited for fans of the author’s work,” says Kirkus Reviews.

“Hilarious, poignant, and honest, this bittersweet memoir is a sheer delight to read,” says Booklist.

When is it available?

The Hartford Public Library expected the book to arrive yesterday.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

The Gilly Salt Sisters

By Tiffany Baker

(Grand Central, $24.99, 372 paes)

Who is this author?

Tiffany Baker hit the debut jackpot in 2009 with her novel, “The Little Giant of Aberdeen County,” which I described in my Hartford Courant review as being an Alice Hoffman-ish tale about “a very large woman with special powers, a very small but wizardly gardener and a very quiet woman who kept a fateful secret.” The book got enthusiastic reviews and became a best-seller.

Now Baker, who has a Ph. D in Victorian Literature and lives in San Francisco with her husband and children, is back. Her second novel, “The Gilly Salt Sisters,” also is garnering good reviews and no doubt will please her old fans and make her some new ones.

What is this book about?

This West Coast author turns to the East Coast in her new novel, which is set in a fictitious small town on Cape Cod. Here on Salt Creek farm live two very different sisters, one of dark temperament and one of light: quiet and secretive Jo, who is devoted to the practical but sometimes mystical workings of the farm, and Claire, who has the advantages of being beautiful and popular and doesn’t want to spend her life trapped in a salt marsh.  The farm itself proves to have a dark – you might say, unsavory — history that entangles the sisters, whom the townspeople fear just might be witches. (Townspeople can be like that, you know.)

Things get even more complicated when the town’s Prince Charming, wealthy Whit Turner, falls first for Jo, but winds up with Claire, who becomes estranged from the family for many years. When circumstances force her back to the farm, the past rises up in a swirl of new and old connections and controversies, and the sisters must confront each other and probe the secrets of the mysterious salt, and by so doing change their lives.

Why you’ll like it:

Baker serves up a tale seasoned with plenty of magical realism, a la Hoffman, but her characters come across as real people. “The Giant” proved she has the ability to blend dark humor with a poignant love story, and this novel promises the same delicious blend. It opens with the Gilly sisters tossing a handful of salt into the annual town bonfire and watching for the color that will prophecy what kind of fortune, good or ill, awaits the town that year: blue for prosperity, red for love, yellow for change or black for something dreadful on the way.  (No wonder there are rumors of witchery!) How this divination plays out will keep readers interested.

What others are saying:

“A heartfelt tale of family relationships, small-town drama, and new opportunities. Jo and Claire are well-drawn, finely crafted characters, and Baker adeptly describes the fractious and multilayered relationship the sisters have with one another. The imagery of Cape Cod is gorgeously rendered, leaving the reader with a fully immersive picture of the insular village. Loyal readers of Anita Shreve, Maeve Binchy, and Alice Hoffman should enjoy this poignant, lush, and well-written tale of family secrets, revenge, forgiveness, and connections not easily severed,” says Booklist.

“Fans of Baker’s acclaimed “The Little Giant of Aberdeen County” won’t be disappointed with this quirky, complex, and original tale. It is also sure to enchant readers who enjoy Alice Hoffman and other authors of magical realism.” (Nancy Fontaine, Library Journal )

“Tiffany Baker’s novel has grit and polish and some salt of its own. It’s a beautifully written tale about the resourceful and determined connection of women. The Gilly Salt sisters are a brackish bunch — definitely my kind of people,” says Brunonia Barry, author of “The Lace Reader” and “The Map of True Places.”

When is it available?

It’s salted away on the shelves of the Downtown Hartford Public Library and at the Mark Twain branch library.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

The Street Sweeper

By Elliott Perlman

(Riverhead, $28.95, 640 pages)

Who is this author?

What kind of national background does it take for an author to produce a much-applauded novel that entwines the Holocaust with the civil rights movement? In this case, the answer is – surprisingly — Australian. Elliott Perlman, soon to be 48, is of Jewish Eastern European descent and a second-generation Aussie. He studied law there and worked as a judge’s assistant, but turned to writing in the 1990s. He has since written three novels and a story collection, among them “The Reasons I Won’t Be Coming” and “Seven Types of Ambiguity,” and has won prizes for his literary efforts.

What is this book about?

“The Street Sweeper” is about two of the greatest examples of man’s inhumanity to man in our lifetime: the ongoing prejudice against African Americans and the unfathomable  evil of the Nazi-led Holocaust. Perlman tackles these historical horrors by focusing his story on a few contemporary characters: Lamont, a black ex-convict who works as a janitor in the Sloane Kettering Cancer Center in New York and becomes the unlikely friend of a dying Polish man who is an Auschwitz survivor; and Adam, an Australian-Jewish Columbia University professor who revitalizes his flagging career when he researches whether African American soldiers helped to liberate the Dachau concentration camp.

Lamont becomes a shocked and sympathetic listener to the old man’s grim memories and is bequeathed a menorah when he dies. But he is accused of stealing it and is fired, and the two main threads of the novel intertwine when Adam helps him prove his innocence.

Why you’ll like it:

Some may feel that the Holocaust has been so deeply mined for novel after novel, film after film, that there is nothing left to be said about it. Perlman proves them wrong.  By juxtaposing the struggle of black people for respect and equality with the suffering of the victims of profound Nazi cruelty, he explores both the depths of depravity and the un-killable resilience of the human spirit.

While the story is paramount here, Perlman also possesses a very lyrical and readable style. Here, for example, is a short excerpt from the book’s opening:

“Memory is a willful dog. It won’t be summoned or dismissed but it cannot survive without you. It can sustain you or feed on you. It visits when it is hungry, not when you are. It has a schedule all its own that you can never know. It can capture you, corner you or liberate you. It can leave you howling and it can make you smile.”

Pretty impressive, I’d say.

What others are saying:

Says Publishers Weekly: “At the heart of Perlman’s long, labyrinthine, but rewarding novel are two narratives: a Polish Jew tells the tale of his ordeal in a Nazi death camp to a black American ex-con while evidence of black American soldiers liberating a concentration camp is unearthed by an Australian-Jewish history professor. That these stories cleverly mirror one another is one of the many strengths of Perlman’s (Seven Types of Ambiguity) latest saga… . Other related characters weave in and out, the coincidences of their intersections fraught with tantalizing meaning. Perlman deftly navigates these complicated waters, moving back and forth in time without having to take narrative responsibility for the course of history. In so doing, he brilliantly makes personal both the Holocaust and the civil rights movement, and crafts a moving and literate page-turner.”

 “In the best kind of books, there is always that moment when the words on the page swallow the world outside — subway stations fly by, errands go un-run, rational bedtimes are abandoned — and the only goal is to gobble up the next paragraph, and the next, and the next… A towering achievement: a strikingly modern literary novel that brings the ugliest moments of 20th-century history to life, and finds real beauty there,”  says Entertainment Weekly.

“This is not a flawless work, as its very size and complexity can diffuse the power of its message. It is nonetheless important—so ambitious that its contents can only be hinted at in a summary. Perlman has done a valuable service by updating our understanding of history and making it resonate in a work of fiction,” says Library Journal.

When is it available?

You can find it at the Downtown and Mark Twain branches of the Hartford Public Library.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

First You Try Everything

By Jane McCafferty

(HarperCollins, $24.99, 288 pages)

Who is this author?

Stewart O’Nan’s not the only interesting writer from Pittsburgh. Meet Jane McCafferty, an associate professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University, whose new novel is “First You Try Everything,” but might have been titled “What We Do for Love.”

She’s also the author of the novel “One Heart” and two story collections, “Thank You for the Music” and “Director of the World and Other Stories,” which won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize. Her other honors include an NEA Award, the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s New Writers Award and Pushcart Prizes for her fiction and non-fiction.

What is this book about?

“First You Try Everything” is the frequently amusing yet often sad story of what happens when one member of an intense, “you and me against the world” kind of couple begins to grow distant, bored and, some would say, up, while the other desperately wants to keep things just the way they are and always have been.

Ben and Evvie have been together since college: running a food truck, eating vegan, sharing a passion for music, championing the rights of animals and generally taking the offbeat path through life. Part of their closeness as a married couple comes from each having suffered a terrible childhood. But Ben, unexpectedly discovering a hankering for a more conventional life, takes a job that requires wearing a suit and  moves out  – and then in, with another woman.

Evvie is dumbstruck, devastated and determined to get him back, at any cost. Always kind of ditzy, in a way Ben once found charming, she rapidly becomes seriously disturbed and hatches a very ill-considered plot that she thinks will bring her one true love back to her. But you know what they say about best-laid plans.

Why you’ll like it:

This is a story of what it feels like to lose the kind of love you thought would last forever, and what that kind of loss can do to someone who is emotionally fragile to begin with. While most readers would not go to the lengths that Evvie does, they will be able to relate to the desperation that drives her. 

Here’s what McCafferty told a Carnegie Mellon interviewer about why she wrote the book:

“I wanted to study heartbreak, and how the grief of heartbreak can feel like a form of madness. I was also interested in exploring how two point of view characters can amplify and contradict each other’s stories.”

So she tells her story through both Evvie and Ben, a counterpoint that reveals their increasingly different perspectives on the same situations. And though it becomes clear that Evvie has become delusional, by putting the readers inside her world of hurt, McCafferty gives her illogical behavior a kind of crazy logic of its own.

What others are saying:

“[A] deeply moving portrait of the dissolution of a marriage . . . [with] heartrending scenes illuminating the pain of separation, both for the one leaving and the one left,” says Booklist.

“[An] evocative read. . . . A gimlet-eyed story of divorce and love, which bristles with pain and beauty. . . . Set amid the gritty splendor of Pittsburgh, the novel masterfully conveys both the youthful love that Ben and Evvie once shared and why it has fizzled,” says Marie Claire.

“[A] sensitive, offbeat second novel. . . . [that] offers some nicely observed insights into guilt and despair . . . until heartbreak and delusion lead to an act of lunacy that will redefine the landscape. Everyday tragedy takes a surreal spin in this . . . soulful, idiosyncratic tale,” says Kirkus.

“McCafferty’s second novel coins its own brand of heart-searing suspense. . . . Fans of Anne Tyler, Jacquelyn Mitchard and other top-drawer domestic fiction writers will enjoy this unpredictable, offbeat novel,” says Library Journal.

When is it available?

It is on the shelves at the Blue Hills, Goodwin and Mark Twain branches of the Hartford Public Library and can be requested for pickup at the downtown library as well.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!