Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, April 26, 2006

Love, Death Are Themes In Recent Favorite Novels

The Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library system has declared 2006 the Year of the Reader. Each month the library is focusing on a variety of well-known authors - adult, young adult and juvenile - with bookmarks and displays of their books at all library locations.

Authors for April include Charlotte Bronte, the revered author of "Jane Eyre," the penultimate gothic romance. A new novel titled "The Bronte Project" caught my eye and turned out to be so good that I ended up on a fiction kick.

So today I'm sharing some recent novels that I have enjoyed. For the descriptive summaries, I am largely indebted to the library's online catalog at www.evpl.org.

The Bronte Project: A Novel of Passion, Desire, and Good PR by Jennifer Vandever (Shaye Areheart Books, 2005).

Abandoned by her fiance and overshadowed in academia by a woman with a talent for self-promotion, a mild-mannered Bronte scholar finds herself beginning to question everything from her love life to her life's work. My take: Funny sendup of academia by a first-time novelist and screenwriter with talent.

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldman (Doubleday, 2006).

After a recently married lawyer's newborn daughter dies, her recovery is complicated by problems with her precocious preschool-age stepson and his competitive obstetrician mom. My take: Sensitive and bittersweet exploration of learning to live and love again.

Missing Mom by Joyce Carol Oates (HarperCollins, 2005).

In the aftermath of her mother's murder, a 31-year-old newspaper reporter experiences a tumultuous year of mourning. My take: The incomparable Oates, who recently lost her own mother, shares her grief through this feisty young heroine.

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier (Pantheon, 2006).

An afterlife world is inhabited by the recently departed as long as they remain in the memories of the living, while on Earth a virus has wiped out most of the population, and a young woman struggles to survive at an Antarctic research station. My take: Mesmerizing - the best novel I've read in years.

Truth and Consequences by Alison Lurie (Viking, 2005).

A university administrator is dismayed when her back pain-plagued husband falls for a beautiful writer who recently joined the faculty. My take: Witty observations on love, marriage and remarriage.

The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster (Henry Holt, 2006).

When a retired life insurance salesman moves to Brooklyn to find anonymity and solitude, a chance meeting with his long-lost nephew sets change in motion. My take: I'm glad a customer recommended this talented author. He takes ordinary life and makes it extraordinary.

The Good Life by Jay McInerney (Knopf, 2006).

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, a group of privileged New Yorkers are led to reassess their lives and to become better people. My take: THE 9/11 novel to read and McInerney's best in years.

Ruins of California by Martha Sherrill (Penguin, 2006).

Divided between the working-class stability of her mother's immigrant family in Los Angeles and her brilliant father's sophisticated life in San Francisco, a young woman seeks to achieve a balance during the course of the turbulent 1970s. My take: Enthralling. Sherrill actually began this as a memoir but decided that her father's story was too hot to handle, so wrote it as fiction instead.

The Thin Place by Kathryn Davis (Little, Brown & Co., 2006).

A 12-year-old girl with the power to bring the dead back to life possesses an extraordinary gift that irrevocably shapes her own life, the lives of her two friends and their community. My take: A wonderfully ethereal novel that has gotten a lot of buzz.

Arthur and George by Julian Barnes (Knopf, 2006).

This cleverly constructed work based on historical facts brings together Arthur, who is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame, and George, an obscure Anglo-Indian solicitor, who is accused of a trumped-up, wretched crime. My take: My friend Becky recommended this, but it is on my list of must-reads.

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.