When it comes to books my daughter is a serial monogamist; she reads one book at a time from start to finish. I on the other hand am a literary polygamist; in any given week I am in the process of reading four or five books.
Last weeks it went like this
- The Senator's Wife by Sue Miller
- Mermaid in the Basement by Michele Lee West
- Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks
- The Girl Who Walked Home Alone by Charlotte Chandler
- The Art of Big Talk by Debra Fine.
By the end of the week I had finished The Senator's Wife and Mermaids in the Basement.
Both are fiction. Both are written by well known authors. Both feature two generations of women and their contrasting lives. Both were told from alternating points of view. Both portray the intimate details of marriage and betrayal.
And yet, they could not be more different!
The Senator's Wife is beautifully written, the language rich, the characters complex, the plot compelling.
Sue Miller takes us deep into the private lives of women with this mesmerizing portrait of two marriages exposed in all their shame and imperfection, and in their obdurate, unyielding love.
This is a book I wanted to love. In the end I couldn't make myself do it. No matter how hard I tried, I did not love this book.
It was very slow going. OK, I recognize that this is wonderful writing; an intricate character study of two morally ambiguous characters. The problem is that no matter how much I tried, I couldn't like these women or particularly identify with either of them or their choices. And they weren't so strange or interesting that I ended up (even grudgingly) fascinated by them. And worse, the denouement left me cold -- it seemed both contrived and predictable.
And yet the book has stayed with me all week. I've rolled it around in my brain, examined it and analyzed it. My final answer? It was ultimately unsatisfying.
Mermaids in the Basement was a quick read that pulled me in from the first sentence and never let go. Nothing heavy about this. But the characters are rich and complex and downright intriguing.
Ripe with Southern charm and sultry atmosphere, West's diverting and funny latest unravels the tangled gossamer web of an eccentric extended Southern family.
These women are certainly morally ambiguous. But guess what? They are likeable and their choices make oddball sense. I didn't necessarily identify (it is hard to be less of a "southern belle" than I am) but these women are real characters who grabbed my emotions as well as my brain.
It hasn't really stayed with me in the same way as The Senator's Wife. I haven't spent any time analyzing it. And yet it left me feeling warm and satisfied.