A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline. William Morrow| February 2017| 309 pages | $27.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-235626-0
“Do our natures dictate the choices we make, I wonder, or do we choose to live a certain way because of circumstances beyond our control? Perhaps these questions are impossible to tease apart because, like a tangle of seaweed on a rock, they are connected at the root. I think of those long-ago Hathorns, determined beyond all reason to leave the past behind—and we, their descendants, inheritors of their contrarian tenacity, sticking it out, one generation after the next, until every last one of us ends up in the graveyard at the bottom of the field.”
In the gorgeous and mysterious 1948 masterpiece Christina’s World, Andrew Wyeth depicts a woman crouching on a hill looking toward a weathered farm house. Looking at the painting, one might wonder whether the woman is coming or going. She seems far away and in such a twisted, crouching position with her hair blowing a bit in the wind. I never knew that Wyeth painted this on a farm in Maine. Author Christina Baker Kline creates a riveting story of the artist’s muse. Christina Olson lives a rather solitary, quiet and isolated existence in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine on her family’s farm with her brother. Christina lived at a particular time in particular circumstances and suffered an illness as a child which led to increasingly physical debility. At school she develops an affinity for Emily Dickinson’s poetry. Her father insists she quit school after eighth grade to help on the farm. Christina wanted to be a teacher. When young painter Andrew Wyeth asks if he can paint the farm, Christina and her brother welcome the distraction and attention.
This masterful work of historical fiction—told through first-person narrative– allows readers to feel Christina’s pain, disappointment and glimmers of hope throughout. In her youth, Christina dates a young man who summers nearby. But after several years he becomes engaged to another woman. He never intended to foray into a serious relationship with Christina. She’s devastated as she’s looking to be understood and accepted and just seen by somebody. Something many people seek. Readers feel empathy for Christina but not pity. She’s resilient and resourceful. She’s managing her situation. Writing with exquisite detail, Kline transports us to Maine and effectively moves from 1940 to the early 1900s to reveal the personal history of the woman immortalized by a classic American work of art.
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from William Morrow.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. Riverhead Books| March 7, 2017| 231 pages | $26.00| ISBN: 978-0-7352-1217-6
After finishing college, Nadia questions her faith and decides, to her family’s dismay and disdain, to move out on her own– “She secured a room of her own atop the house of a widow, a record player and small collection of vinyl, a circle of acquaintances among the city’s free spirits, and a connection to a discreet and nonjudgmental female gynecologist.” Nadia enjoys her independence as much as possible: she works at an insurance company; smokes pot and does shrooms and maintains connections through social media. She soon meets Saeed and they clandestinely date and slowly fall in love as the country and everything they know crumbles around them. They both work their different jobs during the day and meet at night at cafes and then at Nadia’s apartment. She throws down a black robe for him to put on and enter the apartment without raising suspicions or backlash about a single woman entertaining a male visitor. Slowly the country becomes less safe. Nadia and Saeed lose their jobs. Then it becomes impossible to communicate. Author Mohsin Hamid writes: “But one day the signal to every mobile phone in the city simply vanished, turned off as if by flipping a switch. An announcement of the government’s decision was made over television and radio, a temporary antiterrorism measure, it was said, but with no end date given. Internet connectivity was suspended as well.” Nadia and Saeed decide to escape the country as refugees.
First they land at a refugee camp in Mykonos —“It was said in those days that the passage was both like dying and like being born, and indeed Nadia experienced a kind of extinguishing as she entered the blackness and a gasping struggle as she fought to exit it, and she felt cold and bruised and damp as she lay on the floor of the room at the other side, trembling and too spent at first to stand, and she thought, while she strained to fill her lungs, that this dampness must be her own sweat.” They then move on to London –“It was here that Saeed and Nadia found themselves in those warmer months, in one of the worker camps, laboring away. In exchange for their labor in clearing terrain and building infrastructure and assembling dwellings from prefabricated blocks, migrants were promised forty meters and a pipe: a home on forty square meters of land and a connection to all the utilities of modernity.” They finally end up in Marin, California– “Saeed made it a point to smile with Nadia, at least sometimes, and he hoped she would feel something warm and caring when he smiled, but what she felt was sorrow and the sense that they were better than this, and that together they had to find a way out.”
The couple drifts apart despite their best attempts to stay together. It’s an attempt to keep something familiar nearby, to keep their country in their hearts. They adapted to their new country and living situations in varied ways—Nadia relishes the personal freedom while Saeed becomes focused on religion– which makes their relationship untenable and unsustainable. A beautiful, thoughtful, intelligent novel about refugees that couldn’t be timelier. Using mystical realism, Hamid tells a potent and poetic story of love and freedom in this short novel. Lovely reflections on connectivity and choice and circumstances. Hamid beautifully contemplates very human desires to achieve, to thrive, and to share oneself in order to make sense of an often nonsensical, violent and cruel world. It’s absolutely essential reading.
–review by Amy Steele
Mohsin Hamid will be reading at Harvard Book Store on Wednesday, March 8 at 7pm.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Penguin Random House.
The Damnwells have disbanded after 16 years together. Alex Dezen is on tour in support of his second solo album, II. The newest album features upbeat, grooving melodies with a retro vibe. Of the new album, Dezen said: “In many ways, the job of an artist is to re-examine what came before. That informs what we do next, My intention when I made this record was not to make an ’80s record. But as soon as I got the guitar in my hands and started messing around with chords and getting further along into the production and the writing, it just went that way — and it felt very natural to me.”
In 2010, Dezen earned a master’s degree from the University of Iowa after completing two years at the institution’s Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He writes material for other artists and has worked with Dave Grohl, The Dixie Chicks, Justin Bieber and Kelly Clarkson. In 2015, he collaborated with the American dance company Pilobolus Dance Theater, composing the music for the dance piece “Wednesday Morning, 11:45 (2015).”
$10, Thursday, March 9, 7 p.m., Downstairs, Middle East Restaurant and Nightclub, 472-480 Massachusetts Avenue, Central Square, Cambridge, mideastoffers.com.
On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt| February 2017| 305 pages | $24.00| ISBN: 978-0-544-80824-9
Faith Frankel, a thirty-two-year-old single woman, moved back to her hometown and works in stewardship at her alma mater, a private school. She recently purchased a house with a questionable history. Faith’s fiancé quit his job to trek across the country living off of Faith’s credit cards. He’s not walking for a cause but to find himself and Faith’s rather bothered by the photos with various women he keeps posting to social media. Faith’s father has become a painter, specifically making Chagall knock-offs and personalizing them. He becomes involved with a younger woman setting off some issues with her parents and the rest of the family (mainly Faith and her brother). While juggling her fiancés antics with her father’s new career and her mom’s meddling, her brother hustles with his snowplow business in the small western Massachusetts town.
Why someone so smart and independent would remain engaged to this unaware guy? What’s appealing about Faith is that she’s not obsessed with getting married even though she did get engaged to her boyfriend before he embarked on his cross-country walk. She enjoys her work but isn’t obsessed with it. While her friends can’t understand why Faith moved back home from Manhattan, she’s thrilled to make a cozy home on Turpentine Lane. She’s content with her straightforward comfortable career and her new house.
Author Elinor Lipman describes Faith’s position as writing thank-you notes (by hand!) to donors. I have worked in stewardship and never wrote notes by hand. But I let it go as it’s a small town and a private school and a novel. In the Q & A that arrived with the press materials for the novel there’s this question: “Faith works at a private school as Director of Stewardship. Is that a real job?” Do people, particularly in publishing and writing, not know about it? At another point in the novel there’s mention of a landline. I don’t know anyone under 50 who still uses a landline.
The local police keep searching Faith’s basement for murder evidence based on an anonymous tip. After finding a creepy photo album in her attic, Faith invites her handsome coworker, who recently split with his live-in girlfriend, to become her housemate. It’s not long before the longtime friends become romantically involved. Her brother and her mother end up helping Faith investigate the strange photo album and its connection to the past owner. This all sounds rather madcap and it could go terribly awry. In Lipman’s hands it’s a clever and delightful read.
A native of Massachusetts, Lipman graduated from Simmons College. I am also an alumna. I’ve read every one of Lipman’s novels. My favorite is The Inn at Lake Devine. I also really like Isabel’s Bed and Then She Found Me (which was adapted into a film starring Helen Hunt). Her novels tend to be witty, engaging and feature multifaceted, appealing and flawed female characters. Is there any more intriguing kind of woman? If you’re looking for a sharp and entertaining read, On Turpentine Lane will definitely satisfy.
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Elinor Lipman will read at Porter Square Books, Cambridge, Mass. on Thursday, March 2, 2017.
in support of the band’s ninth album, 11 Short Stories Of Pain & Glory, Dropkick Murphys kick off its tour tonight in Bethlehem, Penn. before finally shipping up to Boston to play a series of hometown dates.
Celtic-American punk band Dropkick Murphys have become ambassadors for Boston. Since forming in 1996, the band has sold 4 million albums worldwide with 2005’s The Warrior’s Code achieving an RIAA Gold certification and the single “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” nearing double platinum and appearing during a key moment of Martin Scorsese’s Academy Award-winning The Departed. Most recently, 2013’s Signed And Sealed In Blood netted their second consecutive Top 10 debut on the Billboard Top 200, and debuted at number 6 in Germany. They updated the Boston Red Sox anthem “Tessie” in 2004. The band created The Claddagh Fund in 2009 to help support addiction recovery as well as children’s and veterans’ organizations.
On the new album, the song “4-15-13” pays homage to the victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing. “Since that day, we felt like not taking the challenge to write a song about what we all went through would be taking the coward’s way out,” bassist Ken Casey reflects. “We put more importance on writing that piece of music than anything we’ve ever done, because if you’re going to touch that day, it has to be done right. We went through so many emotions with that whole experience, as did everyone in Boston. It changed the city forever.” The song “Rebels With A Cause” was written about kids who are given up on, and left behind by a system that has written them off as hopeless. “Paying My Way” is about the way up and out of addiction and the dream of bigger and better things in life.
Dropkick Murphys is:
Al Barr (lead vocals)
Tim Brennan (guitars, accordion, mellotron, whistles, vocals)
Ken Casey (lead vocals, bass guitar)
Jeff DaRosa (banjo, bouzouki, mandolin, harmonica, acoustic guitars, vocals)
Matt Kelly (drums, percussion, vocals)
James Lynch (guitar, vocals)
2/21/17 – Bethlehem, PA – Sands Bethlehem Event Center *+
2/22/17 – Columbus, OH – Express Live! *+
2/24/17 – Clive, IA – 7 Flags Event Center *+
2/25/17 – Hinckley, MN – The Grand Minnesota Taste Together *
2/26/17 – Sioux Falls, SD – The District *+
2/28/17 – Kansas City, MO – Uptown Theater *+
3/1/17 – Tulsa, OK – Cain’s Ballroom *+
3/2/17 – Little Rock, AK – Metroplex Live *+
3/3/17 – Robinsonville, MS – Horseshoe Tunica – Bluesville *+
3/4/17 – Birmingham, AL – Iron City *+
3/6/17 – St. Petersburg, FL – Janus Live *
3/7/17 – Ft. Lauderdale, FL – Revolution Live *
3/8/17 – Lake Buena Vista, FL – House of Blues *
3/10/17 – Myrtle Beach, SC – House of Blues *+
3/11/17 – Washington, DC – Shamrockfest Dropkick Murphys ONLY
3/12/17 – Huntington, NY – The Paramount *+
3/15/17 – Boston, MA – House of Blues
3/16/17 – Boston, MA – House of Blues
3/17/17 – Boston, MA – House of Blues
3/18/17 – Boston, MA – Agganis Arena
3/18/17 – Boston, MA – After Party @ House Of Blues with Pro Boxing
3/19/17 – Boston, MA – TBA
Connor Desai, “Killing the One Who Believed in Your Love”
— comfortable, soulful vocals combined with meaningful lyrics provides candor and intensity in this song about a woman’s independence and self-identity. Desai explained: “The decision to reclaim oneself often requires women to grieve someone who is still living, or an ideal which was part of them.”
Connor Desai earned a masters in teaching and works as a music teacher. The Seattle-based musician’s new EP, Sister, is out now. Feminists take note.
Thayer Sarrano, “Thieves”
Thayer’s vocals sound a lot like Hope Sandoval and the song’s arrangements may remind listeners of Mazzy Star. The ethereal, swirly music instantly takes you to emotional depths both gloomy and exquisite.
Athens, GA-based psych/shoegaze/dream-pop artist Thayer Sarrano grew up in a seminary as well as the swamps of southern Georgia. Classically trained as a child, she writes poetry and instrumental compositions. She started collaborating with friends and worked as a studio/touring session player with of Montreal, Dead Confederate’s T. Hardy Morris, Cracker & Camper Van Beethoven, Dave Marr, David Barbe, Kuroma and more. Her new LP is called Shaky.