Posts Tagged The Last September
To provide a bit of background, I read 150 books in 2015. I wrote 52 reviews for 2015 releases on this site. I gave very few books 5/5*. I am currently reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara so since I started it in 2015, I reserve the right to include it in my best of 2015 list.
Here are my picks for best fiction:
Outline by Rachel Cusk [Farrar, Straus and Giroux]
–gorgeous writing. purchase at Amazon: Outline: A Novel
Where Women are Kings by Christie Watson [Other Press]
–from my review: Simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming. Stunning. Entwines race, foster families, adoption, mental illness and cultural differences with exquisite descriptions and phrasing. purchase at Amazon: Where Women Are Kings
The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro [Algonquin]
–from my review: When you think every WWII story has been told, an original narrative comes along and you realize there’s a plethora of war stories remaining to be explored and shared. Abstract expressionist art, French refugees and the WPA collide in this riveting historical fiction novel that focuses on the sudden disappearance of young Jewish-American artist Alizée Benoit. purchase at Amazon: The Muralist: A Novel
Katherine Carlyle by Rupert Thomson [Other Press]
–from my review: Rather haunting and definitely unusual. It’s tough to describe except to say it’s part mystery and part personal exploration. A strange story –in a good way– with gorgeous writing and an intriguing story-line. purchase at Amazon: Katherine Carlyle
The Last September by Nina de Gramont [Algonquin]
–from my review: excellent characters and a dazzling story-line involving mental illness, family, infidelity, relationships, love and murder. purchase at Amazon: The Last September
Migratory Animals by Mary Helen Specht [Harper Perennial]
–engrossing, beautiful and creative novel about a group of 30-somethings finding their place in the world. purchase at Amazon: Migratory Animals: A Novel (P.S.)
Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman [Scribner]
–from my review: Brilliant concept and exquisitely written. This short story collection focuses on intriguing, bold and remarkable women from history. It’s edgy historical fiction. These women lived life as they chose to live it which likely made them misfits and outliers during their lifetimes. purchase at Amazon: Almost Famous Women: Stories by Mayhew Bergman, Megan (2015) Hardcover
The Travels of Daniel Ascher by Déborah Lévy-Bertherat [Other Press]
from my review: Touching, creative, lovely novel. It tells the story of a child of the Holocaust in a unique manner. purchase at Amazon: The Travels of Daniel Ascher
The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North [Blue Rider Press]
–from my review: a fascinating novel about creativity, artists, fitting in and being satisfied with success, fame and how we perceive ourselves and how we want others to understand us. Sophie Stark, who changed her name to suit her persona, is a renowned and elusive filmmaker. She makes enigmatic and often strikingly sad, honest films that strip bare the characters and dig into their psyches. purchase at Amazon: The Life and Death of Sophie Stark
Aquarium by David Vann [Atlantic Monthly Press]
–from my review: This is Vann’s first novel centered on a female protagonist. Twelve-year-old Caitlin lives in Seattle with her dockworker single mother. Older now, Caitlin looks back on this time with the wisdom one gains through age and experience. There’s a lighter tone than previous works until events draw to a boiling point for Caitlin and her mother. Every day after school Caitlin visits the aquarium to study the fish while waiting for her mom to finish work and retrieve her. She finds the various fish and sea life fascinating and allows herself contemplation and solitude. purchase at Amazon: Aquarium
Tightrope by Simon Mawer [Other Press]
-Feminist character Marian Sutro returns from WWII determined to find her place. from my review: Mawer writes exquisitely and Tightrope draws you in to Marian’s life, the consequences of her actions during WWII and how she copes in the present. On the cover, Marian looks like she’s in a Tamara de Lempicka painting. She’d be an ideal subject for the bold artist. Mawer includes cold war fears, atomic bombs, a gay scientist (Marian’s brother) as well as Marian’s love affair with a Russian Jew. purchase at Amazon: Tightrope
A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott [Doubleday]
–from my review: Kate Alcott writes spectacularly strong feminist female characters in historical fiction. Women who want to have careers and love. Women who juggle and manage both. Or learn from their decisions. They’re smart protagonists and Alcott has quickly become a must-read favorite author for me. She intermingles her fictional characters in real-life historical settings and it works. purchase at Amazon: A Touch of Stardust: A Novel
Years ago I read the wonderful short story collection Of Men and Cats by Nina de Gramont. This is the first novel I’ve read in some time that I wanted to read and read and read and not switch over to another book for a bit. The setting is mostly New England: Amherst; Cape Cod; Maine. It starts with a murder. Someone murdered Brett’s husband Charlie. “What did I know about the way my life would change in a matter of hours? Absolutely nothing. Murder. It’s a word out of potboilers and film noir. It leaps from the TV screen during police dramas or the evening news. It doesn’t sound real. It’s nothing you ever think will have to do with you.”
While Brett comes to terms with her husband’s death and wonders who killed him—all signs point to the schizophrenic brother—author Nina de Gramont takes us back to explore how Brett and Charlie met, as well as complications in their marriage mostly due to Charlie’s infidelity and inability to keep a job. Brett lived with Charlie in a seaside cottage on the Cape. Meant for seasonal occupation, it’s her husband Charlie’s summer home. Brett fell in love with Charlie during college when they spent one magical night together skiing under the stars in Colorado. Brett had been friends with Charlie’s brother Eli. But Eli suffered a scary and devastating breakdown which scared Brett and he subsequently left college for treatment.
Years later Brett runs into Charlie on Cape Cod with her fiancé Ladd [who knows Charlie’s family] and the two pick up as if time never passed. “Anyone could have told me, and I knew even as I moved forward: This whole thing was a mistake. A disastrous mistake. Charlie had already rejected me once. And now I was leaving Ladd, breaking off my engagement, for a man who hadn’t even said he loved me and maybe never would. Charlie was scattered, penniless, jobless. Who knew what he even aspired to, as far as character, as far as life?”
Charlie remains close to Eli and constantly protects and rescues Eli –when he’s off meds or finds himself off the rails– which makes Brett both wary and uncomfortable. “It took several seconds to recognize Eli. In my mind, he had separated into two different people: the great friend who’d always had my back and the scary stranger who appeared one night, and then disappeared, taking the original one with him. Now there seemed a third one, barely recognizable across those distant years and miles.”
Brett becomes consumed by Charlie. Her world revolves around Charlie. Brett works to complete a PhD in 19th century poetry while Charlie doesn’t even read. There are numerous connections to Emily Dickinson throughout as Brett studies 19th century poetry and lived across the street in Amherst from the Dickinson home.
It’s a devastating and destructive relationship. Brett loses her sense of self when she’s with Charlie. “And I didn’t just love him. I loved him enough to stop caring about anything else. I loved him enough to wreck my life. I loved him the way you dream about being loved, when you don’t even know you’re dreaming.” But is that enough to keep them happy and together. Is Brett more devoted to Charlie than Charlie to Brett? Did Eli really kill the brother who loved and cared for him unconditionally or is there a third party involved?
Nina de Gramont writes excellent characters and a dazzling storyline involving mental illness, family, infidelity, relationships, love and murder. The Last September is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s a masterful mediation on relationships.
–review by Amy Steele
<em>FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Algonquin Books.</em>