Today's first paragraph comes from a novel to be published by the Dial Press on February 28th.
All day the snow had been falling. Snow muffled every store and church; drifts erased streets and sidewalks. The punks at the new Harvard Square T stop had tramped off, bright as winter cardinals with their purple tufted hair and orange Mohawks. The sober Vietnam vet on Mass Ave had retreated to Au Bon Pain for coffee. Harvard Yard was quiet with snow. The undergraduates camping there for Harvard's divestment from South Africa had packed up their cardboard boxes, tents, and sleeping bags and begun building snow people. Cambridge schools were closed, but the Philpott Institute was open as usual. In the Mendelssohn-Glass lab, four postdocs and a couple of lab techs were working.
A promising start, one might argue. (Go ahead: argue.) What comes next, do you figure? Is this mystery, literature, sci-fi, a thriller, or an ambitious amalgamation of more than one genre?
So much of a reader's experience depends on timing, and yesterday I couldn't take a book set in winter seriously. That snow rendering Harvard Square quiet... In New York and parts of the Midwest on Sunday, the white stuff was piling up at astonishing rates. Not so here. It had been raining nonstop in Portland for what was starting to seem like several consecutive years, and then into Bizarro World we stumbled: the sun came out for a week. Straight. It might be July before we see so much blue sky again, and with the workweek looming...
Windows opened. Throughout the Willamette Valley, porches were swept and gardens tended. On the elementary school playground behind my backyard, toddlers swung and see-sawed. Parents gabbed contentedly. The high school hoops player next door found enough willing participants for the year's first outdoor three-on-three. Farther down my block, a Rhododendron, drunk on photosynthesis, has rushed into bloom.
Saturday morning I started The Wonder Spot, Melissa Bank's 2005 novel-in-stories. Sunday afternoon I finished. Two days with the Applebaum family took me all the way from turntables to cell phones; we covered a lot of ground, Sophie Applebaum and I, from Hebrew School well into our thirties. But other than the night Sophie wandered around Manhattan in the rain, Bank's novel exists in an adamantly weather-free zone. Call it climate agnostic. Which worked out perfectly: The only weather I wanted to acknowledge this weekend was my own.
The Wonder Spot also happens to be one of the more perceptive novels about family and relationships that I've read in years (lest you walk away thinking that a lack of meteorological interruption was the book's most appealing quality). I'm tempted to compare the Applebaums to the Lamberts (from The Corrections). You'd never confuse the consciously literary, third-person stylings of Jonathan Franzen with Bank's talky, girl-next-door narration, but both authors trick out the subtle (and occasionally debilitating) machinations of "typical" American families with such sly and precise observation that you're made to alternately laugh and shudder. It's all so damn familiar.
Update: FPP#4 title and author here.
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Books mentioned in this post
Dave is the author of Out of the Book, Volume 3: State by State