Cutting for Stone — Abraham Verghese (2009)
The book is very long. I started it in March and it took me most of April to finish it.
The twins (Marion and Shiva Stone) at the center of Cutting for Stone come into the world in a messy and peculiar way. Their mother, a shy Indian nun, dies giving birth to them and their father, and American doctor, runs off in a panic. So the boys are left to be raised by the doctors and matron of the Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa. The two boys act and think as if they were a single entity for much of their childhoods. It is as if they were born (conjoined at the head) and then agreed to split up the world and their reactions to the world. Marion taking on the outgoing, pleasant, social personality and Shiva taking on all of the dark, moody, and anti-social bits.
I’m a little disappointed with how it ends, I mean it had to go somewhere — I get that. and… it seemed inevitable that the twins were not going to have a happy resolution. That somehow there having been two of them, separated but still acting as one — that in the end there couldn’t be two of them in the world. And is that their individual faults or the fault of being born twins? I liked the book, but I’m not sure that I am encouraged to read others by the same author. It’s a kind of funny thing when it comes to reading such “other” experiences — I rarely want to experience them a second or third time from the same point of view. I, magpie like, want to go on to collect another point of view. That is in cases where the writing doesn’t make me swoon. And here the writing does not make me swoon. It is competent and in places quite pleasant but its nothing special.
Rules of Civility — Amor Towles (2011)
Not as nifty as The Gentleman of Moscow. But the historic background doesn’t play nearly as big a part. Here we have a young woman in NYC on New Year’s Eve 1937 sitting with her pal in a second-rate club waiting for something to happen. That something is Tinker Grey. Katey Kontent (hate the last name it tripped me up every single time I read it) is an okay narrator. She’s a bit bland around the edges but I think that’s part of the point, she’s Every Girl making her way in the big city. The people who surround her for the year of the story are the interesting points and in fact the writer via Katey as much as admits that it’s the case that sometimes we find ourselves surrounded by people and events that will catch us up in their swirl without actually having much effect on ourselves. They whirl around us and then leave us to go on in another direction with other people. (It’s something that I’ve thought about a bunch myself — how we seem to be so intimately connected with people as we are in a particular situation but so easily lose them when the circumstances change and we are no longer thrown together by something larger than ourselves.) The whole thing is a bit like Fitzgerald — who I don’t actually like. I find him dry and his characters off-puttingly shallow. This book comes close to being that shallow.
The title is taken from the young George Washington’s list of Rules for himself. And the rules are included at the end of the book. Young GW was a prissy little shit.
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk — Kathleen Rooney (2017)
Lillian Boxfish is 85, it’s New Year’s Eve and she’s decided to take a walk across Manhattan. First to Delmonico’s and then to a party hosted by a young photographer that she met in the park. It’s a long walk and we are treated to not only Lillian’s version of Manhattan in 1985 but along the way to her life story. And it’s a pretty cracker jack story. Running from her first days in Manhattan to her reign as the highest paid advertising woman in America (writing copy for Macy’s in its glory days) through a marriage a birth, a breakdown, a divorce, a freelance career, and now as a woman of a certain age living on her own in a city that she dearly loves but that has changed in unpleasant ways. Lillian and the book are both witty, wise, and a bit wicked.
Everybody’s Fool — Richard Russo (2016)
Sully is back and with a mild bit of good fortune in his wake and a not so hot report from the cardiologist at the VA marring his future he’s not sure how the world is supposed to work this week. And then there’s Police Chief Raymer whose grief at the loss of his wife is tempered by the suspicion that she was intending to leave him the day she fell down the stairs and the stray garage door remote that he found in her car. The rest of the crowd is here too. There are some snakes (both the hissing kind and the human kind) and whole lot of people trying to make sense of their lives and circumstances. Russo writes with humor and deep insight into the ways in which we all flitter and fluster our ways through life. (Read Nobody’s Fool first.)