Last month was a book famine, but May is a feast, so let’s get right to the books.
First on the list is The Bees by Laline Paull. The promotional copy for this novel compared it to many other books; I’m sure you’ve seen those blurbs before—“Cinderella crossed with Harriet the Spy!” “Lee Child layered with Bridget Jones!”—but I am not going to do that here, because this book doesn’t need to be compared to any other titles, however classic they are. The Bees is set in a beehive in which society is regimented and movement between castes is strictly prohibited. The motto is “Accept. Obey. Serve.” Flora 717, a sanitation worker, manages to break free from her role because of her strength and courage, and her efforts to serve the queen and understand the hive and its workings give the reader a fascinating view of the inner world and politics of the hive. After reading this, you will never look at a bee the same way again.
Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose took as its inspiration a Brassai photograph of a couple in a Paris nightclub of two women, one of whom is Violette Morris, a famous race car driver. Lou Villars is based on Violette, whose story is recreated by Prose using the voices of the photographer who took the picture, the owner of the nightclub, a “biography” of Villars published long after her death at the hands of the French Resistance, and other characters. The various voices give texture to the story and multiple views of Lou, who is by turns an abused child, an ambitious athlete, an acclaimed driver, a scorned deviant, a spy and a traitor. Paris comes alive in all its squalor, beauty and danger as World War II begins and the Nazis occupy the city. It is hard to believe that this is based on a true story.
Another New Yorker cartoonist has penned a memoir! This time it is Roz Chast, whose Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? chronicles her parents’ final years. It is both poignant and funny. Through most of her parents’ later decades, the strategy of denial worked quite well—Roz asked how things were going, wanted to know if they had any thoughts of what they might want to do when their inevitable decline began, and got the response that became the title of her memoir. But when her mother, Elizabeth, falls off a ladder, Roz has to step in and become a caretaker. Her new role brings her into closer contact with her parents than she’s had since she left home for college over 30 year ago, and moving back into her parents’ co-dependent orbit dredges up uncomfortable memories she’d rather forget. Despite her reservations, Roz manages to deal with her father briefly moving in with her and her family, getting her parents into an assisted-living facility, worrying about the finances, and finally coming to terms with their deaths. Anyone dealing with aging parents will benefit from reading this book. Did I mention it is a graphic memoir? Put aside your prejudices about “reading comic books”; this is a terrific memoir written for grown-ups.
Jo Nesbo—I love his Norwegian mystery series about the tortured alcoholic police officer Harry Hole, and was hesitant about reading a non-Harry novel. Happily for fans, The Son is a fast-paced police procedural that will have the reader guessing all the way to the end. Police corruption, a son trying to clear his father’s name, drug addiction, a prison system being run by criminals, a daring escape, and one honest cop trying to find the truth—The Son is impossible to put down. Read and enjoy!
Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.