|Other books we’re loving this month|
The Abstinence Teacher
Stonewood Heights is the perfect place to raise children: it has the proverbial good schools, solid values and a healthy real estate market. It’s the kind of place where parents are involved in their children’s lives–coaching sports, driving carpool, taking an interest in their development at every level. The Abstinence Teacher focuses on two divorced parents who each play key roles in the lives of other people’s children: Ruth Ramsey is the human sexuality teacher at the local high school who believes that “pleasure is good, shame is bad, and knowledge is power.” Her younger daughter’s soccer coach is Tim Mason, a former stoner and rocker whose response to hitting rock bottom was to reach out and be saved. Tim is a member of The Tabernacle, the local evangelical Christian church that wants to take its message outside the doors of its own sanctuary, and sees a useful target in Ruth Ramsey. Adversaries in a small-town culture war, Ruth and Tim instinctively distrust one another. But when a controversy on the playing field forces the two of them to actually talk to each other, an uneasy friendship begins to develop.
Ruth arrived late and mildly hung-over for her daughter’s soccer game on Saturday morning. Smiling queasily, she made her way down the sideline, nodding hello to the more punctual parents, many of whom she hadn’t seen in quite a while. A few of the spectators were sitting in collapsible chairs, but most were on their feet, chatting in sociable clumps as they sipped from state-of-the-art stainless steel travel mugs, giving the whole scene the air of an outdoor cocktail party.
As usual, Ruth’s ex-husband, Frank, had removed himself from the talkers, his attention focused solely on the game. He stood like the baseball player he’d once been – knees bent, hands resting on his thighs – observing the action with an expression of intense absorption that Ruth might have mistaken for disgust if she hadn’t known him so well.
“Morning,” she said, tugging gently on his sleeve. “How we doing?”
“Tied at two,” he muttered, shooting her a reproachful glance. “First half’s almost over. Maggie thought you forgot.”
“Ever hear of an alarm clock?”
“Didn’t go off,” she explained, leaving out the part about how she unplugged the thing in a fit of three-in-the-morning insomniac misery. Because, really, what was worse than lying wide awake in the dark, watching your life drip away, one irreplaceable minute after another?
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The Gum Thief
In Douglas Coupland’s ingenious new novel–sort of a Clerks-meets-Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf–we meet Roger, a divorced, middle-aged “aisles associate” at a Staples outlet, condemned to restocking reams of twenty-lb. bond paper for the rest of his life. And then there’s Roger’s co-worker Bethany, who’s at the end of her Goth phase, and young enough to be looking at fifty more years of sorting the red pens from the blue in Aisle Six.
One day, Bethany comes across Roger’s notebook in the staff room. When she opens it up, she discovers that this old guy she’s never considered as quite human is writing mock diary entries pretending to be her–and spookily, he is getting her right. She also learns he has a tragedy in his past–and suddenly he no longer seems like just a paper-stocking robot with a name tag.
These two retail workers strike up a peculiar and touching epistolary relationship, their lives unfolding alongside Roger’s work-in-progress, the oddly titled Glove Pond, a Cheever-era novella gone horribly, horribly wrong. Through a complex layering of narratives, The Gum Thief highlights number-one bestselling author Douglas Coupland’s eye for the comedy, loneliness and strange comforts of contemporary life.
On every page of this witty, wise and unforgettable novel, Coupland reminds us that love, death and eternal friendship can all transpire where we least expect them. And that even after tragedy seems to have wiped your human slate clean, stories can slowly rebuild you.
One Good Turn
It is summer, it is the Edinburgh Festival. People queuing for a lunchtime show witness a road-rage incident – an incident which changes the lives of everyone involved. Jackson Brodie, ex-army, ex-police, ex-private detective, is also an innocent bystander – until he becomes a suspect.
With Case Histories, Kate Atkinson showed how brilliantly she could explore the crime genre and make it her own. In One Good Turn she takes her masterful plotting one step further. Like a set of Russian dolls each thread of the narrative reveals itself to be related to the last. Her Dickensian cast of characters are all looking for love or money and find it in surprising places. As ever with Atkinson what each one actually discovers is their true self.
Un-put-downable and triumphant, One Good Turn is a sharply intelligent read that is also percipient, funny, and totally satisfying.
| Love Falls
By Esther Freud
It’s the week before Charles and Diana’s lavish Royal wedding. In London, seventeen-year-old Lara has just accepted an invitation to accompany her somewhat estranged father to a Tuscan villa for the summer to visit an old friend. Lara is both thrilled and nervous for the exotic holiday.
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Publication date: November 24, 2007