Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Storm reading: The Remedy for Love by Bill Roorbach

perfect cover!
With a blizzard pounding the northeast, now is the time for a good book by the fire. The Remedy for Love by Bill Roorbach captures the beauty and the menace of a Maine winter. The title comes from a Henry David Thoreau quotation: "There is no remedy for love but to love more." This romantic thriller has literary panache.

Roorbach's novel opens as the storm of the century approaches Maine. Eric is shopping for a gourmet meal to win back his estranged wife. The line is held up by a smelly misfit who doesn't have enough money to cover her basic needs. Eric puts down a twenty and offers Danielle a ride home.

By the time Eric has hauled water from the icy river and split logs for Danielle, his car has been towed away with his cell phone inside. The snow is coming down hard. He's now stuck in a summer cabin off the grid with a deranged woman who doesn't want him or his pity.

I enjoyed the characters despite their sizable flaws: macho Eric was smugly judgemental but generous and crass Danielle was mentally unstable but surprisingly smart.
"You grin at me, even when I'm, like, clearly f***ing desolate. And when I'm...? You grin. You're trying to look harmless but you're hiding this fat aggression. It's a little sick. You're grinning now, mister. It's like looking at double exposure - you want to show how friendly and nonthreatening you are, but at the same time you look like you're about to bite me."
The blizzard was a character in itself, sliding the cabin off its foundations as Eric and Danielle lose their grip on all that had anchored them to their disappointing lives. The only character who wasn't convincing was Eric's estranged wife. She seemed too ordinary compared to Danielle's soldier husband, who added another layer or menace, lurking in the backstory. The ending had a good plot twist.

Remedy for Love is a psychological thriller, a literary romance and a social commentary on America. In backstory, the narrative covers the travails of small town law and the horrors of the war in Iraq. In front story, life is condensed into the claustrophobic confines of a log cabin. Although the writing was often beautifully evocative, some descriptions were too raunchy for my taste. I liked the novel best as a survival story and as a portrait of Maine. Roorbach clearly knows his stuff. After reading this book, I feel better prepared for the storm. If I'm not online, I may be tending our woodstove or plotting our escape.

Reviewer's Disclosure: I've posted early (while I have power) to synch with the blizzard, but this review will be part of Barrie Summy's blogger book review club (link below) on February 4th. I took the photos on Sunday while skiing at the old Brunswick Naval Air Station with my daughter. This 2014 book was a Christmas gift from my husband, purchased at Longfellow Books in Portland. I'm sorry to report that Stuart Gerson, one of the bookstore's founders/owners, died last week.

"The sun out there was warm, but the breeze, damn, the breeze was sharp like broken glass."
-Bill Roorbach

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How to Love January

 A winter walk at Popham Beach

With my intrepid family,

 Daring frosted sand

  And frigid sky and sea.

 Then warming up at North Creek Farm

And home in time for tea.

Blog Watch: can you believe it's my eighth Blog Anniversary? Thanks for reading and keep warm! It's minus ten Fahrenheit this morning. I'm taking a one-week blog vacation to head south to NYC.
Next post: Tuesday January 30th.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Hold Tight, Don't Let Go by Laura Rose Wagner

Popham Beach in Phippsburg, Maine on Christmas: do you see the question mark?

Hold Tight, Don't Let Go is a moving story about the Haitian Earthquake of 2010 and an orphan's struggle to survive. This just released novel reads like a memoir. The American author, Laura Rose Wagner, was trapped and injured in that earthquake while working on her PhD in Anthropology, but this debut young adult novel isn't her personal story. The protagonist is an impoverished 15-year-old Haitian girl. The only American character in the book is an insensitive photojournalist who objectifies people, although foreign aid, diluted by local corruption, helps the Haitians somewhat.

In the first chapter, before we know or care about the characters, the earthquake kills Magdalie's adopted mother/aunt. Mamman is crushed in the house in which she labored as an underpaid and overworked housemaid, hoping for a better life for her daughters. Mamman's biological daughter, Nadine, escapes to Florida to join her father, but Magdalie is stuck in the squalid relief camps in the care of her young "uncle," a reluctant provider. There is no money for school fees and barely enough for food. Cholera flows through the filthy outhouses. Thieves have free run of the broken city. Pretty girls often trade their bodies for necessities, but Madalie is not that desperate. Yet.

You can see the anthropologist's touch in the nuanced renderings of culture and relationships. Family in Haiti extends to include all relatives and even some friends and neighbors. Magdalie and Nadine are cousins raised as twin sisters, and following their aunt/mother's death, are cared for by a young man who is distantly related to them. Depression, anger and teenaged angst are treated as spiritual illness by a voodoo healer with positive results, due perhaps to introspection more than to magic. The well researched narrative teaches young readers about a foreign culture without being judgemental. There is a marvelous sense of place too, evoking all the senses. The book ends with an informative historical chapter about Haiti, which should be read first.

Hold Tight, Don't Let Go would make an excellent classroom supplement, but the gritty realism might be a bit much for the casual reader. This book isn't a glossy dystopian tale of good versus evil, begging for a Hollywood adaptation. Rather, this real world story centers on an ordinary teenager struggling to survive horrific circumstances with little under her control. The hardships bring out the best and the worst in people, including Magdalie. She's a believable Haitian girl who pushes boundaries but can't break free. Friendships help bolster her spirit, but a late blooming romance is not more than a footnote. The strong feminist and charitable messages transcend national borders. I'm pleased to see a meaningful book like this published for teenagers.

Reviewer's Disclosure: I have a personal connection to Haiti. My brilliant high school math teacher, Yves Volel, was assassinated when he returned to Haiti to run for president, following the fall of the oppressive Duval regime in the 1980s. Since then I've followed Haiti in the newspaper, especially the horrible earthquake. Hold Tight, Don't Let Go was published on January 6th, 2015, five years after the quake. On my request, I received a free advance digital galley from Amulet Books via netgalley.com. I wish I could share this fine book with Mr. Volel. C'est bien fait.

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@Barrie Summy