The Week in Books #61

11/14 ✅

The week in books! It was a good week for reading as it was super cold around here leading up to the weekend where we got a big dump of snow. So I just stayed by the fire and read. Just three left on this stack now; Invisible Orientation, My Dark Vanessa, and The Fifth Season (which is actually a reread for me as a refresher before I get into the rest of the books in the series). This week I got through three books including two that have been on the stack for a long, long time. It might be silly but I’m happy to finally be making time to get to the books I have been looking at for years. None of them jumped out at me as super memorable but all were enjoyable in their own way.

1. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. This is one of those books that tons of people have read (it has over a million ratings on good reads), was made into a movie, and I see copies of it everywhere but I’ve never actually taken the time to read it. I finally decided to go for it and zoomed through it in under 24 hours. It was very readable, and Lily is a good character to keep the audience engaged. I liked the pacing and the way things unfolded, and of course the themes being racism, family bonds, mother-daughter relationships, even if they were a bit ham-fisted throughout. Overall I can see why it was so popular but I don’t think I will be watching the movie.

Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily’s fierce-hearted black “stand-in mother,” Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free. They escape to Tiburon, South Carolina–a town that holds the secret to her mother’s past. Taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sister, Lily is introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the Black Madonna. This is a remarkable novel about divine female power, a story that women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.

Penguin Randomhouse

2. Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler. This is a strange one. I read, and loved, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, and Sarah Canary came up again and again as a recommendation from folks in my reading groups as a great piece of feminist science fiction. It’s really not science fiction, though. If anything maybe there’s a dash of magic realism but not much else. I’m not really sure if I liked it. Reading it felt a bit laborious and I had a major issue with the fact that the book is named for a character in the story that seems to have a drastic effect on everyone she encounters but has not a single word of dialogue and you never find out who she actually is, which struck me as very strange and not necessarily in a good way. I enjoyed aspects of the story, Chin was a neat character and so was BJ, and the adventures they went on were interesting but only just barely so. I’m undecided about this one, it really wasn’t what I was expecting!

When black cloaked Sarah Canary wanders into a Chinese labor camp in the Washington territories in 1873, Chin Ah Kin is ordered by his uncle to escort “the ugliest woman he could imagine” away. Far away. But Chin soon becomes the follower.

In the first of many such instances, they are separated, both resurfacing some days later at an insane asylum. Chin has run afoul of the law and Sarah has been committed for observation. Their escape from the asylum in the company of another inmate sets into motion a series of adventures and misadventures that are at once hilarious, deeply moving, and downright terrifying.

Penguin Randomhouse

3. Dual Citizens by Alix Ohlin. This book was a finalist for the Giller prize, so I was excited to check it out. As I read it though I’m not sure I understand why it was so close to winning the prize. Robin and Lark are well developed and likeable, and the details about film were a nice touch throughout, though maybe just a smidge pretentious, but something felt like it was missing for me. It was largely about the mother-daughter bond (or lack-thereof) between the girls and their Mom, and the bond between the sisters themselves before later in the novel becoming more of an exploration of the path to motherhood. The plot was a bit meandering and I wasn’t sure where it was going. In the end I felt it wrapped up well but lacked any real conflict or obstacle. I enjoyed it but didn’t love-love it.

All her life, Lark Brossard felt invisible, overshadowed by the people around her: first by her temperamental mother; then by her sister, Robin, a brilliant pianist as wild as the animals she loves; and finally by Lawrence Wheelock, a filmmaker who is both Lark’s employer and her occasional lover. When Wheelock denies her what she longs for most — a child — Lark is forced to re-examine a life marked by unrealized ambitions and thwarted desires. As she takes charge of her destiny, Lark comes to rely on Robin in ways she never could have imagined.

In this meditation on motherhood, sisterhood, desire, and self-knowledge, Alix Ohlin traces the rich and complex path towards fulfillment as an artist and as a human being.

House of Anansi Press

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