This year I’ve been feeling increasingly autumnal . . . maybe bordering on wintery. It’s been a year of loss, of friends vanishing forever.
After remembering these friends and their influence on my life, I realize how remarkable it was to know them and how profound their effect on me has been. I was lucky to know them at all, really.
Here’s realization I came to: people are amazing. When you come to know individuals, when you see their hearts, there is something interesting or arresting about every single one. But it’s the ‘getting to know them’ part that’s tricky. It can be hard to see past an unlikeable or even repellant exterior, nearly impossible to see past moral and political viewpoints so alien to my own.
Amid all this Pollyanna emoting, I should point out that I find some people amazingly awful. Sometimes I can even perceive they feel the same way about me. This, too, can be instructive and enlightening, or even flattering, like the woman who wanted my previous home exorcised before the buyers moved in. It was quite a thrill to get credit for being so evil.
Creating people is my livelihood. After thirty-five years of being a published writer (I had to check that on my website, it seemed so unlikely), you would think I would have realized all this much earlier. I’m going on the assumption that loss has triggered a richer realization of what life means to me.
It’s a lot to think about. I’m sure everyone has had watershed moments like this, where your understanding of the world attains a new clarity. It’s pretty cool.
- The Dollhouse, Fiona Davis
- Ghost Talkers, Mary Robinette Kowal
- Shifting Shadows, Patricia Briggs
- Fallout, Sarah Paretsky
Fiona Davis’ much reviewed and acclaimed book is a slice of period life contrasted with a modern story. Set in 1952, The Dollhouse is the story of Darby McLaughlin, a girl from the sticks who’s come to New York to get a degree from a secretarial college (just until she gets married, of course). She will be living at the Barbizon Hotel for Women. Unfortunately for Darby, she’s assigned a room on the same floor with the models. Their cruelty forces Darby into friendships she would never have formed otherwise, and that changes her life forever. In the present day story, journalist Rose Lewin is writing a story about the glory days of the hotel. Rose is in a sad situation, dumped by the man she was going to marry and made to leave their shared apartment. But she’s an opportunist, and tenacious, and the story she ends up with is hardly the story she imagined she’d write. No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes in Davis’ novel.
Mary Robinette Kowal has written a really interesting book. Hidden among the ladies’ auxiliaries in the first World War is one that the Germans must not discover – the Spirit Corps. Ginger Stuyvesant, American heiress and medium, is a member of this elite group trained to interrogate the spirits of soldiers after they’ve passed away to glean information about the German troupe movements. Then the spirits are sent on to their reward. As long as Ginger has the backing of her soldier fiancé, her information is believed, but when she learns of the presence of a traitor and Captain Harford is gone, no one will listen. Ghost Talkers contains moments of true heartbreak, but it’s an amazing story told very well.
Patricia Briggs has been one of my favorite writers for years, and I was really glad to sit down with Shifting Shadows, a collection of stories from the world of Mercy Thompson, one of my all-time favorite characters. Some of them I’d already read, and four of them are brand new. If you’ve followed Briggs’ career at all, you must include this book in your reading schedule.
Fallout, the eighteenth or nineteenth V.I. Warshawsky novel by Sarah Paretsky, will be on the shelves in January. If you’re a student of the mystery genre, you will know already that Sarah Paretsky changed the way women were regarded in the field both as writers and as characters. Warshawsky, a true detective, is intelligent and diligent. She is not a female detective; she is a detective who happens to be a woman. Paretsky’s own outspoken political and social activism (and her huge intelligence and integrity) has had a huge impact on the mystery field as well. If you’ve never read her books, you have some wonderful hours in store.