Monday, April 7, 2008

5 Spot Books, April 2008

In Frenemies, author Megan Crane addressed the way women treat one another; specifically, the way we treat friends who do us wrong. With her newest work, Crane takes on the subject of sisterhood, of actual siblings who can't seem to forget the past. Told primarily through the eyes of Courtney, a successful musician who is about to marry the love of her life, this is a story of three sisters with extremely different outlooks on life, love and family. Norah is the hard working, type A sister who lives her life by the rule book and holds her grudges close to her heart. Raine is the free spirited sister who ran off to San Francisco to live the life of a poor artist, her best friend and sometime boyfriend in tow. When Courtney goes to visit Raine with the hope that she will return home for her engagement party, her life and that of her family is thrown into chaos.

What does sisterhood really mean and do you have to love your family simply because you were born into it? These are the important questions that Crane addresses in this enjoyable and worthwhile read.

The Ten Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer

Riverhead Books, 2008

When my daughter turned three and my son six, I was faced with the fact that I had to return to work. Recently separated and in financially precarious straits, I could no longer rely on my freelance writing to pay the mortgage or put food on the table. Even though I had worked off and on while raising my children, it proved exceedingly difficult to find a full time job. I was competing against younger people who were willing to take a lower salary, who had not yet defined their skill set and who were able to be easily molded. The realization that I might not be able to return to work full time was like a punch in the gut; it was maddening and frustrating – a tough pill to swallow.

In her newest work, The Ten-Year Nap, author Meg Wolitzer addresses this exact scenario. Told from the points of view of four friends, but primarily through the viewpoint of Amy, the book focuses on the crossroads a woman experiences when her children no longer need her full time but she is unable to re-enter the workforce. Amy, a Manhattanite married to a mildly successful attorney, wakes up one morning to discover that her ten-year old son is self-sufficient and that she no longer has anything to fill her days with. Jill adopts a child from Siberia, moves to the suburbs and is unable to fit in with the women of Holly Hills. Roberta, an artist, whose son attends his Manhattan private school on financial aid, feels she is at the mercy of the school PTA for fear of being a social outcast. Karen, a brilliant Chinese woman and mother of twins, lives with the constant fear of being left out even as she fails to hide her disdain for others. Add to the mix, brilliant, hard working Penny Ramsey, whose life seems perfect (but is far from it) and you have the typical, if not stereotypical, 21st Century woman. These are women who have been raised to believe that they could do it all; take care of their family, hold down a great job, be perfectly coiffed and well-read.

Wolitzer delivers a book that teeters on the edge of being the Feminist Mystique of our day. Her voice and message are important ones – do women give up a part of themselves upon becoming mothers? Can women re-enter the workforce after taking a long sabbatical? Does there always have to be a choice between motherhood and career? Where Wolitzer leaves the reader a bit flat is in the meandering plot line; the story does not truly move forward until the middle, until a true conflict occurs. Prior to that, the book is slow and almost devoid of dimension with characters that seem a bit pathetic and irritating. When Amy finds herself in the middle of Penny’s marital problems, the book takes on interest as we begin to see these characters as three dimensional. While a reader wants to see herself in the author’s words, it is still essential that a book has conflict that is not only mental but visual.

Women will find a piece of themselves in The Ten-Year Nap, whether they are the stay-at-home mother or the working mother. Wolitzer has taken a topic of such import that, even where the book falters, one can argue the worth of this novel and possibly its place on the shelf next to Betty Friedan.

Erotomania by Francis Levy

Two Dollar Radio, August 2008

Imagine that you engage in passionate, feral sex with someone. After the sex is over and you have left the building, you can not remember what your lover looked like; your amnesia of everything but the sexual act is complete. In a truly original literary work, Francis Levy introduces the memorable characters of Monica and James. Told through James' eyes, the story unfolds as James realizes that he wants to know his lover, wants to be able to recognize her on the street (her face, not simply her sexual organs) and may actually be in love, rather than simply lust. Monica, a woman who looks much like Peter Pan, has a sexual appetite that is insatiable and confusing. When James tries to have a "normal" relationship with her, she seems to become enraged, frustrated by his unrelenting pursuit.

Levy writes with honesty and a dry sense of humor that adds to the unique tone of the book. While our characters seem without empathy at the beginning, it soon becomes clear that with sex may come love and a type of relationship that is meaningful and filled with worth.