As I consider what to read here and what to share next, I sometimes fall into the trap of believing that it is my job to seek out something new and unknown before returning to this space to share the news of my discoveries.
But sometimes I need to remind you of the pleasures of books in the genre that may not surprise you with their innovation, but echo a writer’s experience working at the top of his game in a field he knows well.
Reading the latest books by Ron Rash (“The Caretaker”) and Richard Russo (“Somebody’s Fool”) back to back reminded me of these virtues.
In Russo’s case, “Somebody’s Fool” is his third trip to the town of Bath, Maine, following the previous films “Nobody’s Fool” and “Everybody’s Fool.” Donald “Sully” Sullivan, the main character of the first two novels, has died, leaving behind his son Peter, allowing him to make some sense of not only his own life, but also the lives of the people Sully left in Peter’s care. another.
“The Caretaker” stars Rash in his usual setting in the mountains of Western North Carolina in the mid-20th century, a time and place he brings to life with spare and beautiful prose. The title refers to Blackburn Gant, the young man in charge of the hill cemetery after a childhood bout with polio left his face permanently disfigured. Gant is assigned to care for his best (and only) friend, Jacob’s pregnant wife, Naomi, after Jacob is drafted into the Korean War. Jacob had become estranged from the rest of the Hampton family because he had married Naomi, a local woman whom his parents believed was beneath the town’s leading family.
When Jacob is wounded in battle, the Hamptons see the chance to set their son on the path they desire for him.
To say more would be to spoil the story’s page turner, so I’ll say no more.
“The Folly of One” unfolds at a slower pace as we spend time with Peter and Raymer, who has recently retired and wonders if he is still of any use to anyone. People filling out the cast include Sully’s ex-girlfriend Ruth and her daughter Janey; they, too, wonder whether life can offer more than just enduring one challenge after another. Russo’s sarcastic sense of humor and his taste for exploiting human foibles for the sake of a story are on display throughout the novel.
What struck me as I read these books in rapid succession was that, although they were set in different places and different times and had very different tones, they fundamentally shared some universal, perhaps even timeless themes.
They ask and answer questions through storytelling about what we owe to others in the world, about the obligations we have to act according to our own sense of humanity, even perhaps especially when this is most difficult. That people are flawed is a given in both novels, but seeing that we have the potential to transcend our own flaws, even if only for a short time, results in a powerful reading experience.
These authors had shown this before in their books, and returning to that feeling was very reassuring, even hopeful. Hard things happen, but these hard things can be survived. We can offer grace to others if we choose.
These pleasures are akin to experiencing the end of the day from a familiar place, the kind of thing we can take for granted, even though perhaps we shouldn’t. There may be no surprise in the way the sun slowly descends, the colors in the sky brighten, but there is a profound beauty in its reliable appearance.
John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Requirements.”
Book recommendations from Biblioracle
John Warner tells you what you should read, based on the last five books you’ve read.
1. “The Flowing Grave” by Robert Galbraith
2. “Hello Beautiful” By Ann Napolitano
3. “Armor of Light” By Ken Follett
4. “Lady Tan’s Women’s Circle” By Lisa See
5. “Evil Copperhead” by Barbara Kingsolver
—Pat B., Naperville
I think Pat will be drawn to Angela Flournoy’s “The Turner House,” a multi-generational family story set in Detroit with a mystery at its center.
1. “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville
2. “The Way of the Bear” By Anne Hillerman
3. “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” by Thomas Hardy
4. “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck
5. “Secret Hours” By Mick Herron
—Fred K., Oswego
Should I go classic or contemporary? How about a contemporary classic? “Round House” by Louise Erdrich.
1. “Horse” By Geraldine Brooks
2. “Wilding: Nature’s Return to the English Farm” By Isabella Tree
3. “Kosher in the Rye: The True Story of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, a Criminal, a Mentally Ill Kid, and Then Turned 16” By Moshe Kasher
4. “Mrs. “Caliban” By Rachel Ingalls
5. “Lincoln in Bardo” By George Saunders
—Lisa S., Bluff Lake
I have a feeling Lisa will read my advice but if so she will email me and give me a mulligan. I still recommend it, because if not, here is a truly excellent book for it: “The Overstory” by Richard Powers.
Get a reading from Bibliocle
Send a list of the last five books you read and your hometown to: firstname.lastname@example.org.