Late September Reads

Nell Zink’s amazing Mislaid solidifies my respect for her writing, first encountered in The Wallcreeper. Mislaid is a tale of young Peggy gone awry, turning her back on brief lesbianism to shack up with Lee Fleming for ten years and suckle two of his children before absconding with the daughter, abandoning the 9 year old boy to his father. Peggy goes underground, grabs the birth certificate of a deceased young black girl and passes blond hair, blue eyed Mickey off as Karen Brown, passing for black herself. Chaos and charm abound. Lots of passing in this one– white lesbian passing as straight housewife/mom then passing as black due to the “one drop” rule in the lovely lovely south (it says black on Karen’s birth certificate– why would they make that up?).
After thoroughly enjoying her Journal of a Solitude, I read May Sarton’s preceding book, Plant Dreaming Deep but wasn’t as into it. The book details how she ended up with the house in Nelson, New Hampshire, her first battles with the garden/woodchucks/seasons, meeting the neighbors. Journal was much more in my wheelhouse with more thinking about solitude and the qualities that surround it, nurturing it and sapping its strength.
National Book Award nominee Angela Flournoy has a very readable debut with The Turner House. The book follows the story of a 13 child family living in 2008 Detroit, replete with burned out houses and foreclosures. Half the book pivots back to 1944 Arkansas where the father, Francis, was trained to be a preacher but who migrated north to Detroit in search of a better life for his wife Viola and young son Cha-Cha. In current day detroit, Francis is dead and Viola is dying of cancer and Cha-Cha is battling demons (his haint sighting – ghostly blue light that spooks him). The children need to decide what to do with Viola’s house, still owing the bank $40k but the house only worth a few thousand. Youngest child, Lelah, is evicted and unemployed, fired after borrowing money from co-workers to fuel her gambling habit, so she squats in the abandoned house. Brother Troy schemes to sell the house to an unrelated friend in order to secure the real estate for a lot cheaper. Various of the other children make appearances, living in Oakland, etc. They all come back for one last party, unaware Viola is dying, to try to decide what to do about the house.
Manservant and Maidservant by Ivy Compton-Burnett was another recommendation from Heilbrun’s Writing a Woman’s Life. Chock-a-block filled with dialog that reaches to the rafters and spills up the chimney, rapid-fire profusions of words issuing forth from characters’ mouths, hiding the main point for you to dig it up occasionally. Circles of talk. This book was a sort of Upstairs/Downstairs tale, with just as much focus on the servants’ drama and dialog as the family’s. It’s filled with near-betrayal, near-betrothal, scheming letters managed by an illiterate shopkeeper, sons of a domineering father who might just have wanted to kill him, and a thieving servant who is forgiven, folded back into the house.