by Kristin Hannah (Crown, $21)
There's no audience more captive than one confined to bed, as I discovered recently when home with the>"/>
by Kristin Hannah (Crown, $21)
There's no audience more captive than one confined to bed, as I discovered recently when home with the flu and facing the prospect of taking yet another nap or trying to read the closest thing within reach of my nightstand. Summer Island, despite its ambiguous title and rose-tinted cover illustration, lured me in with the promise of unabashed brainlessness. I soared above the confines of my pillows and willingly entered the world of Nora Bridge, Seattle's female answer to Frasier Crane, an advice guru whose radio show earned her a stunning Belltown penthouse and a designer wardrobe. But Nora, as with so many good advice-givers, has some issues that threaten to rip her career out from under her.
The mother to the nation's loveless and dysfunctional has a past—a real doozy. She, who preaches love and forgiveness and family and all that fuzzy, wholesome goodness, has a lot to answer for. Least of which, it seems, is a package of revelatory photos taken of her in, ahem, compromising positions. Sound tame? Well, she was married with two daughters at the time. But that was before she abandoned them, a sin for which they still haven't forgiven her. The press is closing in, her station managers put the kibosh on her show, and suddenly her Benz wraps itself around a tree and she lands herself in Bayview (that would be Harborview). An accident, or—gulp!--suicide attempt?
Nora's resentful younger daughter Ruby takes mom to the family's Summer Island (Shaw Island?—supposedly one stop before Lopez in the San Juans) retreat for some R&R&R (the last one stands for revenge). Like all too-easily-soothed wounds, however, this fractured family puts its past on the table and gets all chick-flick about it. Sentences like "And Nora knew the healing had finally begun" punctuate chapters as we get further into Nora's enforced reunion with her family, and the hankies came out. (Though they were already out, since I had a code id by dose.) Throw two young, single brothers (one dying of AIDS) into the mix, and you've got a whole love/family/forgiveness casserole to digest. Runny-nosed, bleary-eyed, and perhaps feverish, I came to the last page of Summer Island with relief that my hometown was an even more exciting place than when I'd left it.
Emily Baillargeon Russin
Tierra del Fuego
by Sylvia Iparraguirre translated by Hardie St. Martin (Curbstone, $15.95)
John William Guevara, the 53-year-old narrator of Argentinean author Sylvia Iparraguirre's historical novel Tierra del Fuego, receives a letter containing a request from England: ". . . we would like you to draw up a thorough account of that voyage and of the subsequent fate of the ill-starred native who took part as leader of the slaughter for which he has been tried in the Islands." As Guevara pens a series of folios in response, the plot's puzzle pieces eventually fall into place: Guevara was a member of the 1830 expedition that delivered Jemmy Button, a Y᭡na Indian (who was documented in Charles Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle), from Cape Horn to London. Decades after the "civilized" Button returned to his homeland clad in English attire, he and other natives massacred a shipful of missionaries.
The Argentinean-born son of a South American mother and a European father, Guevara relates to Button's "Otherness": "We came from the outer edges of the world, from its ultimate limits, from a barbaric, unimagined place which, in spite of my good English and my blond mop, emanated from me and surrounded me, just as it surrounded Button." Guevara befriends Button during their trip to London, exchanging his knowledge of British customs for the Indian's intuition, and the two men share a few chance yet meaningful encounters over the following years.
While Iparraguirre captures the complexity of Guevara's identity, Button remains a type throughout the novel. He's the flawless native, resident of Eden, one of those "people [who] were masters of the ice and the rocks, the only owners of the guanacos and the seals, of the algae and the shellfish on the coast, and they had been for thousands of years." Writers have railed against the evils of the English empire and its colonialism for over a century. With its foggy narrative and sage savage, Tierra del Fuego casts an unimpressive spark upon an already raging fire.
Healing Dreams: Exploring the Dreams that can Transform Your Life
by Marc Ian Barasch (Riverhead Books, $26.95)
During a college break I flipped through an old high-school diary and got a shock. I had drawn a picture of my new boyfriend's face a year earlier than we met. The picture was of a young man who appeared in a dream. The college boyfriend has remained a lifelong friend. Coincidence? Did the dream merely state a predisposition for long-haired rebels? Did it actually create this desire, on which I later acted?
Marc Ian Barasch's new book Healing Dreams attempts to answer these questions and raises even more. It succeeds in part because Barasch combines the integrity of a memoir with good ol' journalistic questions to delve deeper into the topic. Barasch, a journalist, began research about dreams during a battle with cancer, which his dreams both foretold and provided clues for a possible cure. This "direct revelation" led him to consider the status of dreams as interpreters of the body for a brain that can't "see" in.
Like a sleuth, he investigates further, romping through a fascinating collection of dreams experienced by other people who had cancer, including prophetic dreams, lucid dreams, and big dreams, along with philosophies about the meaning of dreams in other cultures. Eventually, it begins to seem obvious that dreams are a direct source of subconscious and spiritual material that is overlooked—to one's own detriment—like gravity before Newton. As Barasch writes, who would leave "a letter containing a vital message unopened on the breakfast table?"
Don't expect a glossary-style route here (a horse means freedom, an ocean reflects sexuality, etc.), but neither is it the reading equivalent of an anthropological dig (the sword also represents virility to the Whahutsu Indians). Barasch's style is sweeping and graceful, and it's clear that he hopes we will share his excitement.
Other People's Rules
by Julia Hamilton (St. Martin's Press, $24.95)
Lucy Diamond is the housemistress' daughter at a fancy English prep school; she's 16, practical, and a sort of charity case at Wickenden, which is full of the daughters of the rich and famous. When foul-mouthed, wild Lady Sarah Anwoth arrives fresh from being expelled by the nuns at the convent down the way, Lucy is assigned to be a good influence. Of course, she's instead drawn into Sarah's wicked ways (drinking vodka from a mouthwash bottle, sneaking away to London) and, eventually, her corrupt, fascinating family. Lucy's introduction to the British aristocracy during a school break is marked by her own intelligent insight, even as the splendor and debauchery of the Gatehouses and their vast Scottish estate draws her in. On the way north for the first time, she observes, "During that journey I had the strangest feeling of being aware of my life for the first time, as if from being merely alive I had at last begun to live." Other characters are also smartly drawn; Sarah's mother, the Countess, is a pathetic drunk, and her father, the Earl, is a charming tyrant with a penchant for underage girls (or "totties"), including his own daughter and Lucy herself. The sexual abuse and the Earl's sordid affairs are thankfully treated less salaciously and more psychologically, as is the murder that provides the turning point of the story.
Unfortunately, both sensitive writing and vivid descriptions of sumptuous surroundings and interesting peripheral characters go missing in the second half of the book. Twenty years later, Lucy is an adult and the murder investigation is reopened; we are hurried through her guilt, sometimes redundant plot points, and an affair she strikes up that we'd dearly like to know more about. At the end, the author resorts to journal form, which seems sorely out of place and is not particularly well done. Worth reading for its fine beginning, Other People's Rules sadly ends up dull and anticlimactic.
Bethany Jean Clement