First up: next month’s book club will be Madeline Miller’s Circe. This book is getting all kinds of buzz. The premise is compelling: it’s a retelling of the story of the mythical goddess Circe, a powerful though ancillary character we know from The Odyssey. We’ve read up and down the genres so far in this book club: a blend of fantasy/sci-fi/something else in All The Names They Used for God, memoir-ish (?? can I stake that claim?) in Florida, mystery/thriller in My Cousin Rachel, and family-centric drama novel in A Place for Us. Reading a modern-day interpretation of a myth should be interesting. (And I’m course intrigued by the re-framing of a narrative around the female experience.) Let’s plan to finish by October 23rd. In-person book-club members: stay tuned on location for our next convening; I have a feeling it will be too cold to convene in Sheep Meadow!
Book Review: Fatima Mirza’s A Place for Us.
Four stars. This book is triumphant in its representation of the minutiae of family dynamics, the small nothings and not-nothings that we exchange and share together, the minor events that turn major in our memories (and vice versa), the experiences that shape our perspectives of one another and impair or enhance our relationships. I found myself nodding along — yes, yes! I have felt that before! That, exactly that! There was a piquant truthfulness to everything she wrote: it was all wholly believable; nothing felt shaped by authorial intent or plot convenience.
I could not award it a fifth star, however, because I found the place glacial to the point of tedious. The entire fourth section of the book is a string of memories and snapshots told from the perspective of the father and while it brings the book full circle, I found myself skimming sections, exhausted by the recursiveness: “Oh no, not another: One day not long ago, Baba had…” At some point, the layering of small memories felt excessive, even dull. I hate to admit it, but at some point, I went from exulting in the everyday-ness and relatability of the story and its characters to pondering, “OK…what’s so special about this family? This is the picture of any family, or every family, and while I get the intent here — we’re all so similar, yes! — at some point, the portrait has lost my interest.” There’s a scene in the fourth part where the father is looking in through the window of the kitchen, observing his family preparing for dinner. There was absolutely nothing remarkable about the scene, or about the writing, and I just thought: “This is kind of like watching reality tv, but for someone totally uninteresting.” (Eeesh, sorry if that’s harsh.)
All that said, I do think that Mirza achieves something miraculous in the summation of this book: she proved to me just how similar a Muslim family is to a Catholic one, or, I would imagine, to a Jewish one, to a non-denominational one, to an atheist one, etc. I wrote about this point in my essay on siblinghood (#sob), but the book demonstrates that we are more the same than different: our families experience the the same clashes, the same anxieties, the same issues of togetherness and exclusion and identity and independence.
Fatima Mirza’s A Place for Us Discussion Questions.
Next Up on the Reading List…
+Juicy nonfiction: Currently reading this and it is SCANDALOUS. I actually wanted to nominate this book for October book club but generally feel that non-fiction books make for tough conversation in a book club forum. Fiction works better in my experience.
+Juicy fiction: Underwriting by Michelle Miller. Described as “a tantalizing glimpse into the boardrooms and bedrooms of six young hopefuls behind a Silicon Valley IPO that will launch them into the exclusive world of the über-wealthy—if it doesn’t destroy them first. Each of them is looking for success, but they may have to nail more than the deal to get to the top.” Um, yaaaas. This will be brilliant coming off the heels of Bad Blood.
+Serious writing: There There by Tommy Orange. The story of “twelve unforgettable characters, Urban Indians living in Oakland, California, who converge and collide on one fateful day.” There has been (in my opinion) a resurgence of interest in the contemporary West and its complicated history with Native Americans. This seems like important reading.
+I am absolutely dying over this striped/belted shirtdress. Perfect for work and it has such a fab Gucci vibe, but rings in at under $100. YAS.
+Love the “night night” embroidery on these jammies.
+An elegant silk shantung blouse heavily discounted! Would look so lovely with white/cream pants or skirt.
+We need more storage in our shower, but I had thought the configuration of spigots/nozzles would make it impossible. Then I found this.