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Book Nook - 27-08-2018

Monday, August 27, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

Accidental Grandmother
The two parts of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Tyler’s new book Clock Dance do not quite come together, and a seemingly significant incident has no follow through, but once the second part gets going, it is delightful.

Tyler establishes soon enough that Willa Drake is the kind of woman “whose prime objective was to be taken for granted.” She wants to study further but raises only mild objections when her college boyfriend insists on marriage. When she is flying home with Derek to meet her parents, the man seated next to her, sticks a gun into her ribs and threatens her to keep quiet. But he doesn’t do anything, and quickly leaves the airport when the plane lands. Nevertheless, Willa is shaken by the incident, and expects some sympathy when she tells her parents and Derek, but she is not taken seriously.

Another woman might have had second thoughts about marrying such a self-absorbed man, but Willa does not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Tyler writes with amusement at how she pays rapt attention to the flight attendant’s pre-flight instructions, so that she doesn’t feel ignored.

Willa gives birth to two sons, Sean and Ian, who show her no particular affection. Her husband is killed in a car crash in an incident of road rage. There is a small spike of excitement when the man whose car had hit Derek’s comes to meet Willa, but a potential of friendship between two lonely people is not explored.  The book then takes a leap, when she is settled in Arizona with her solemn second husband, Peter, who condescendingly calls her  “little one,” even though she is over sixty. Tyler does not say how and when Willa married Peter, but her comfortable life has obviously been without much excitement or colour.

All that changes when stranger calls from Baltimore to tell her that Sean’s ex-girlfriend, Denise, has been shot in the leg and hospitalised; someone has to come and look after her nine-year-old daughter, Cheryl and her perky pet dog called Airplane. The neighbour has assumed, Willa must be the child’s grandmother, because her number is scribbled by the phone in Denise’s house.

Even though she does not know Denise, and it is not really her problem, Willa decides to fly out to Baltimore to help, accompanied by her grumpy Peter, who believes she is incapable of doing anything on her own, a misconception Willa never dispels.

When they arrive at the home of Denise, Willa notices the “meagerness” of the young woman’s existence. She is a loving, if somewhat negligent mother, and Cheryl is amazingly self-sufficient for one so young. Willa immediately takes to the child, and Cheryl latches on to the older woman like a drowning person to a life raft. As Peter sulks around, Willa and Cheryl watch trashy television (Space Junk!) and cook together.

The neighbourhood is made up of a bunch of quirky—and as one of them notes—single people, who drop by to help when they can. The couple of days stretch to weeks—even after Denise is discharged from the hospital, Willa decides she needs help and cannot be abandoned. The coldness of Sean who lives in the same city and has no time to meet his mother, is contrasted with the dysfunctional but cheerful community that surrounds Denise and Cheryl.  Willa is so comfortable in the guest room of the small house, and enjoys her role as grandmother so much that she is reluctant to leave, even after Peter returns home in a huff. She feels loved and needed by Cheryl, while  her life with Peter in arid Arizona is symbolized by a giant saguaro cactus.

In spite of the joy and tenderness of the new relationships Willa forms, there is a little cliché there—that a woman’s life is not complete till she feels “useful.”  At some point, Cheryl becomes the focus of the story—the too-mature-for-her-age, plump girl, with a crush on a leather-clad neighbour, Sergio, she calls Sir Joe—and she makes the implausibility of the story worth glossing over. In any case, Anne Tyler’s writing is always elegant enough to enjoy.

Clock Dance
By Anne Tyler
Publisher: Knopf
Pages: 292

 

Excerpt of Clock Dance
The phone call came on a Tuesday afternoon in mid-July. Willa happened to be sorting her headbands. She had laid them out across the bed in clumps of different colors, and now she was pressing them flat with her fingers and aligning them in the compartments of a fabric-covered storage box she’d bought especially for the purpose. Then all at once, ring!

She crossed to the phone and checked the caller ID: a Baltimore area code. Sean had a Baltimore area code. This wasn’t Sean’s number, though, so of course a little claw of anxiety clutched her chest. She lifted the receiver and said, “Hello?”

“Mrs. MacIntyre?” a woman asked.

Willa had not been Mrs. MacIntyre in over a decade, but she said, “Yes?”

“You don’t know me,” the woman said. (Not a reassuring beginning.) She had a flat-toned, carrying voice—an overweight voice, Willa thought—and a Baltimore accent that turned “know me” into “Naomi,” very nearly. “My name is Callie Montgomery,” she said. “I’m a neighbor of Denise’s.”

“Denise?”

“Denise, your daughter-in-law.”

Willa didn’t have any daughters-in-law, sad to say. However, Sean used to live with a Denise, so she went along with it. “Oh, yes,” she said.

“And yesterday, she got shot.”

“She what?” “Got shot in the leg.”

“Who did that?”

“Now, that I couldn’t tell you,” Callie said. She let out a breath of air that Willa mistook at first for laughter, till she realized Callie must be smoking. She had forgotten those whooshing pauses that happened during phone conversations with smokers. “It was just random, I guess,” Callie said. “You know.”

“Ah.”

“So off she goes in the ambulance and out of the goodness of my heart I take her daughter back to my house, even though I don’t know the kid from Adam, to tell the truth. I hardly even know Denise! I just moved here last Thanksgiving when I left my sorry excuse for a husband and had to rent a place in a hurry. Well, that’s a whole nother story which wouldn’t interest you, I don’t suppose, but anyhow, I figured I’d be stuck with Cheryl for just a couple of hours, right? Since a bullet in the leg didn’t sound all that serious. But then lo and behold, Denise had to have an operation, so a couple of hours turns into overnight and then this morning she calls and tells me they’re keeping her in the hospital for who-knows-how-much-longer.”

“Oh, dear . . .”

“And I’m a working woman! I work at the PNC Bank! I was already dressed in my outfit when she called. Besides which, I am not used to dealing with children. This has been just about the longest day of my life, I tell you.”

Willa had known that Denise was a single mother, although she’d forgotten how old the child was and she had only a vague recollection that the father was “long gone,” whatever that was supposed to mean. Helplessly, she said, “Well . . . that does sound like a problem.”

“Plus also there is Airplane who I think I might be allergic to.”

“Excuse me?”

“So I go over to Denise’s house and check the numbers on the list above her phone—doctors and veterinarian and whatnot—thinking I will call Sean if I have to although everybody knows Denise wouldn’t even let him back in the house that time to pack his things, and what do I see but where she’s written ‘Sean’s mom’ so I say to myself, ‘Okay, I’m just going to call Sean’s mom and ask her to come get her grandchild.’ ”

Willa couldn’t imagine why her number would be on Denise’s phone list. She said, “Actually—”

“What state is this, anyhow?”

“Sorry?”

“What state is area code five-two-oh?”

“It’s Arizona,” Willa said.

“So, do you think you could find yourself a flight that gets in this evening? I mean, it must be afternoon for you still, right? And I am losing my mind here, I tell you. I cannot wait to set eyes on you. Me and Cheryl and Airplane all three—we’ll have our noses pressed to the window watching out for you.”

Willa said, “Actually, I’m not . . .”

But this time she stopped speaking on her own, and there was a little pause. Then Callie let out another whoosh of smoke and said, “I live two doors down from Denise. Three fourteen Dorcas Road.”

“Three fourteen,” Willa said faintly.

“You’ve got my number on your phone now, right? Let me know when you find out what time you’re getting in.”

“Wait!” Willa said.

But Callie had hung up by then.

 

SHORT TAKES
The Moving Shadow: Electrifying Bengali Pulp Fiction, selected and edited by Arunava Sinha, is a collection worth looking forward to. Says the synopsis, “Disappearing corpses. Scientists who are spies. Maniacal murderers. Brooding, remorseless detectives. Love triangles and murders. A robot that falls in love. Secrets of the dead and the departed. Sex, romance and betrayal. All these and more are to be found in these eight novellas and stories featuring spies, criminals, ghosts, black-magic practitioners and, of course, femmes fatales. These are the finest examples of a long tradition of pulp fiction that has always lurked in dark corners within the hallowed precincts of Bengali literature.

“Written by brilliant mainstream as well as pulp fiction writers from India and Bangladesh, including Premendra Mitra, Satyajit Ray, Muhammed Zafar Iqbal, Gobindolal Bandyopadhyay and the redoubtable Swapan Kumar, the stories in The Moving Shadow: Electrifying Bengali Pulp Fiction gives the reader a dazzling introduction to noir from the land of the bhodrolok.”

The Moving Shadow: Electrifying Bengali Pulp Fiction
Edited by Arunava Sinha
Publisher: Aleph
Pages: 256

 
Kavita Devgan’s Ultimate Grandmother Hacks: 50 kickass traditional habits for a fitter you,  is a practical guide to good health. According to note in the book, “Traditional eating habits are a delicious roadmap to a happier, healthier, kinder you. Our ancestors have a lot to teach us about hearty eating habits that not only focus on health but also the pleasure that food can bring to our lives.

“This book is an amalgamation of many of those old-school ideas that modern nutrition is now trying to catch up with. It is an enticing guide to inculcate time-tested food habits so we can develop a healthy lifestyle and even more importantly, rediscover the enjoyment of food.”

Ultimate Grandmother Hacks
By Kavita Devgan
Publisher: Rupa
Pages: 236

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