All Adults Here by Emma Straub
Emma Straub has a hint of Ann Tyler about her – although I always think it’s rude when people compare one creative to another, Emma Straub is a brilliant writer in her own capacity and not some copycat. But, what I’m saying is that if you like Ann Tyler you will love Emma Straub. And if you don’t, you won’t. The book’s plot doesn’t madly need explaining, it’s a modern family/domestic drama, interweaving many characters and plots so deftly – she makes it look so easy, makes it all feel so believable. It collapses slightly in the last quarter, and I feel like she missed a trick in nailing down how truly toxic sibling relationships can occasionally be, but it’s worth it for the first 3/4.
Writers and Lovers by Lily King
This is another one of those books, the sort I have talked about before, that you don’t feel has been focus-grouped to death. It tells the story of a 31 year-old writer, who is crushed by the failure to sell her novel and then battered around the head by the death of her mother and then sucker-punched by huge amounts of debt, as she struggles her way out of this malaise. It’s really good, it motors along despite not having terribly much of a plot and I laughed hard, out loud, at least twice. I think it’s very important, even in downbeat books, to have a bit of humour. The fairytale ending would have been nauseating had you not been witness to all the previous struggle.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
This is the story of two girl twins, brought up in the (must be, surely) fictional town of Mallard, USA, which was founded by a man who was technically black but so light-skinned as to pass-ish for white and the town is for these extraordinary technically black but so light as to pass-ish for white people. The twins grow up, get fed up with all this and one goes and finds the most black man she can, while the other one sets off to live her life as a white woman.
Where this book fell to bits for me was when we meet Juno, the child of one of these black/white twins, who is very dark (the book makes a massive thing about how black this child is, calling her “blue black” and “so black she was almost purple”: this is not me being weird).
She becomes a track star in order to also get the hell out of Mallard, goes to UCLA and then falls in love with a transsexual and starts hanging out with a lot of kindly drag queens. Then there is a huge coincidence and, my friends, that was the point where I could no longer suspend my disbelief. I just didn’t believe it anymore.
I’ve plotted novels, (and then never written them), and I know how it goes and suddenly amongst all the boob-binding of the transsexual and the kindly drag queens the book’s facade fell away and I saw in my mind’s eye the author in a meeting saying: “And then she goes to a party, and…” “Well that’s because she wants to pay for her boyfriend’s surgery you see, so…”
And the terrible truth is that once that fragile willingness on the part of the reader to go along with all this diverting nonsense has vanished, it’s really tricky to get it back.
But don’t mind me, I’m surely just annoyed none of my plots ever amounted to anything. It’s still a good book.