Monday, February 15, 2010

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

I almost would have taken this long novel back to the library without reading it if it had not been for the full page advertisement in the New York Times Book Review last Sunday for its paperback release with glowing recommendations from John Irving. I read most of the 500 plus pages over this long Presidents Day weekend and wept this morning at the final scenes. Verghese is a medical doctor who also studied at Iowa Writers Workshop, and the novel is so full of accurately described medical procedures that I'm sure I missed a lot. However, it is the best book I have read in the last year. Set in Ethiopia and America, it is the story of love and loss between identical twin brothers and their famous, but estranged surgeon father. Get it in paperback and start reading today. It will be a long time before I stop talking about this book.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Starting Out in the Evening by Brian Morton

I found this gem of a book at one of our favorite Massachusetts bookstores, The Montague Book Mill, whose slogan is "Books you don't need in a place you can't find". I always find something browsing there and this time I brought home and immediately devoured Starting Out in the Evening. Heather Wolfe is a twenty-something graduate student who locates and pursues the somewhat reclusive seventy-something novelist Leonard Schiller. Her plan is to write a masters thesis on his work that will bring his older novels back into print. I cringed when it looked like it was going to be a smarmy love story, but the novel focuses in the end on Schiller's relationship with his adult daughter, Ariel and her struggles with love. It is a literary novel, with plenty of quotes, allusions and references to other writers and the craft of writing. When I found out a movie was made of this book, starring Frank Langella, and it had gotten good reviews, I couldn't wait to see it - and of course - was greatly disappointed. It did not include one of my favorite scenes in the book, when Frank returns to France to keep a promise to his deceased wife, and the comet scene in the end. Oh well. I should have known the book is ALWAYS better.