Abramowitz, Andy. A Beginner’s Guide to Free Fall. Lake Union Publishing, 2020. ISBN 978-1542014656 396 pp. $24.95
35-year-old roller coaster engineer Davis’s world comes to a screeching halt when, on the same day, he is put on administrative leave due to a malfunction on a log flume he designed, and his wife discovers his one-time infidelity with a woman on the team that helped install the flume. At the same time, his less self-assured sister Molly is having relationship and job woes of her own (she works at a fledgling newspaper and is dating a 23 year old). Told in not-quite-one-for-one alternating chapters, Molly and Davis struggle through their current conditions, overlaid with the absence of their mother who left when they were 8 and 10 (I think?).
The story makes the universal job/relationship struggle unique to it’s quirky characters. Molly hits a home run with a recurring column about motherless daughters; Davis enlists the help of his 6-year-old to design a magnetic flying carpet themed ride; Davis ends up as a lifeguard at his apartment complex’s pool and becomes an physics tutor for a young woman who flunked her last high school semester after getting expelled for pushing someone down the stairs, and, desperate to get into college, needs to take her finals and pass to get her diploma.
The pacing is excellent and I felt pulled through this roller coaster of a book, waiting to see how it would all play out. The writing is excellent; Davis is real on the page through his bantering dialogue. The game he and his sister play, trying to outdo one another with terrible business ideas, is highly entertaining. Supporting characters are strongly drawn. Great read to end my year!
I received a free advance pub ebook copy through Amazon Prime First Reads, which did not influence my assessment of this novel.
Julie Powell. Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously. Little, Brown and Company, 2009. ISBN 978-0316042512 400 pp. $12.99
Julie and Julia is a little like a meta book; the book deal was landed because of Powell’s blog, documenting her self-imposed challenge to cook her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol 1. and document it. I had thought the book would just be repackaged blog entries, but it wasn’t–I almost wish they had been juxtaposed, along with actual recipes, but I supposed the rights would have been hard to get. Instead, Powell fills in more the details about the process, talks more in depth about her friends and family, and finds parallels between her life, and Julia Child’s. It’s far from a biography, but the speculative bits are based in some degree of research and add a nice dimension to the text.
The writing is a bit uneven but I like Julie Powell’s voice a lot, she’s pretty charming. The food descriptions are seductive. And, I like that she’s often pretty raw and honest – about her marriage, her shortcomings, her language. By the time I finished this book, I wanted to read Powell’s new book, Cleaving, and make eggs en cocette. Which turned out shitty, but ah well. I just had another (vodka) gimlet and ate the potatoes, which came out great.
L’Engle, Madeleine. A Winter’s Love. Shaw, 2000. ISBN 978-0877888895 336 pp. $
On holiday in Switzerland, Emily struggles with her marriage and gets caught up in a relationship with someone else. Atmospheric, dated, and peopled with unlikeable characters and unfulfilled romance, this depressing is still wonderfully written!
Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. MTV 2012 (reprint). ISBN 978-1451696196 224 pp. $15.99
This first novel by MTV books has a sex, drugs, and rock flavor, but underneath is a depth and character and a serious story told with humor and honesty.
Charlie enters high school a sensitive loner, dealing with the loss of two loved ones. A first year English teacher recognizes his intelligence and potential, and makes an effort to reach out to him, giving him special books and assignments. The mentor encourages him to participate in life. Charlie takes this message to heart and becomes friends with two seniors, who support and encourage him, and sometimes take advantage of his selfless nature. Charlie, who enjoys poetry and the Rocky Horror Picture Show, often goes along with the crowd just to see what happens, whether its smoking pot, kissing a gay male friend, or standing up in the back of a speeding pickup truck, music blaring.
Like Last Days of Summer, Perks is an epistolary novel, told in letters that Charlie writes to “Dear Friend.” The intended recipient is never disclosed, but the format allows Charlie to be completely honest and sincere. As a writer, he becomes a participant observer rather than just a wallflower as he relates the details of his experimentations and spiraling depression as his best friends prepare for college.
The most beautiful thing about this novel is the perfectly captured poignant voice of this resilient and true young man. The climax is a shocker that will leave you short of breath. Freshman Charlie is reminiscent of observer Holden Caulfield from, with a dash less cynicism and money; fans of Catcher in the Rye will no doubt enjoy this first novel from Stephen Chbosky.