Sunday, March 23, 2014
Hidden Gems - 3 impressive debuts
The Returned (M) by Jason Mott
"In his exceptional debut novel, poet Mott brings drama, pathos, joy, horror, and redemption to a riveting tale of how the contemporary world handles the inexplicable reappearance of the dead. The primary focus is on Harold and Lucille Hargrave, who lost their son, Jacob, half a century ago in a tragic drowning accident on his eighth birthday. Amid global rumors about "the Returned," their son arrives at their doorstep-with an agent from the International Bureau of the Returned-still eight and healthy, as if nothing has changed in more than 50 years.
Locals have mixed feelings when Arcadia, their small, backwater Southern town, is inundated with soldiers and taken over as a refuge for the multitude of Returned who have nowhere else to go (not every family wants them back), and Mott ratchets up the tension. Are the Returned walking, breathing miracles? Or signs of the Devil and "the end of times"? Even local Pastor Robert Peters cannot decide how to respond to these people, haunted as he is by the sudden reappearance of the love of his life, a girl who died as a teen. When some of the disgruntled locals take matters into their own hands, there is an apocalypse of sorts and both the frailty and strength of human character become evident; Mott brings depth and poignancy to the Returned and their purpose for existing." - Publisher Weekly
Ghana Must Go (M) by Taiye Selasi
"A father's death leads to a new beginning for his fractured family in this powerful first novel. Kweku Sai is felled by a sudden heart attack at his home in Ghana. At the moment of his death, Kweku is filled with regret for his abandonment of his first wife, Fola, and their four children in Baltimore, many years ago, after losing his job as a surgeon.
His four children are now scattered across the East Coast: Olu, a gifted surgeon who followed in his father's footsteps; twins Taiwo and Kehinde, who share a terrible secret from childhood; and youngest daughter Sadie, who is struggling with her body image and sexuality. In the wake of their father's death, the four siblings, along with Olu's wife, Ling, reunite to journey to their mother's home in Ghana, where secrets, resentments, and grief bubble to the surface. A finely crafted yarn that seamlessly weaves the past and present, Selasi's moving debut expertly limns the way the bonds of family endure even when they are tested and strained." - Booklist
Nine Years Under: coming of age in an inner-city funeral home (M) by Sheri Booker
"*Starred Review* At 15, Booker went to work at a funeral home in West Baltimore and spent the next nine years viewing life from the perspective of death. The proprietor, Al Wylie, was fastidious and ambitious, loving to grieving families and mercurial to his staff. Having lost an aunt and fearful of losing her mother to cancer, Booker grew close to Wylie, his family, and the staff at the funeral home. Together, they watched the highs and lows of life in the neighborhood made famous by the HBO show The Wire, as drug trade and violence brought in more business.
Booker recounts emotional restraint as families grieved; the intimacy of tending to death; the discretion needed to deal with money arrangements, from Cadillac services to the blue dingy for the poor; and the diplomacy of refereeing family disputes and gangbanging retribution. She chronicles a changing urban culture as funeral garb morphed from somber black to photo-screened memorial T-shirts as more of their customers were adolescent black men. At a very tender age, Booker struggled to convince herself that death lent meaning to life for those left behind. A darkly comic memoir of life and death in urban America" - Booklist