The Women from Baltimore
Okay, so what does the Dominoes Sugar Factory have to do with the three novel reviews by two Baltimore authors below, yous ask?
Listen to me: The last scene of my next crime novel (Tommy Red) ends a few blocks from the Dominoes Sugar Factory, so when I was looking for images of Baltimore, rather than the gussied up harbor pictures, I went old school.
Dinner at the Homesick Diner … by Anne Tyler … Pearl Tull is blind and on her deathbed as she reflects on the hard life she’s lived. Her husband, the father of their three kids, ran off without plans to return. Pearl never really told her kids their daddy took off and instead claimed he was away on business (which he often was), but that he’d be back … until they no longer bothered to care or cared to bother. The three kids are very different, but all shared similar experiences living under the often cruel mothering Pearl often exhibited. The novel is told in each character’s perspective. Her eldest son, Cody, has it in for his younger brother, Ezra. Ezra isn’t a whirlwind of energy or the contrariness often exhibited by his older brother, but he is Pearl’s favorite (not that that saves him from some very cruel discipline) … Cody hates how so many people take a shine so fast to his brother, especially girls. He has a desire to exact some kind of revenge on Ezra, while Jenny, Pearl’s second child, is an adorable young lady with the smarts and desire to excel in spite of some romantic mistakes. Ezra is the child readers will find closest to their hearts (much like Pearl’s protectiveness) … he befriends those shunned by most others … he takes on a job in a restaurant and dreams of one day owning one he can equate to home (albeit a fantasy home he never really experienced) … Ezra wants to have a restaurant with a homey atmosphere that would quell homesickness … no point in spoiling any of this wonderful novel. Just read it and see how it turns out.
Another EXCELLENT Anne Tyler read … how I found this (and so many other great authors) so late in my stay on this planet doesn’t really baffle me. I was good at being ignorant to anything that didn’t have to do with the sports I followed religiously, and later the streets I earned from, but that’s the beauty of surviving past mistakes (and remaining healthy enough to read) … you get to keep learning. All glory goes to teachers.
Earthly Possessions … also by Anne Tyler … although the concept initially intrigued me (a woman about to leave her husband goes to the bank to withdraw some cash and winds up a bank robbery hostage) … this one took some time for me to engage. The fortunate thing about that is it is a short read … and although it doesn’t measure up (for me) to either The Accidental Tourist or Dinner at the Homesick Diner, it did come around towards the end. The last few chapters really made the difference for me. Charlotte Emory has had it with her preacher husband, two of his three brothers, and her life in general … which is what takes her to that bank in the first place. The story is told in alternative time, the hostage situation, versus Charlotte’s past, and how she came to meet, marry and later want to leave her husband in the first place. Earthly Possessions was my 3rd consecutive Tyler book and I’ll no doubt read all her works before the end of the year … I’d go with one of the other two first, but this one is also worth the time, effort and cost in coin.
After I’m Gone … by Laura Lippman … I read a Laura Lippman book every few years and I’m never disappointed. I don’t follow her Tess Monaghan series, but that has nothing to do with whether or not they’re worth the follow—I’m sure they are, but I prefer standalones in general. After I’m Gone caught my eye when I read somewhere about it having to do with a former bookmaker with a wife, three kids, a few mistresses (but just one that counted) fleeing the scene (business/family/everything and everybody) from fear of a federal charge. What happens to the women he leaves behind is the crux of the story, although following the Cuban born retired Baltimore homicide detective working as a consultant on cold cases is the character we follow every other chapter throughout his investigation into the missing/murdered mistress. Her mysterious disappearance occurred ten years to the day the bookie, her love interest (and husband and father to the other women—his wife and three daughters) went on the lam. It’s a tale well told via clever character introspections. I was sucked in early on to Sandy Sanchez (the retired homicide detective/consultant doing the cold case investigation ), quickly sympathizing with everything about the guy, from his understandable (yet seemingly unacceptable) flaw of not having a relationship with his severely autistic son, to the heartbreak of losing the wife he so loved. By mid-book I was rooting for everybody, it seemed. There’s some great touches of Americana dating back to the 1950’s, through the 70’s, 80’s, 90’ and so on (when I appreciated the introspection most), and the ending is an exciting surprise.
Sara Bareilles ...
Sara Bareilles ...