Two relatively new releases in fiction include a novel by Dogs of Babel author Carolyn Parkhurst and a debut novel by a promising new talent, Britt Bennett. Both book titles are linked to Amazon and there are no spoilers ahead.
HARMONY by Carolyn Parkhurst Viking Books, 2016. 275 pages.
Don’t let the name of this book fool you. There is more harm than harmony in this family drama. But that doesn’t stop exasperated mother, Alexandra Hammond, from looking for an answer to her prayers–even if she finds it in all the wrong places.
Alexandra and husband, Josh, have two daughters.
Tilly is a thirteen year-old mystery. She is brilliant and yet she has baffled both medical and educational experts. She falls somewhere on the Autism spectrum–under the ambiguous yet wide-reaching umbrella. Tilly can’t control her impulses– she often talks like a horny sailor, and has no concept of social cues.
And then there’s younger sister, Iris, a bright eleven year-old who alternates with her mother as a narrator and brings the perspective of what it’s like to be the normal kid in the family.
So when Alexandra buys into child-behavior guru Scott Bean’s new Camp Harmony as a solution for the strife and stress of modern life under the umbrella, she and Josh pack up their girls, sell their worldly goods in the tony suburbs of D.C., and move to the boonies of New Hampshire.
But Scott Bean isn’t the expert he seems to be, and nothing is what it appears. Buckle up for the rough ride ahead when one family’s squeaky wheel drives them off course and into grave danger.
This is a quick read that will keep you turning the page. The author skillfully weaves a story that begins with a Prologue which, more aptly, should be called Alexandra’s Disclaimer. As I read, I flipped back to the Prologue a few times looking at the pattern of the breadcrumbs Parkhurst sets out. And even so, the ending surprised me.
Parkhurst is on-point when it comes to capturing the way it feels to parent someone who is under the umbrella. This reader can’t help but feel the pinch of Alexandra’s shoes on her own swollen feet.
If the stress of modern life has ever made you wonder about going off the grid, you may want to pick up this cautionary tale. It is a satisfying read.
THE MOTHERS by Brit Bennett Riverhead Books, 2016. 288 pages
In this Amazon Best Book of October, 2016, debut novelist Britt Bennett hits a homerun out of the ballpark–and in a twist straight out of the dreams of most new novelists, Warner Brothers has tapped Kerry Washington to produce the film adaptation of THE MOTHERS. Wow. Just wow.
Nadia Turner’s mother killed herself. She left no note. Her father, a retired Marine and active church volunteer, is not the most demonstrative man, but he is a good father. He’s just at odds at how to deal with the loss of his wife and the subsequent behavior of his daughter.
What’s a seventeen year-old girl to do? Act out. Get drunk. Screw the pastor’s delicious son, Luke. And then she gets pregnant. That’s what.
This novel is narrated by the omniscient yet unseen mothers who attend the Upper Room Church in Oceanside, California. And it’s wicked fun to hear the voice of their hard-won wisdom layered over the mistakes that Nadia, Luke, and Nadia’s best friend Aubrey are making.
We were girls once. As hard as that is to believe.
Oh, you can’t see it now–our bodies have stretched and sagged, faces and necks dropping…But we were girls once, which is to say, we have all loved an ain’t-shit man. No Christian way of putting it. There are two types of men in the world: men who are and men who ain’t about shit…
…It’s exciting, loving someone who can never love you back. Freeing, in its own way. No shame in loving an ain’t-shit man, long as you get it out of your system good and early. A tragic woman hooks into an ain’t-shit man, or worse, lets him hook into her. He will drag her until he tires. He will climb atop her shoulders and her body will sag from the weight of loving him.
Those are the ones we worry about. (87-88)
And worry they should, for Nadia Turner and Luke Sheppard have a very grown-up problem to deal with. Plus, Nadia has a scholarship to Michigan in the fall. As for Luke?
Luke doesn’t want to be an ain’t-shit man. He’s just too young to understand that making a grown-ass decision will have grown-ass consequences.
Consequences that will ripple out into their Oceanside, California community that is centered around Upper Room Church.
While this is a book about black Americans, the race of the characters in this story makes no difference. This story could have just of easily been told by any racial, cultural or religious subset of Americans. It is a story that supercedes the things that divide us. Love and loss. Mistakes and redemption. Friendship and betrayal. Propriety and immorality. Selfisness and selflessness.
The novel spans the young adult years of Nadia, Luke and Aubrey. Anyone who ever wondered, “What if” will find something of value in this read.
I can’t wait to see THE MOTHERS in the theater, but since the book is always better than the movie, check it out if you’re looking for a feminine twist on the story of the Prodigal Son.