Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

How often do we look at strangers and make judgments about their lives? Maybe we see someone often enough to have a short narrative about them- the cashier in the grocery store we see every week or person on the next treadmill at the gym. In The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Rachel does that every day during her morning and evening commute about a couple she sees out the window as the train passes their home. She imagines their names, their occupations, she even imagines their conversations. Of course, this couple has the idyllic life that Rachel herself wishes she had, at least they do in Rachel's imagination. Rachel has had a hard few years and that has led her to alcoholism. She has precious little to look forward to in her day; viewing this couple and their happiness may just be it. When the woman goes missing, Rachel feels personally invested in the investigation. She has come to think of these people as her friends and she is worried about the missing woman.

In this book, we also meet Anna and Megan. One of them is the missing woman and the other is the person Rachel blames for ruining her life. These three women are all a mess, train-wrecks if you will. And perhaps that is part of what makes this book so readable. These women are deeply flawed and the reader can't help but find out what happens to them. These women take turns narrating the story so we are allowed into each of their heads for a time. We learn what they feel, their motives and their regrets. The only complaint I have is that in addition to switching narrators, the timeline also switches back and forth. In the beginning it was difficult for me to keep up with when we were reading.

This book has been widely compared to Gone Girl, but I think that is a faulty comparison. This is a women-centered thriller in which a woman has gone missing. I feel the similarities end there. Just as a few years ago, so many books were called "the next Twilight", this seems to me to be the work of lazy marketing hoping to capitalize on a previous bestseller. This book was compelling, the mystery had me guessing for nearly the entire book. I really didn't see where it was leading until the author finally began to tip her hand near the end. I don't read a lot of thrillers, but this one I enjoyed. If this is a favorite genre of yours, I think you would really like it. Let me know what you think!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Walking on Trampolines by Francis Whiting

A young woman wakes up in bed with a man she has loved since they were teenagers. It is the morning after the wedding. He was the groom, but she was not the bride. So begins Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting. This sounded like the beginning of exactly the kind of book that would hold no interest for me. I don't typically like "chick lit", or perhaps it is more accurate to say that I don't like typical chick lit and I really thought that was what this was going to be, two women fighting over some guy that was likely going to turn out to not be worth it. I am so, SO glad I did not give up and toss it aside. I have no problem not finishing a book I am not enjoying, but I feel like I owe it a decent effort and this time that effort was well rewarded.

Tallulah is that young woman and, to her credit, she knows she has made the biggest mistake of her life. The narrative moves around in time and we are allowed to see all the events that led up to this mistake alongside the way she is dealing with it. Tallulah, or Lulu as most people call her, had a best friend named Annabelle who came from a family of famous artists. When Annabelle moves to town, she immediately latches on to Lulu and they become fast friends, even inventing new words together (bordinary: something that is both boring and ordinary; tediocre: both tedious and mediocre; varf: vomit and get the idea). As they reach adulthood, their relationship falls apart, then back together, apart and together. When I started this book, I thought the whole thing was going to be about Lulu and Annabelle and I was disappointed with the flatness of the story, but as I kept reading, it deepened and deepened, introducing character after character that made the book so much better.

First there were Lulu's parents, whom she addresses as Harry and Rose. Harry is a wonderful father and husband who has cared for his family and always stood by Rose as she has struggled with mental illness all her life. Then we meet Lulu's other life-long friends, Simone and Stella who couldn't be more different from one another and yet are permanently bonded. We meet Annabelle's parents, Frank and Annie. You can't help but adore Frank; and Annie, while deeply flawed, is better than we initially realize. And perhaps my favorite character in the book is Duncan, Lulu's boss. He is terrible and wonderful all in the same breath. Their friendship is probably the very best part of this book. One of my favorite things about reading, actually my very favorite thing, is all the wonderful people I meet in the pages of books. I come to love complete strangers as if they were family and true friends. Duncan is one of these. I am so glad we met.

This book made me laugh and laugh, and it also made me cry. Just looking back at several of the sections that I marked make me start to cry all over again. I loved the word combinations that Lulu and Annabelle created. I loved the richness of the each of the characters. At the end of the book there is an interview with the author and in it she says that she worried that the story, set in Australia, might not translate well to American audiences. And then she says this:

But I came really quickly to the conclusion that its themes are universal, the agony and ecstasy of first love, the intensity of female friendships, the awkwardness of the teen years, the stigma of mental illness, the family ties that bind, the way laughter can dissipate our fears. I think everyone knows of these things and feelings, no matter what side of the globe we live on.

That is exactly what I loved about this book.  This is one I will be rereading. I hope you'll read it as well. This would be an excellent book club choice for all the many discussions it is certain to spark. And I'd love to discuss it with you.