By Sally Gracie
Happy birthday to one of the great ladies in the history of the Methow Valley, Mary Bean, who turns 100 on Dec. 30.
From July through the summer, coverage of the fires and floods in the Methow Valley News was so absorbing that I read every story, then read it again. When it came to books, I also looked for stories that would hold my attention. What I needed most was to escape the real world and its problems. I just couldn’t focus on non-fiction. I chose novels that had good characters, good stories, and always – I won’t compromise this – good writing, too.
I gave up on the critically acclaimed bestseller by Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things (2013). In a fit of pique, at page 340 of 501, I threw the book and its central character, Alma Whittaker, across the room. Once she reached Tahiti, I was fed up. Alma is a pain-in-the-neck, just plain strange, and I just don’t care what happened to her.
Kaki Warner, born in Texas, is our Carlton neighbor and the author of 12 novels. After I met her and her husband at La Fonda Lopez during the blackout, Kaki dropped copies of her newer books off at Twisp Library. As fires continued to rage along the valley, Kaki’s most recent novel, Where the Horses Run (July 2014), held my attention.
You can’t always judge a book by its cover. The cover of Where the Horses Run features a handsome, well-built man, wearing a shirt, unbuttoned to reveal a lovely chest. But don’t casually peg Kaki Warner as a “romance writer.” The cover is the publisher’s doing, not Kaki’s. While this book’s plot has romance, it is also “historical fiction,” a more distinguished literary genre.
Kaki’s novel also has mystery and intrigue. The book is well-wriiten, with characters that develop through a memorable story. I will return to her other books. This one was just the book I needed in August.
Genre and literary fiction can overlap, as critics continue to say about Tana French’s novels. Her fifth, The Secret Place (2014), continues her Dublin Murder Squad series. The detectives have to solve a stalled investigation into the murder of a student at a boys boarding school outside of Dublin. A bulletin board (called The Secret Place) at the neighboring girls school posts a card proclaiming, “I Know Who Killed Him.” As the detectives close in on the murderer, the reader understands how very ugly emotions – vengefulness, malice, and jealousy – can tear apart teenage friendships and destroy loyalty and lives in the process.
My friend Barbara Waters, volunteer and substitute at Twisp Library and a prolific reader, says “This was my year to do very light reading. I think there was enough trauma going on in our own lives in 2014. Between the fires and the world situation, my mind couldn’t absorb anything more.”
Barbara says she tended to read “not-quite -romance stories,” though her 2014 picks suggest otherwise. Barbara was interested in Diane Ackerman’s One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, A Marriage and the Language of Healing because her father died of a cerebral aneurism when she was 15. “I’ve often wondered what life would have been like if he had survived and required years of rehab,” Barbara said.
The memoir tells how the couple coped and maybe answered Barbara’s question. JoAnna Carl’s The Chocolate Clown Corpse, a light-hearted mystery, filled the bill for Barbara. “It leads you down a convoluted path with many suspects, and includes interesting facts about chocolate,” she said. Barbara was glad to have plenty of good chocolate in the house while she read it!
Provided we suffer no major catastrophes in January and February, I have a backlog of “best” books of 2014 on my shelf (“NYT” indicates the New York Times’ top 100). They include, from the North Central Regional Library: Under the Wild and Starry Sky, by Nancy Horan, the story of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s love affair with his wife, Fanny; Redeployment, by Phil Klay, stories of the Iraq war (NYT, National Book Award for Fiction); Lila by Marilynne Robinson, author of Gilead (NYT); and books I’ve purchased, including My Struggle, Book One, by Karl Ove Knausgaard, which I bought, but couldn’t concentrate on, and The Book of Unknown Americans, by Christina Henriquez (NYT). More books next week. It’s not too late to add yours to the list by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.