Room by Emma Donoghue
Room was one of the most compelling novels I read this year and so deserving of its many accolades. It is difficult to pin point all the ways in which this novel is brilliant. The novel is told from the point of view of a five-year-old child. A lot is hinted at but little is said explicitly. The sheer horror of being held captive in a room, the delights and pressures of everyday life, leaves you with a constant sense of tension. Room seems to be both a literal place to exist in and an analogy to so many other things: the sometimes smallness of life, its restrictiveness and annoyances. The uneasy ending makes your stomach churn. Ultimately, Donoghue wanted to write a novel to shed "a new light on that most every day, banal experience of raising kids." The novel brings a lot more to the table than that, and I encourage everyone to read it.
It is unfortunate that this book didn't get all the praise I think it deserved. When people ask, "What is it about?" I answer, "It's about
husbands killing their wives." And that hooks them! Mr. Peanut revolves around three separate but intertwined stories about marriage-gone-bad. The book is framed by the story of David and Alice Pepin, an unhappy, childless couple living in present day New York. One day David begins to plot his wife's end, only to have her supposedly do it for him, by committing "suicide by peanuts," to which she was deathly allergic. The two police officers assigned to the case have their own marriage woes: the wife of one of the officers stops getting out of bed in order to make a point and the other officer turns out to be a real-life philandering physician from the 50s, whose trial and conviction for murdering his wife were a media sensation. This is probably not your run-of-the-mill book, so if you are looking for something a bit different but still excellently written, then I would try out Mr. Peanut.
The Water Rat of Wanchai by Ian Hamilton
This book can get bogged down in repetitiveness, but that doesn't
mar the fact that this is one interesting story. The Water Rat's protagonist is a forensic accountant, Ava Lee: she's Chinese-Canadian, with a love of Starbucks instant coffee and owner of a fairly posh home in Yorkville. Despite her Canadian roots, she still has strong ties to Hong Kong and to her mysterious "Uncle," with whom she conducts business. Ava Lee gave up the boring humdrum work of a typical accountant to hunt down businessmen who have stolen money (who knew?). The Water Rat begins with a call from Uncle's nephew, who is trying to hunt down $5 million taken from him after a business deal went sour. Ava's mission takes her all over the world: Seattle, Hong Kong, Thailand, Guyana and the British Virgin Islands, pursuing the stolen money. If you are a fan of a story with a strong female main character, I'd recommend you pick this book.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
I read a lot of non-fiction titles this year. In the end, I chose Henrietta Lacks for this post because of all the questions it compels you to ponder WEEKS after you have put it down. In the early 1950s, Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer and died shortly thereafter. The only thing that survived was a cell sample taken from her, without her knowledge, during her first examination. This cell, named HeLa, survived at a crucial time in the history of cell reproduction. Dr. Gey, who took the sample, had
been trying but failing to reproduce cells and keep them alive, for many
years before Henrietta Lacks became his patient. HeLa was launched to the moon, used to test the polio vaccine and has been reproduced so often it is said that it could circle the earth two or three times. But who was Henrietta Lacks? Who has the rights to the money made by her cells? How should scientific experimentation be conducted? These are just a few of the many questions that Skloot's book raises. If you can answer them, then let me know.
The Lonely Polygamist by Bradley Udall
Golden Richards, polygamist extraordinaire, husband to four wives, father to twenty-eight children, manager of a construction business, leader in the Mormon Church, is having one heck of a mid-life crisis. The obvious irony – Golden doesn't live up to his name. In this extreme comedy of errors, bracketed by test nuclear explosions (yes, you read this correctly), Golden's life is falling apart. His wives are fractious, creating mini-dukedoms in Golden's household. In reality, he is a terrible leader in his church. He cannot make a decision to save his life. And, on top of this, to save his construction business, he signs on to build a gentleman's club, which puts him in the way of his boss' mysterious wife. Udall has created an excellent formula that will make you want to either laugh or cry, or perhaps even both as Golden's life begins to crumble before him. Like Mr. Peanut, The lonely polygamist is a rich and dark comedy. If that's your thing, then pick this book up!