By Susan Salter Reynolds
February 22, 2009
Marguerite Duras, translated from the French by Barbara Bray
Open Letter: 276 pp., $12.95 paper
For many readers, the name Marguerite Duras is synonymous with smoky cafes and doomed love affairs. Sultry heat drives her characters to sex. This novel, first published in 1952 and made into a movie in 1967, is no exception.
There's a little more raw daylight, since the narrator, in his utter boredom with work (copying birth and death certificates at the French Colonial Ministry) and love (a silly mistress, "The most fruitful times were at night, when we were in bed") takes to the sea, on the yacht Gibraltar, whose beautiful American captain, Anna, roams the world searching for her elusive lover, the "sailor from Gibraltar."
"I ordered a cognac," she explains to our narrator. "He arrived a little while after me, about a quarter of an hour. I saw him come in in the glass. . . . As soon as he came in through the revolving door, I felt a pain in my heart. I recognized the pain." Duras has got it down, the hopelessness of love. Down to the revolving door.
What Makes a Child Lucky
W.W. Norton: 128 pp., $19.95
"If you've never been hungry you never think it could happen to you." Gioia Timpanelli has written a novel that begins with hunger and is sure to end in longing. "I loved this land from the first time I chanced on it twenty or more years ago when I was a hungry boy searching the countryside for food to bring back to my family." The hungry boy, growing up in Sicily, sees his good friend murdered. He is drawn into a maze of shady deals and corrupt local leaders and is forced to live by his considerable wits. At 13, already old, he thinks: "As a child I had lived inside my own life with whatever I had found there . . . but now I saw and heard something new, something greater than my small life . . . [t]he shepherd's music had shown me both the sickness and the remedy."
Before he knows it, he has become someone invisible, dishonest, one of a gang of thieves and murderers. His salvation is mysterious, but not as mysterious as the sirocco, the return of the wild asparagus, the "thin red bird that stitches the high branches of a fir tree with its flight."
See You in a Hundred Years
Discover One Young Family's Search for a Simpler Life; Four Seasons of Living in the Year 1900
Delta: 252 pp., $13 paper
This is the story of a young family that leaves New York City to go back in time and live in a Virginia farmhouse as if it were 1900. Inspired by a PBS show, "The 1900 House," Logan Ward, his wife, Heather, and their 2-year-old son, Luther, left the city life stressed out and depressed.
What had started as an exercise in self-reliance soon became a lesson on the importance of community. Neighbors helped with tips on gar- dening, livestock and emotional survival. The family ate primarily what it grew and raised. They heated with wood.
At first, the daily workload, physical exhaustion and lack of personal hygiene caused the couple to bicker even more than they had in New York. But this changed as they lessened their controlling grip on uncontrollable things like the weather and learned to be more patient with each other. There's something slightly voyeuristic about Ward's "experiment," and yet it fills a dream-niche -- the desire we all have (on some days more than others) to radically change our lives.
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