My one consolation from the folding of the Washington Post's "Book World" is that editor Marie Arana will have more time to write fiction now that she has taken off her green shade. Some two years ago, what I think is her first novel, Cellophane, appeared, a novel that I loved and have handsold to many customers. In rich, dense, sensuous writing about four generations a Peruvian family in the Amazon, Arana's imaginative story is memorable in its characters. Now I have finished Arana's second novel, the just-published Lima Nights. Just as I suspected, the characters are outsized and colorful; the story travels along with many unexpected twists and turns. Arana loves all her characters, and in writing about them she spreads her affections, even to meandering husbands. But what I loved most about Lima is the way in which Arana turned what could have been a moral tale into a bang-up ending featuring a lawyer, a psychiatrist, a fortune-teller, and a psychic all richly adding their interpretations to the failed relationship of our heroine, Maria.
The story Marilynne Robinson began in Gilead continues in Home (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25), but the focus shifts to the household of Rev. Robert Boughton, John Ames’s neighbor and closest friend in Gilead. When Jack, the black sheep of the family who has been absent for twenty years, comes back, Glory, who has returned to care for her ailing father, opens her arms and tries to mediate a communion between father and son. Boughton, though, has difficulty forgiving, and Jack continues to be plagued by his own demons, alcohol as well as self- and spiritual doubt. Home is a moving story about familial love and attempts at reconciliation.
Hans van den Broek is disoriented for many reasons. Born and raised in Holland, he married an English woman and lives in New York City. After the World Trade Center attack, the family fled their downtown apartment and moved, they thought temporarily, to the very bizarre Chelsea Hotel. Rachel felt increasingly insecure in New York and decamped to London with the couple’s young son, Jake. For two years Hans has been frozen geographically and emotionally in his New York job analyzing oil projects for a large financial firm. He partially fills the void of his separation by friendship with a larger-than-life Trinidadian of Indian descent whom he met through cricket, a game he is passionately fond of. Joseph O’Neill’s existential novel Netherland (Pantheon, $23.95) expresses the strangeness felt by New Yorkers after 9/11 and, indeed, the sense of dislocation we all feel in the new world that has come into being.
Hans van den Broek, the alienated protagonist of Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland (Vintage, $14.95), remains in New York when his lawyer wife, anxious after 9/11, returns to Britain with their son. Meanwhile, Hans’s mother, the only parent he remembers, has died in the Netherlands. To dispel his depression, Hans seeks out a weekly cricket game with a bunch of ex-colonials and falls in with Chuck Ramkissoon, a mysterious Trinidadian. Chuck’s schemes and energy become a counterweight to Hans’s passivity. The pacing of the novel, the simplicity of the plot, and the focus on a few characters, make Hans’s sadness and Chuck’s grandiosity stand out. This prize-winning novel is deceptively simple, and immensely thought provoking.