Laura and Emma by Kate Greathead, New York, Simon Schuster, 2018

This is a quietly curious book. It takes place in the New York City of Park Avenue and old money. Money so old it has become the structure of a universe where the answers to the problems and passions of life have all been systematized into well-worn paths that no longer need to be agonized over, just followed. Laura and her brother Nicholas are trust fund babies. Generational family connections provide them, unquestioningly, with top level job choices, schooling, residences, all in secured assurance.

You may think that it would be a little boring, so matter-of-factly do all the characters play their roles but the writing, arranged episodically, prevents that. You are drawn into the lives of Laura and the daughter she conceives, the result of a brief encounter in her family home with an imposter she never sees again. There is a sensibility about her, and hence about Emma, that is comforting, demanding little from the reader, but nonetheless, insisting itself into the consciousness.

Her interaction with the world she inhabits is difficult to categorize, a disconnect as if she has not quite manifested. She lives in a penthouse on the upper westside of Manhattan overlooking a neighborhood her friends consider dangerous, where she buys her groceries and learns the name of the homeless man on the corner. She volunteers at a women’s shelter and amuses her friends by wearing an unvarying uniform of turtleneck, skirt, and boots, rejecting unnecessary consumption out of concern for the planet yet goes regularly to have her eyelashes dyed. She takes a job because she thinks she should work but she doesn’t hesitate to rely on her status to determine her own hours and number of vacation weeks at full pay. You learn these things about her offhandedly, without detail, yet you can feel Laura almost as if you were slipping into her insular existence, her essence silently wrapping around you as you keep reading.

I recommend you experience this for yourself, particularly about what happens next, that we are not told, and I predict that Laura will stay with you, just out of reach, after you close the book, wondering.

The Little French Bistro

The Little French Bistro by Nina George, Crown, New York 2017 translated by Simon Pare

I came away from reading this book with the taste of magical realism in my mouth. I don’t know if it would fall into an academically decided category of this nature but it surely hints at it for me.
A 60-year-old woman on holiday with her husband despairs of her marriage and determines to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge in Paris.
She is rescued by a homeless man who she thinks is Death.
She steals a small painted tile from a nursing station and walks out unnoticed to find the locale of the scene portrayed that includes a small boat with the name Mariann, her name but missing the ’e’.
She is told how to read the land and the sea by a young nun in a graveyard.
She is led to shelter by a cat.
I don’t want to spoil the almost mythical rhythm of the story by describing how she comes to earn the term ‘sea whisperer’,but I will say that the engaging descriptive nature of the writing draws the reader into the very personal reality of Marianne. This is a world we are familiar with, but with a different vibratory thread running through it. It is a wonder to share with her the journey from drowning in the tragic to living in the magic “at the end of the world.” Definitely want to read Nina George’s earlier works.  Find out more about Nina, the bistro and what else she has written at Nina George.