Jean Hanff Korelitz – The Plot

Jean Hanff Korelitz – The Plot

Jacob Finch Bonner galt als vielversprechender junger Autor, doch nach seinen ersten Erfolgen will sich einfach keine Idee mehr einstellen. Als Lehrer eines drittklassischen Kurses für angehende Autoren schlägt er sich durch und verliert dabei immer mehr an Selbstrespekt. Als sein Schüler Evan Parker ihm von seiner Buchidee berichtet, muss er anerkennen, dass dieser Plot noch nie da war, ein völlig neues Thema, nicht nur eine Variante eines bekannten Musters. Einige Jahre später wundert er sich, weshalb er immer noch nichts von diesem großartigen Werk gehört hat, denn neben der außergewöhnlichen Geschichte hatte Parker auch ein unverkennbares Schreibtalent. Er stellt fest, dass Parker verstorben ist, so wie der Rest seiner Familie, es ist niemand mehr da, der diese Geschichte erzählen könnte – außer ihm selbst.

Jean Hanff Korelitz konnte mich bereits mit vorherigen Romanen überzeugen, vor allem „The Devil and Webster“ war herausragend konstruiert. „The Plot“ besticht durch einen Protagonisten, der nicht wirklich bösartig ist, aber durchaus seine Chancen zu nutzen weiß und der langsam in die Enge getrieben wird. Eine Mischung aus bissigem Blick in die Literaturwelt, Krimi und Psychostudie bietet der Roman viel Raum für Spekulationen und immer wieder überraschende Wendungen.

Wie auch schon in anderen Romanen beginnt die Handlung mit einem recht ausufernden Vorspann, dessen Relevanz erst später offenkundig wird. Die Autorin spielt dabei geschickt damit, dass sie dem Leser den Plot vorenthält, über den sehr viel gesprochen wird und der das Buch zu einem nie dagewesenen Sensationserfolg macht. Man rätselt, um was für eine Geschichte es sich handeln könnte, die so außergewöhnlich ist, dass sie sogar Nichtleser zum Roman greifen lässt. Perfekt orchestriert kommt man er langsam dahinter, weshalb nicht unmittelbar offengelegt wird, was Evan Parker erzählen wollte und mit der Handlung hält man plötzlich auch den Schlüssel zu einer ganz anderen Geschichte in der Hand.

Seit langem mal wieder ein Krimi, den ich kaum aus der Hand legen konnte, da die große Frage, was hinter all dem steckt, maximal die Neugier weckt.

Meg Rosoff – Friends Like These

Meg Rosoff – Friends Like These

Eighteen-year-old Beth arrives in Manhattan in June 1983 with high expectations. An investigative article for her school’s newspaper secured her a prestigious internship at a newspaper and promises to become the summer of her life. However, her welcome is rather unspectacular, the apartment she shares is shabby and she feels like an outsider. At her workplace, too, she soon feels like a stranger, her three fellow interns seem to be much more knowledgeable and move around like fish in the water. She immediately befriends Edie, an outgoing young woman of New York’s high society. Hard work, a completely new life – Beth is overwhelmed by her new life, too overwhelmed to notice that not all is what it seems and therefore, she has to learn the hard way, that New York is a shark’s pond.

Meg Rosoff has created another young adult novel that also attracts adult readers like me. “Friends Like These” tackles not only Beth’s coming-of-age but also friendship at workplaces, the precarious situation of interns and still after so many decades, women’s place when it comes to careers – it does not make much difference that the novel is set four decades in the past.

Beth is the typical bumpkin, she is inexperienced, insecure and does not know how to behave in these unknown surroundings with all the cool people. Edie quickly becomes her mentor and introduces her to the habits and lifestyles of the Big Apple. The difference between the two girls could hardly be greater, but soon, Beth comes to understand that not all is gold that glitters and that what she envies is not what it seems at first.

I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, funny as well as reflective it opens a whirling world that makes you question what you really want in life. A novel of first which can be exciting and hurting at the same time.

Emily Henry – Book Lovers

Emily Henry – Book Lovers

Nora Stephens, in the book industry also known as “shark”, is a successful New York agent whose life is dedicated to her job. Accordingly, relationships have not been that successful so far, but that’s ok for her. When her sister Libby asks her for a four-week stay in Sunshine Falls, North Carolina, the place where one of her best-selling books is located, Nora is reluctant, she cannot stay away from work so long; yet, Libby is pregnant and Nora does not want to refuse her sister’s greatest wish, she is the only family she has. Nora knows all the stories about New Yorkers coming to small towns and falling in love, she has read them all, even published some of them, therefore, she can only ironically comment the fact that on her first day, she runs into Charlie Lastra – her biggest nemesis.

Admittedly, I am not really a fan of rom-coms, no matter if they come in form of books or movies. However, I really enjoyed Emily Henry’s “Beach Read” and as there was so much talk about “Book Lovers”, I was looking forward to reading it. Of course, the bestselling author did not disappoint, quite the contrary, I thoroughly enjoyed how she does not take the genre too seriously but lets her characters comment on it mockingly again and again throughout the novel.

“We know how this ends.”

Libby squeezes my arm. “You don’t know. You can’t until you try.”

“This isn’t a movie, Libby,” I say.

You do not need to find the typical tropes, Nora will find them for you and Emily Henry does not leave out a single one: the big city girl who looks down in small town life, the sister who mysteriously vanishes during daytime and does not tell what is doing or where she is going, the incidental meeting with the one man she does not want to see far away from home, the charming bookshop, cringeworthy small town activities, another attractive man – who does not like the first, of course – you name it. Even though there are no big surprises, I totally enjoyed diving into the story and seeing all the clichés unfold.

As a book lover, it was easy to fall for this one, a lot of references and hints to the industry offer the perfect setting for the two protagonists to fight their feelings which, needless to say, they cannot admit at first. Another perfect summer read by Emily Henry.

Antoine Wilson – Mouth to Mouth

Antoine Wilson – Mouth to Mouth

The narrator, an unsuccessful writer, is on his way to Berlin when he coincidentally meets a former fellow student at JFK airport. Jeff, too, remembers him immediately even though they haven’t seen each other for two decades. As their flight is delayed, they decide to spend the waiting time together and update each other about what they have done in the last twenty years. Jeff’s life was marked by an incident on the beach, when he saw a man drowning. He could save him but not forget the occurrence. He starts enquiring about him and soon finds out that Francis Arsenault is a successful art dealer. Jeff becomes more and more fixated on the man, wondering if he remembers that he was his saviour. When he gets to work at Francis’ gallery, this is the beginning of a major change in his life – yet, will he ever get the chance to reveal what brought him there in the first place?

Antoine Wilson has chosen an interesting framework for his story which puts the reader in the same place as the writer who mainly just sits there and listens to Jeff’s account. You know that what he tells is highly subjective, only one side of the story is presented in a way that Jeff wants to put it, but nevertheless, quasi as a former friend, you are willing to believe him not knowing where all this is going to lead to. “Mouth to Mouth” is highly intriguing from the first page, due to a very clever foreshadowing, you are aware that there must be something behind Jeff’s need to tell his life story, but you keep wondering what that could be.

“’Who better than someone who was there at the beginning?’ – ‘You said that before. Only I’m not sure why it matters.’ ‘You knew me then. That I had a good heart.’“

Repeatedly, Jeff stresses that he has a good heart, that he only wanted the best for others, that he did do nothing wrong and just like the narrator, you wonder why he keeps on stressing that point. Saving somebody from downing is surely an admirable act, selfish and courageous. That he started following Francis then and slowing crept into his life is not that honest but he didn’t do no harm. So you keep on reading eager to figure out what will ultimately make Jeff appear in a totally different light.

“Just think, if I had somehow not saved Francis’s life, if instead he’d died on that beach, everything that came after would not have happened like it did.”

The novel raises the big question about what might have happened if just one incident of your life hadn’t happened, or had turned out differently. Many things of our everyday life do not have life changing consequences, but some do. And everybody knows this pondering about the “what if”. Connected to this is inevitably the question of necessary consequences, of a bigger plan behind it all.

In Francis’s case, he was granted more time on earth due to Jeff’s intervention, but did he use that time wisely? He is a reckless art dealer and the closer Jeff gets and the more he learns about him, the more he wonders how that man deals with the big gift he was given. At the same time, he gets insight into the shiny art’s business which is all but shiny behind the facade and which is, well, just a business where money is made.

A brilliantly plotted novel which is thought-provoking and play well with the reader’s expectations and emotions.

Arianna Farinelli – Aufbrüche

Arianna Farinelli – Aufbrüche

Bruna, Professorin für Globalisation Studies in New York, ist erschüttert, als sie mit ansehen muss, wie ihre amerikanische Wahlheimat 2016 ins Chaos taumelt und der unsäglich und ungenannte Immobilienhai zum Präsident gewählt wird. Sie kennt als Expertin die Strukturen von Hass, weiß, wie Menschen reagieren, wenn sie unzufrieden sind mit ihren Regierungen und welche Folgen das haben kann, droht das nun auch den USA? Doch nicht nur die politische Lage ist prekär, auch ihr Familienleben liegt in Trümmern: seit einigen Wochen schon hat sie eine Affäre mit Yunus, einem ihrer Studenten. Nun steht die Polizei in ihrem Büro und fragt nach dessen Verbleib, denn es scheint, als hätte sich der junge Mann radikalisiert und dem IS angeschlossen. Dass sie von ihm schwanger ist, macht die Lage mit ihrem erzkonservativen Mann und den beiden Kindern nicht leichter.

Arianna Farinelli ist selbst, genauso wie ihre Protagonistin, italienischer Abstammung und lehrt Politikwissenschaften in New York. „Aufbrüche“ ist ihr vielbeachtetes Debüt, das im Originaltitel „Gotico Americano“ auf ein Bild von Grant Wood anspielt („American Gothic“), einem Nationalheiligtum, das den amerikanischen Pioniergeist und das ländliche Leben preist. Genau jene ländliche Bevölkerung war es auch, die mit ihrem rückwärtsgewandten Blick, den das Bild illustriert, den politischen Erdrutsch verursachte. Die politische Ebene wird durch jene der Familie gespiegelt, in der die beiden Ehepartner ebenfalls auseinandertriften: Tom aus konservativer Familie mit ebensolchen Ansichten, der den progressiven Ansichten seiner Frau kaum mehr folgen kann.

Der Roman wird in vielen Rückblenden erzählt und kommt immer wieder in die Gegenwart, die sich bereits in einem desaströsen Zustand befindet, zurück. Dabei wechseln sich die großen Blickwinkel der weltpolitischen Lage und ihrer wissenschaftlichen Analyse zunächst mit den Disruptionen im Nukleus der Familie ab. Besonders interessant hier, wie differenziert es der Autorin gelingt, die Situation der italienischen Einwanderer, die je nach Einwanderungszeitpunkt gänzlich unterschiedlich in die amerikanische Gesellschaft aufgenommen wurden, mit zu integrieren. Bruna bleibt formal genauso ein „Alien“ wie sie sich Toms Familie immer fremd fühlt.

Einen Nebenkriegsschauplatz ist die Situation ihres Sohnes, der schon als kleines Kind lieber mit Puppen spielt und Kleider tragen will als den gesellschaftlichen Vorstellungen eines Jungen zu entsprechen und mit den anderen wilde Spiele zu verfolgen. Mario benötigt zunächst keine Bezeichnung für das, was er ist oder wie er sich fühlt, nur wäre er lieber eigentlich Maria als Mario – dass er damit für seinen Vater und dessen Familie Enttäuschung darstellt, ist keine Frage. Der Großvater hat auch keine Hemmungen, den noch kleinen Jungen übel abzuqualifizieren. Mit einer unsichtbaren Freundin und seiner cleveren und mental starken Schwester jedoch kann er seinen Platz finden.

Ein vielschichtiger Roman, der gleich mehrere große Themen anreißt, alles zentriert um eine interessante und ebenso vielschichtige Protagonistin, deren Leben an einem Scheidepunkt steht, bei dem nicht klar ist, welcher Weg für sie am Ende wartet.

Kacen Callender – Felix Ever After

Kacen Callender – Felix Ever After

Schon als kleiner Junge wusste Felix Love, dass irgendetwas sich komisch anfühlt. Er wollte nicht mit den Mädchen spielen, keine Kleider tragen, sondern lieber mit den Jungs toben. Als er sich in einem Buch wiedererkennt, versteht er, dass er transgender ist. Sein Vater, mit dem er alleine in Harlem lebt, nachdem seine Mutter sie verlassen hat, ermöglicht ihm die Transition und dank des Umzugs ist ein Neuanfang als Junge möglich. In seiner Schule geht er offen damit um, was für die Mitschüler kein Problem zu sein scheint, bis er transphobe Nachrichten bekommt und sein Deadname zusammen mit einem alten Bild von ihm veröffentlicht wird. Eigentlich will der 17-Jährige sich doch nur verlieben und seine Kunstmappe für die Bewerbung an der Uni vorbereiten, doch jetzt muss er herausfinden, wer ihn in immer stärkerem Maße mobbt und keineswegs so aufgeschlossen ist, wie Felix es von allen dachte.

Kacen Callenders Roman ist stark von den persönlichen Erfahrungen der Autorin geprägt. Sie identifiziert sich als trans und queer und bevorzugt im Englischen die Pronomen they/them. Der Roman wurde mit dem „Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature“ ausgezeichnet, der herausragende Bücher ehrt, die LGBTIQ+ Erfahrungen literarisch umsetzen. „Felix Ever After“ beschreibt sehr eingängig, wie Felix seine Identität sucht und gleichzeitig, welche Erlebnisse der Jugendliche in einer vermeintlich offenen Gesellschaft macht, in der Pride Parades als Happening gefeiert werden, wo aber im Alltag genauso rassistische wie LGBTIQ+ feindliche Aussagen und Handlungen an der Tagesordnung sind.

Was mir besonders gefallen hat, war, dass die Geschichte verdeutlicht, dass der Protagonist ein völlig normaler Jugendlicher ist, der sich verlieben möchte, den typischen Schulalltag erlebt und sich Sorgen um seine Zukunft macht. Er unterscheidet sich in dieser Hinsicht in keiner Weise von allen anderen Gleichaltrigen, was häufig vergessen wird, wenn diese Gruppe auf das Geschlecht bzw. die Geschlechtsidentität reduziert wird. Er ist sich unsicher, was seine Gefühle angeht, wünscht sich nichts mehr als den emotionalen Rausch und die großen Gefühle, die er bei anderen beobachtet.

Dennoch ist er anders, denn nicht jeder wird mit solchen Angriffen konfrontiert und Kacen Callender zeigt auch gut nachvollziehbar, dass trotz der Transition die Suche nach der Identität, nach einem passenden Label – gibt es das überhaupt? – nicht abgeschlossen ist, sondern weiterhin Fragen und Unsicherheiten bleiben. Felix geht offen mit seiner Situation um, was ihn angreifbar macht. Im Inneren ist er aber nicht der laute, selbstbewusste Junge, sondern voller Zweifel, die er schließlich schafft künstlerisch umzusetzen und nach außen zu kehren.

Ein gelungener Roman für Leser, die sich der Thematik annähern und diese besser verstehen lernen wollen, aber genauso sicherlich auch für junge Leser, die womöglich auf der Suche nach Vorbildern sind oder hier eine Antwort auf das finden können, was sie womöglich fühlen, aber nicht einordnen können.

Colson Whitehead – Harlem Shuffle

Colson Whitehead – Harlem Shuffle

Ray Carney just wants to lead decent life as a black furniture salesman at the beginning of the 1960s in Harlem. His wife Elizabeth is expecting their second child and even if his in-laws are not happy with him, his life is quite ok. His cousin Freddie shows up from time to time with some bargains and Ray does not ask too many questions about the origins of the odd sofa or necklace. But when Freddie and a bunch of crooks plan to rob the Hotel Theresa – something like Harlem’s Waldorf – and as for his help to get rid of the loot, his life becomes a lot more complicated especially since Ray quickly understands that there is not much room for negotiation.  

With “The Underground Railroad” and “The Nickel Boys” Colson Whitehead has catapulted himself at the top of the list of contemporary writers. Just as in his former works, “Harlem Shuffle” brilliantly captures the mood and the atmosphere of the time it is set in. It only takes a couple of pages to get a feeling of 125th street of the time and first and foremost, how people experienced the riots after the shooting of an unarmed black boy by a policeman. Thus, even though the plot is set sixty years in the past, he succeeds in connecting it to present day events and issues.

“The way he saw it, living taught you that you didn’t have to live the way you’d been taught to live- You came from one place but more important was where you decided to go.”

Ray has decided for a decent life with his furniture store, he keeps to himself and his family and does not want to get involved too much in any criminal doings. He has grown up with broken glass on the playground, killings where just a side note of everyday life. Yet, Freddie is his cousin and blood ultimately is thicker than water. They have grown up like brothers and the bond cannot easily be cut even though this time, it means serious consequences.

The novel develops slowly but it is those seemingly unrelated marginalia that provide the depth of the story and create the atmosphere on which the story lives. A great novel vividly written and definitely worth reading, however, I am not as enthusiastic as I was after reading his former novels.

Lisa Taddeo – Animal

Lisa Taddeo – Animal

Joan flees New York to California after he lover Victor shot himself publicly in front of her. With little money left, she finds a small place to stay and she also finds the woman she was looking for. Alice, whom she had tracked online over all those years. She thinks back to what her life had to offer so far, her mother who was unable to love her, her father whom she admired childishly. Both have long been gone. Joan can run, but somehow her bad luck follows her, she seems prone to attracting all kind of evil and so it does not take too long until it comes back to her.

Lisa Taddeo made her debut with “Three women“ which I already liked a lot. In her latest novel, too, complicated relationships between men and women are central to the story’s development. The narrator herself is unable to love unconditionally, she needs to have the upper hand over her lovers, yet, this presumed precaution measure fires back and somehow she is stuck in the role of the kid who is longing for being loved. She is addressing her account of the events to somebody, yet it takes until the end for the reader to understand whom she tells about her life.

From a psychological point of view, Taddeo has created quite interesting characters. Violence and love are constantly opposed and they seem not to able to exist without each other. Joan’s grandmother has been raped, a dramatic experience of violence, yet, we do never learn about what this did to the woman. On the other hand, Joan’s mother does not seem to be a direct victim, yet, she reacts quite strongly and refuses her daughter the love she craves for. The women in her family are no good role models, yet, her father, too, does not provide a good example of how to behave, especially at critical moments in his life. As a consequence, Joan is unable to lead a relationship at eye level and feels the need to protect herself from the things that might happen.

Thus, as a grown up, Joan replicates what she has seen as a kid and ignores the effect this might have on others, only when she is confronted with a kind of mirror, her genuine feelings offer her another way.

“Animal” is all but an easy read, yet, it offers a lot of food for thought and raises important questions concerning central human emotions and behaviour. I am not an expert, however, I would classify Joan’s thinking with all those flashbacks as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder which is highly likely from her family’s history. In this respect, the author very successfully displays the impact of traumatic events on untreated children.

J. Courtney Sullivan – Friends and Strangers

J. Courtney Sullivan – Friends and Strangers

After becoming mother for the first time, journalist and author Elizabeth agrees with her husband’s wish to leave busy New York for a quieter place closer to his parents. Yet, the new life does not really seem to fit to Elizabeth. She feels exhausted from the baby and finds it difficult to make friends in her new community, the other women seem to be happy with dull pseudo-occupations and spend their days gossiping. When she decides to hire a babysitter to gain some tome to work on her next novel, things change finally since she immediately bonds with Sam, an art student in her final year at the local college. Sam herself comes from a decent background and is fascinated by the woman who seems to get everything done easily, who has style and taste and has made an astonishing career. Despite the age gap they become friends, but there are things they just ignore which, however, become more and more apparent the better they get to know each other and when they need each other most, a gap opens which is unsurmountable.

I totally liked J. Courtney Sullivan’s novel from the start. Sympathising with Elizabeth was easy since I can imagine a lot but not leaving a big town to become a full-time mother and spend my day with gossiping neighbours. Sam, too, was easy to like, still young and unsecure but with a good heart and totally in love with her British not-so-boyish-anymore boyfriend. From the start, it is a challenge between two characters who actually like each other but where there is an imbalance in power in several areas which puts at time Elizabeth, at times Sam in a better situation.

The author explores a lot of aspects in her novel which give you food for thought. First of all, Elizabeth’s move to a small town which does not offer much. Also her struggle with being a mother is something a lot of women surely can emphasize with. Quite interesting also the dynamics between her and her husband who cannot really cope with a more successful wife on the one hand, on the other he is relying on her financial situation to realize his own dream. Elizabeth looks down on him since he has never really accomplished anything in professional ways – not a good basis for a new start in a new place.

Sam lives the typical student life, yet, her fellow students all come from rich families and can afford things she can only dream of. She manages to live in both worlds, but feels often closer to the women in the cafeteria kitchen she works with than with the girls she shares the dorm. Her relationship with Clive is mysterious form the start, yet, totally in love, she forgets to question his behaviour and falls prey to him. She is still young and simply makes mistakes young people make.

Both characters as well as the plot have a lot to offer, yet, at times I found the backstories a bit too long, a bit too detailed since they always slowed down the main action. Nevertheless, a wonderful read I thoroughly enjoyed.

Lauren Oyler – Fake Accounts

Lauren Oyler – Fake Accounts

When the unnamed narrator seizes the chance to snoop through her boyfriend’s phone – which he normally does not let out of his sight – she discovers that he has a large Instagram account on which he spreads conspiracy theories. She is confused but admittedly, she was already thinking about splitting up and now she’s got a good reason. However, her plan – telling him after returning from the women’s march against Trump – fails totally because when she’s still in Washington, his mother informs her of his fatal bike accident. Even though she already was detached emotionally, this hits her hard and literally throws her out of her life. She quits her job and travels to Berlin, the city where they first met and where she hopes to find out what she expects from life and what she actually wants to do professionally.

Lauren Oyler’s novel is a portrait of a somehow lost generation who lives a double life: one in the real world, where many of them are lost and orbiting around aimlessly, and one in the online world, where they can create an idea of themselves, a person they would like to be and play a role according to their likes. Yet, the more followers they generate, the more narcissistic they become and inevitably, the fake life in the world-wide web has an impact on reality, too. Slowly, they also start to create fake personalities there and increasingly lack the necessary authenticity and sincerity it needs to have serious relationship with others.

The narrator lives such a life in both spheres at the same time, her job involves roaming the net for good stories she can re-use and pimp for the magazine she works at. After leaving her old life behind and moving to Europe, she does not even start to create a new life in Berlin, neither does she try to learn German nor does she really make acquaintances. She dates people she gets to know online simply to tell each one a different story about who she is – she successfully transfers the possibility of a fake online account into real life. However, this does not make her any happier.

In a certain way, this is funny and ironic since it is so much over the top that it cannot be real. But is it really? Are people still able to make a distinction between the two? And which consequences does this have for us? We are all aware of how photos can be photoshopped, how information online can be embellished or simply wrong and we pay attention when we are approached by someone online whom we don’t know. In real life however, don’t we expect that people tell us the truth at least to a certain extent? And especially in a relationship, aren’t sincerity and truthfulness necessary foundations to build trust in each other?

An interesting study in how far our online behaviour may fire back – not something we can really wish for. Even though the tone is light and often funny, is leaves you somehow with a bad aftertaste.