Tag Archives: rape

Family by J. California Cooper

From a cosmopolitan family are beget descendants who are stolen for slavery in the American South, bringing dear reader to Fammy, who begets Clora by a black man because she wanted a black baby for her own, after enduring her master’s rapes and the selling of her children. She takes her life, as does Clora, when she envisions the future of her daughter Always. Yet Clora persists as a spiritual entity, watching her family throughout their lives. This is the story of Always, unable to follow her siblings in their escape by passing for white, who rises above her veneer of subjugation, fully prepared to live free after emancipation. Clora witnesses her family branch out again across the globe.

Cooper explicitly presents the vicarious existence of slaves, and the various ways that could procure a safer passage, as well as the intricately convoluted familial connections betwixt white masters / mistresses and slaves. The hint of dialect bumps through both races, showing the blending of cultures based on proximity, and religion also bleeds across the barriers, represented by Clora’s routine references to the Christian God. This novel offers a valuable lesson in how the foundation for systemic racism was laid and on what our country was built, in spite of the whitewashed American dream. Read it with a careful eye toward the small references and unspoken understandings between characters.

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin

Lyla Volpe doesn’t expect her life to change after her crush takes a drunken, semi-naked photo of her at a party, because she doesn’t want to do anything about it. Tom, her working-class, single father, astonished by her complacency, cannot let it go. The boy’s mother, Nina, is sick over the incident and also cannot let it go, though her wealthy husband attempts to cover it up. The story whips back and forth on who exactly the culprit may be, but eventually the truth comes out, and Nina finally releases her insidious secret in order to save herself, her son, and his victim. The ending wrapped up quickly in a summarized chapter, disappointing readers who expected more about how the boy redeemed himself.

This novel demonstrates how well women are indoctrinated to be polite and quiet, even in the face of pernicious behavior of men they trust, how women justify such behavior as not so bad, not something they would call rape, or even harassment, certainly not a sex crime. Wealth is no protection, as the boy’s ex-girlfriend proves with her self-destructive actions. Giffin created credible characters who interacted as expected from the reader’s perspective, privy to information and emotional accouterments before it’s shared with other characters, showing the truth in fiction.

Fans of Liane Moriarty and Kate Moretti and Celeste Ng will appreciate Giffin’s style, ability to present complex relationships, and subject matter. I was fortunate to receive a copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

A Fist Around the Heart by Heather Chisvin

Anna “Bencke” Grieve’s life changed after Tsar Alexander II’s assassination. In fear for their lives as Jews, her mother, a privileged servant, asked her employers Count and Countess Chernovski to take Bencke and her older sister Esther with them to Canada. The Chernovski’s later adopt them, believing their parents to be dead. Bencke does her best to care for Esther, who suffers episodes from traumatic memories that incapacitate her at times, as she herself tries to fit her eccentric personality into Countess Chernovski’s picture perfect household. Decades later, Anna receives a phone call from the Winnipeg police informing her that her sister has committed suicide by stepping in front of a train. She heads to Canada seeking the truth. The story alternates between this investigation and a backstory of a life fully lived, from Anna’s forced relocation to NYC, to circumstances causing her to be deported to Russia during WWI. In the investigation, Anna learns her sister’s secrets and must live with them now.

Chisvin brings history to life in Anna’s story, as dear reader sees her torn from her family as a child after her country’s leader is killed and Jews are blamed, and as an activist for women’s rights alongside Margaret Sanger. She becomes a part of the melting pot that is NYC, falls into the fear of Americans who deport her in the war, and witnesses the disorder of Russia as essentially an outsider. Chisvin brings closure to Anna in her mixed emotions of finally being free of her sister as it breaks her heart. The last line of the book is brilliant in its imagery of this closure.

I was fortunate to receive a digital copy of this beautiful story from the publisher through NetGalley.

Big Little Lies (2014 Berkley) by Liane Moriarty

Someone died at the Pirriwee Elementary parent’s trivia night. Just who, how, and why are explored throughout the story, beginning months earlier with new mom Jane and son Ziggy introduced to the kindergarten community. Madeline and Celeste befriend her as their frenemies waylay her with accusations. Secrets worm their way out painfully slowly, personalities clash, and life decisions are made. The parents of Pirriewee Elementary learn more about each other this year than they ever wanted to know: bullying, adultery, abuse, etc.

Moriarty brilliantly resolves every tangle in this convoluted storyline, with a gotcha ending. She not so much develops the characters as seemingly lays out the personalities of loudmouth, but loving Madeline, whose ex remarried granola Bonnie and enrolled his kindergärtner in the same class as her child, gorgeous, flaky Celeste, mother of twins, who can hold a secret tighter than a nutshell, and Jane, an anomaly who drops a bombshell on them.

Antagonist Renata, with sidekick Harper, and half of the kindergarten parents, relentlessly pursues her goal of removing Jane’s son from the class based on an assumption. Moriarty does an excellent job of showing Renata’s justifiable reason of protecting her child, making her a complex character who is intertwined in the main character’s lives before Jane arrives. She weaves all of the extraneous, yet relevant, characters into the story through police statements and references by the main characters. The revelations that lead to a resolution are doled out in a credible timeline and manner, contributing to the group’s unusual reaction to the death.

I don’t know anyone else who writes like Liane Moriarty. She keeps a huge amount of details under control and multiple characters distinct. The perceived slights and misread cues are so relatable to any reader. Surely everyone has jumped the gun once or twice, especially when concerned about their child’s welfare, or gone overboard when obsessing about something outside of their control. Moriarty is great at telling details that connect characters and at the same time, explain why they miss something that they later feel should have been obvious.

Readers who love mysteries set amongst everyday people and places will appreciate this story. Those who like to see the bit of naughtiness in people will enjoy the novel. It’s a wild ride!