March forth and read! This month brings two books that I just loved; one is a memoir by a best-selling author and one is the second in a fantasy trilogy that left me breathless for the last installment.
Andre Dubus III is the best-selling author of The Garden of Last Days and House of Sand and Fog, which was an Oprah Book Club book that was also made into an Academy Award-nominated movie. Townie, his new book, is a stunning memoir about his brutal childhood (and I use that term loosely) in a depressed Massachusetts mill town and his torturous path to becoming a writer. After his parents’ divorce, Dubus and his siblings lived in various mill towns along the Merrimack River with their mother. Money was scarce, and the neighborhoods they could afford to live in were full of drugs, crime and violence. Despite the squalor of his life, Dubus does a beautiful job writing about his family’s struggles to get along in a world that continually grinds them down. Dubus was not a big kid, making him the natural target of bullies. When he was 14, he decided to start weightlifting after he watched his brother get beaten up without being able to do anything to stop it. From that point on, he can take care of himself, but can he prevent himself from becoming one of the bullies he despised? As in his novels, Dubus explores the underclass of society and the almost insoluble connection between poverty, violence and powerlessness. In his late teens and early twenties he gets himself out of the mill town, into college, into the world of his father, Andre Dubus, one of America’s best short story writers. But his path toward writing isn’t an easy one – how can he reject his background? Wasn’t there some good in the people surrounding him as he grew up? How can he reconcile the intellectual life with the reality of the violence that permeated his childhood? Townie is a brilliant book. It will leave you as breathless as a punch in the gut.
Patrick Rothfuss’s first book, Kingkiller Chronicles: Day One The Name of the Wind, came out in 2007. I read it and loved it — Kvothe, an innkeeper, is telling his life story to Chronicler who has discovered that the humble barkeep is, in reality, the hero known as Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe the Arcane, Kvothe Kingkiller, and by many other names. Legends about Kvothe abound, and Chronicler intends to get the story directly from the source. The first book covers his childhood, from blissful happiness in his parents’ travelling actor’s troupe, through the time after his parents’ murder, when he ends up begging in a city slum, through his admission to the University and his first mythmaking forays into magic. Day Two: The Wise Man’s Fear is out this month and it just as good, if not better than The Name of the Wind. Part of the reason it is better is that it is longer, around 1,000 pages. Another reason is that Kvothe now has the skills to pursue his destiny – he can move out of the University and into the greater world to find out who the Chandrian are and why they murdered his family. Rothfuss has created a rich, fully textured world; his magic has logical rules, and his many characters are fully fleshed out and believable. If you are a fantasy lover who hasn’t read him, what are you waiting for? Even if you don’t love fantasy, you will enjoy this series – it has humor, romance and a gripping plot. I’ve been waiting four years for this book and it was worth the wait.
Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.