Well, that was devastating.
If Beale Street Could Talk is a wonderful book with so much love in it that is nonetheless about how structural racism can ultimately affect that love. Tish and Fonny are a young couple in love, and how they became a couple is told in flashbacks to the main story, where Fonny has been jailed for a crime he didn’t commit, and their struggle to free him.
It’s James Baldwin, so the language is marvelous; it’s James Baldwin, so the racism is cuttingly accurate. But what really struck me was all of the ways that love is shown in the story – the romantic love between Tish and Fonny, but also the friendship between Fonny and Daniel and the sisterly relationship between Tish and Ernestine and the parent-child relationship between Fonny and his father as well as Tish and her parents. The story is bleak, but the relationships and the caring that exists between people in the book was what made it worth reading to me.
Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead novels are a damn delight to read. They’re quiet and smart and thoughtful about people and relationships and how to be good to one another and faith. I’m less interested in faith than in anything else in that list, but she makes faith about how to be good to other people, and I’m very interested in that.
If you’ve read the prior novels (and I wish I’d re-read them before starting this one), you know that Jack is the screw-up who tests everyone’s ability to be good to each other. He’s the son of a priest who’s an atheist and a troublemaker. Before leaving town, he gets a girl pregnant. Yes, he runs off on her, and she eventually leaves their small Iowa town for Chicago. In Jack, this is all history, and he’s had a stint in jail to boot.
Now, he is in St Louis and aware that he is a malevolent force in the world. All he wants is to be harmless; it’s the goal he’s working towards. Alas, he has the unfortunate luck to fall in love with a Black woman, Della, and this is the 1950s. This is the opposite of harmless, and he knows it. So does she. They try to stay apart and sometimes it works better than others. But they are in love, and it’s a mature, understanding sort, these are not crazy kids making bad life choices.
Robinson has enormous sympathy for Jack and Della, and her kindness and love show in every word in Jack. I was eagerly awaiting this book, and it did not disappoint.
Becky Chambers writes charming science fiction novels that are primarily about all of the forms that love and family take, and Record of a Spaceborn Few is no exception.
Humans have long since left Earth and been integrated into Galactic society, but there are people who still live on the ships they first set out on, constantly improving and working on and changing those ships so people can continue to live comfortably on them. (And in a great touch: those ships are built from dismantled skyscrapers and other buildings and city structures from Earth – the Golden Gate Bridge or the Chrysler Building could be part of any ship.)
The plot comes from the fact that humans are relatively poor and technologically backwards and the Fleet is essentially that small town every teenager wants to leave for the big, exciting city. But there is also at least one person looking to come back, looking for a place to belong.
“All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” – Tolstoy
(Not that the book is on par with Tolstoy, but the quote is relevant here.) Record of a Spaceborn Few is the story of the town and the people in it, full of warmth and love in many different forms. Definitely recommended.
What’s it about?
Far from the Tree is, to summarize, about parenting difficult/different children. The author posits a construction. Vertical identity is the culture you get from your parents; horizontal identity is the culture you get from the world around you. But what happens when your child has a drastically different horizontal identity? Each chapter looks at family units who are dealing with a radically different horizontal identity: deaf children born to hearing parents; autistic children; prodigies; children who choose lives of crime; there are more. It’s a sympathetic look at how parents and children navigate figuring out who they are as individuals and who they are in relation to each other and the outside world.
Why should you read it?
It is long (700 pages). You should read Far from the Tree if you have children or want children. It’s not going to give you parenting tips, unless you want to be hammered over the head with “your child needs to feel safe and secure and loved so DO THAT” and “find meaning in your parenting to be happy.” These are lessons so global as to be almost useless. But it does help you understand differences in the world – all the examples about Deaf culture or how the world treats transgendered kids illustrate that everyone does have the same basic needs: to be loved and accepted. (I did skip most of the chapter on kids conceived in rape. I couldn’t deal with 50-60 pages continually recounting women at their most vulnerable.)
Overall, a thorough book that’s worth your time.