If Beale Street Could Talk

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.

Highly recommended.

Responsibility and relationships

I picked this up because I thought it would be fun and gossipy about a family, both today and two generations ago. Alas. It wasn’t.

It’s not that The Necklace was terrible, per se. It just wasn’t for me.

It’s about a love and what it means to go find yourself and how your relationships may or may not make it through such a journey of self-discovery. And is it selfish to take time for yourself, to figure out who you are and what you want? I mean, now it’s not, what with our extended adolescences. But it definitely used to be kind of a problem. What if you didn’t want to get married at 18? There’s a dude in this book who travels around the world to find himself, but expects his lady friend to wait at home for him. (To be fair, he does offer to marry her and bring her with, and she’s the one who demurs.)

This one is going to end up in one of the local free little libraries.

Books as comfort food

Here’s the book about relationships I’ve been craving, and it’s an old one. Published in 1993 (and one I’ve read and re-read and moved across the country more than once), it’s practically comfort food at this point. The Mystery Roast is about the family we make for ourselves, not just the family we have.

There’s Timothy and Eric (friends), Eric and Inca (romantic-ish), Timothy and Andre (definitely romantic), Lydia and Marec (romantic-ish), Lydia and Jason (complicated), and Eric and Lydia (familial). Relationships and family.

There’s also something about polar bears. We can’t forget the polar bears.

It revolves around a coffeeshop in still slightly sketchy New York City, pre Sex and the City. Andre owns the coffeeshop; Inca, Eric, and Timothy all have apartments in the building. Lydia is Eric’s mother, and it’s wonderful that she gets her own romantic storyline. It’s not something I find much, but maybe I’m reading the wrong stories.

There is a bit of plot to mention about Eric stealing an ancient statue at the beginning of the book, and it sets the plot in motion. But it’s not like he’s a thief, not a professional one anyway. It does turn into a bit of a meditation about desire and when it’s good and when it’s bad.

Basically, I just love The Mystery Roast. It makes me happy, and I’d recommend it to anyone.

Strong Women and Magical Realism

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

What’s it about?
State of Wonder is about a not-young-anymore doctor/pharmaceutical researcher, Dr Marina Singh, whose colleague (Dr Anders Eckman) has gone to the Amazonian rain forest and then died. He’d gone to the Amazon in search of yet another colleague researching a new fertility drug, Dr Anneck Swenson. Dr Swenson’s letter home informing them of his death was on the terse side. Dr Singh has many adventures in her quest to find out what, exactly, happened.

Why should you read it?
Well, you should read it because everyone loves a good quest story. What’s Dr Singh’s stated goal? To find out what happened to Dr Eckman, and what’s going on with Dr Swenson. What’s her actual goal? To get over a traumatic birth where she was the doctor performing an emergency c-section twenty years before.

I enjoyed the relationships between the characters and the strong women and their complexity as people. The men are around, but the women are the main focus. And the city of Manaus, Brazil; it sounds both boring and complex and interesting – her descriptions of it help shape the story.

Also, be aware that this one veers into magical realism a few times. There was a point where I was waiting for the book to reveal that it was all a fever dream brought on by an antimalarial drug. It wasn’t.

I wouldn’t have read this one if it hadn’t been for book club. I’m happy I did.