How It All Began (Penelope Lively, 2012)
There is a small group of authors that I am so fond of that I cannot wait for the paperback. I buy the hardcover book (or, more recently, download it to my Kindle) at once—no waiting. Penelope Lively is one of those authors. When you read many books by the same author, you sometimes uncover a story told again and again with different characters in different settings, but the central theme comes back again and again as though the author is still puzzling it out from different angles. Lively seems to have a fascination with “What if?” In her 2005 book, Making It Up, she looks at various turning points in her own life and imagines what would have happened if she had taken a direction different from the one she did. What if she hadn’t escaped from Cairo as World War II was breaking out? What if she’d become pregnant at 18? She looks at stories that could have been hers. In her latest novel, How It All Began, she takes a major event in the life of the main character, Charlotte Rainsford, a retired schoolteacher, and examines how a single event does change the direction not only of Charlotte’s life but of the lives of her family, friends and acquaintances, and people she has never even met. When she is mugged on a London street by a petty thief and breaks her hip, her move into the home of her daughter and son-in-law as she recovers is like a pebble in a pond . . . its circles of change spreading out to touch many, some casually, some deeply.
Indivisible by Four: A String Quartet in Pursuit of Harmony (Arnold Steinhardt, 2000)
Except for my annual participation in Chicago’s “Do-It-Yourself Messiah”, for me music is a spectator sport. What fun it was to read this book about someone for whom it is a way of life and for whom it provides a living! Arnold Steinhardt was for over 25 years a violinist in the Guarneri Quartet. In this book, Steinhardt examines his own path to this life—from student, to orchestra player, then soloist, and, finally, “at home” as a player of chamber music. The book examines his individual journey at the same time that it describes the relationship of the ensemble.
Blame (Michelle Huneven, 2009)
As an editor who reads and edits a lot of dialogue, I appreciate a novelist with a deft hand, such as that seen in Blame. The author manages to create smooth, almost faultless transitions from spoken to unspoken discourse without the use of quotation marks but simply with well-chosen words. Blame’s protagonist is Patsy MacLemoore, a late 20-something professor of history and a serial alcoholic who is convicted of “criminal negligence resulting in loss of life”— two lives, that is, those of a young mother and her 12-year-old daughter, hit and run over in Patsy’s driveway and with Patsy’s Mercedes. After 2 years in prison, Patsy embarks on getting sober, making amends, and transforming her life until, years later, a remarkable and unexpected revelation changes everything. This thought-provoking and memorable novel will stay with you for many years to come.
—Roxanne K Young