Three Great Books #5
One last summer read and more....
Who Is Maud Dixon? By Alexandra Andrews
This is a nasty little confection of a book, and I mean that as high praise. Florence Darrow’s poor decisions have just cost her an editorial assistant position at a publishing house when she receives, out of the blue, an offer to be the assistant to Maud Dixon, the pseudonymous author of a blockbuster first novel about murder. After signing an NDA, Florence moves to the Hudson Valley to do menial work for Maud — whose real name is Helen Wilcox — before the two head to Morocco for book research. The women travel around the country, until one night Florence gets woozy at dinner and wakes up in a hospital bed with injuries sustained in a car accident she can’t remember – and with everyone thinking she’s Helen. Assuming the real Helen is dead and burning with ambition to escape her own unsophisticated roots, Florence plays along, and then some. Her grand literary destiny is finally within her grasp. Or is it? You still have time for one more juicy summer read before the autumnal equinox, and I hereby nominate this book!
Empire of Pain, by Patrick Radden Keefe
This one, about members of the Sackler family and their OxyContin-pushing company Purdue Pharma, is a blood-boiler, especially given the recent news that the family will escape liability for the opioid epidemic to which Purdue’s zillion dollar drug made a generous contribution. It follows the Sacklers through multiple generations, from Arthur, who introduced Valium to the masses but had nothing to do with Oxy; to some of his brothers’ descendants, who ran Purdue when it developed the drug and masterminded its marketing strategy. The company famously argued that the opioid wasn’t as addictive as other pain treatments, a statement that was sus from the beginning. Even as people became addicted en masse, died from overdoses and turned to heroin when they could no longer access OxyContin, the party line was that addiction is something that happens only to people who “abuse” the drug. (The sad story of a legal secretary in the company, who used the name “Ann Hedonia” to anonymously conduct online research on the drug’s impact and later became addicted, is only one counterexample.) This is an amazing piece of dogged investigative reporting; when you have finished it and your outrage has returned to manageable levels, pick up the author’s previous book, “Say Nothing”, about the deadly Troubles in Northern Ireland.
The Kingdoms, by Natasha Pulley
My shelf space is limited, and so there is a pretty short list of books I’ve checked out from the library, finished, and then felt compelled to purchase for my collection. This is the latest. “The Kingdoms” begins with Joe Tournier stepping off a train from Glasglow in 1898, unable to remember why he’s there or what came before. Even more strange, he arrives at the Gare du Roi in the city of Londres, which seems … off somehow in a way he cannot explain. He is diagnosed with an increasingly common form of “silent epilepsy,” characterized by jamais vu, in which things that should be familiar feel strange. Joe soon meets his wife and child, whom he does not remember, and learns he is in fact a slave, owned by a Frenchman following that country’s conquest of Britain in the Napoleonic Wars. (Which, as you may remember from high school history class, is not the way things turned out in our world.) The story really gets going when Joe receives a postcard with the picture of a lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides, dated nearly 100 years previously and containing the message “Dearest Joe, Come home, if you remember. M,” and resolves to investigate its origins. There are sea battles, time travels, intricate alternative histories, and at the heart of it all, a truly epic love story. I cannot wait to read it again and cry a little harder this time.
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