Three Great Books #9
Who needs some summer reading recs?
Blood Sugar, by Sascha Rothchild
The narrator of this thriller, Ruby Simon, confesses to murder in the first chapter. Even more shocking is that she was five at the time, and her victim was seven. She kills two more people as a young adult; all the deaths were deemed accidents. It sounds like serial killer territory, but Ruby claims she’s not a sociopath, citing her love of animals and capacity for empathy, and says that all her victims basically deserved it. (You can be the judge of that!) She’s built a good life for herself, with friends, a therapy practice, and a new husband, Jason, whom she adores. But when Jason dies suddenly from Type I diabetes, a police detective starts asking questions about how one person could possibly have been in the vicinity of so many premature deaths. And he doesn’t seem inclined to be dissuaded from his criminal investigation of the one death she’s not responsible for, no matter what Ruby says. In her corner are her sister and some of her oldest friends, one of whom is her lawyer and owes a debt to her for a serious favor she did back in college; those arrayed against her include Jason’s unstable, jealous mother and a frothing public that calls her the Purple Widow. As the investigation unspools, we learn how Ruby came to commit her past crimes. I ripped through this thriller, which is pretty much perfect beach reading material.
The Swimmers, by Julie Otsuka
I’m deeming this summer reading by virtue of its gorgeous cover and its brevity — you could read the whole thing in one afternoon, poolside. But the subject matter is not lighthearted, so fair warning! The first half describes the characters and dynamics of a group of lap swimmers at a pool. Identified only by their first names, they have in common their borderline obsession with regular swim sessions, and their altered sense of self while in the water rather than “above ground.” But the regular rhythms of the pool are interrupted when a crack appears “just south of the drain in the deep end of lane four.” The swimmers are uneasy. The pool administrators are reassuring but call in experts. The prognosis is mixed. More cracks appear. And eventually, the pool is permanently closed. Then the book shifts to focus on a single swimmer: Alice, a retired lab technician who is descending into dementia. We learn about the particulars of Alice’s life, including her family’s internment during WWII, her first love, a lost infant, her relationship with her daughter (an author), and eventually, her move to a memory care facility called Belavista. Alice’s losses, big and small, are almost too much to bear, and your heart will beat a little faster as you imagine what you, too, will eventually lose, one way or another. (I told you it wasn’t light reading!) This is a beautiful, bracing book.
This Time Tomorrow, by Emma Straub
I’ve read and enjoyed three of Emma Straub’s previous novels, but this one is by far my favorite, and will definitely be on my best of 2022 list. It’s about entering middle age, wondering what could have been, loving an aging parent, mid-nineties NYC (remember the heyday of Tasti-D-Lite and Gray’s Papaya?) ….. and time travel. Alice is about to turn 40. She has a good, if unspectacular job in admissions at the same private school she attended and a good, if unspectacular boyfriend. But her beloved father, who wrote a bestseller about time travel many years ago and who singlehandedly raised her after her mother took off, lies in a hospital ICU, his organs failing. Alice is bereft at the thought of losing him. When her birthday doesn’t go as she’d planned, she gets drunk, passes out in the guardhouse of her father’s apartment building, and wakes up on her 16th birthday, in 1996, in her teenage bed and her teenage body. Her father, healthy and 24 years younger, is seemingly unaware that his daughter is not her usual self, and Alice is determined to alter his fate, and maybe hers, too. This book is a delight. It’s funny and wistful and may make you choke up, especially if you’ve lost a parent; ultimately it made me want to make the absolute best of the present rather than worry too much about what I could have done differently in the past.