I’m like my very on book club as my latest reads have all been women-centered and fairly mainstream. But while all of them were easy, diverting reads, only one of them lived up to the jacket copy.
Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America was a departure for me as I hardly ever read short stories. This one I did in fact read for a book club, the first one I’ve joined in ages. As much as I love to read, I don’t generally do well in book clubs because I feel like it’s really hard to get to a place where you’re discussing the book on its own terms. It always seems like you waste a lot of time discussing who liked the book, who didn’t like the book, and then why everybody’s wrong, and unless everyone LOVED the book you never get around to engaging with it as a text.
That hasn’t been the case with this book club, because the woman who facilitates it puts a lot of effort into coming up with discussion questions that take us to a deeper place. So while none of us adored Birds of America, we still had a great discussion about the craft of short story writing and the commonalities among the stories. We all found them both sad and funny at the same time, with Moore excelling in the unexpectedly witty turn of phrase that produces complex characterizations with fresh economy. I am glad we chose it. My favorite story was about a dancer who goes to stay with a professor friend living in an old frat house in Pennsylvania. I loved the silliness of it, and felt it masked an appealing hopefulness about the importance of art for art’s sake.
I had such high hopes for Viral by Helen FitzGerald. The story of a college student who gets filmed performing a sex act in a bar, and has her life ruined when it goes viral, I was hoping for the fiction version of Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, but it was just so frustrating because the story just wasn’t big enough or interesting enough, and the ending was really unsatisfying.
Viral left me in the mood for something ripped from the headlines, so I figured The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian would do the trick. When a bachelor party in a suburban Westchester home ends with two bodyguards dead and two strippers/prostitutes on the run from the law, the host/best man finds his marriage in trouble because the girls turn out to have been sex slaves. Unfortunately, Richard was so dull and the author took such pains to make sure we knew he was a Good Guy (even one of the prostitutes likes him!) that it lost dramatic power for me.
So the one I really liked was Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson, about a preteen ballerina in the 1970s and her mess of a life in the present day. I loved the insider’s look at Balanchine’s School of American Ballet, and the complex psychology of the main character. There was suspense, drama, emotion, and struggle, everything I want in a book.