At one point or another, when things go wrong, most of us have felt like the whole world is against us. This can be as simple as having a day when absolutely nothing goes your way, or as complex as dealing with enraging hierarchical social systems and rules that clearly stack the deck against any hope of success. If we’re lucky, though, at least we’ll have someone else to rail with us against the Powers That Be. The protagonists of each of the new novels in this week’s book club are facing some stiff competition from an uncaring universe, but each one has someone valuable to protect and a reason to fight for another day. Keep these books in your back pocket for when you need a pep talk against seemingly insurmountable odds.
1. The Sisters Chase by Sarah Healy ($25): It’s 1981. Beautiful, fierce Mary Chase is 18 and her little sister Hannah (“Bunny”) is only four years old when they lose their mother Diane in a car accident and are forced to fend for themselves. The family-owned seaside motel turns out to be more trouble in taxes than it’s worth, so Mary makes the executive decision to head out on the road, taking her inventive, storytelling sister with her. Neither girl’s father is in the picture, so all the Sisters Chase have is each other, and the strong bond of loyalty they share.
“Mary could spin masterful stories and often transformed the room she and Hannah shared at the Water’s Edge into a land of beauty and magic and danger. A land where they were princesses, always running, always pursued. A land where no one was to be trusted except each other.” Mary will do anything to protect her sister, including shielding her from Mary’s own secrets, or even resorting to desperate measures. Dealing with unforgiving terrain filled with double standards and unscrupulous men, Mary will find these measures necessary.
An unusual story of deep and abiding familial love with complex and multifaceted characters, The Sisters Chase takes us from Hannah’s birth in 1977 to 1990 and beyond, and from the Jersey shore to California. Can they successfully keep the wolves at bay? You’ll have to read on to find out.
2. Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory ($28): Sometimes an unusual ability or talent will set you apart from the crowd. This can be a wonderful or dangerous thing, as it leaves you open to fame, but also jealousy and danger. Most of the characters in Daryl Gregory’s Spoonbenders have powerful psychic abilities, which they use to their advantage, their downfall, and their potential comeback.
Teddy Telemachus met Maureen McKinnon in 1963, during a government-run study on psychics. His only mental talent is the ability to con others into believing in his magic abilities, but Maureen is the real deal. What isn’t fake about Teddy is how hard he falls for Maureen, and their subsequent marriage produces three children, each of them with their own mental skills, including telekinesis, lie detection, and future vision. They rise to fame as the Amazing Telemachus Family but fall precipitously via a combination of personal tragedy and hubris.
Thirty years later, each of the Telemachus children has his or her own problems, including money issues, involuntary single parenthood (it’s hard to stay married to a lie detector), and mental illness. There’s also the small matter of both the Mob and the CIA being interested in the family, the former looking to collect on a debt and the latter seeking to potentially utilize their strange gifts. In the meantime, Teddy and Maureen’s grandson is discovering his own talents that might just save everyone from their enemies — or deliver the family into their hands. It’s Wizards vs. Muggles all over again, but at its heart, it’s just a story about family, with a magic twist.
3. Little Wrecks by Meredith Miller ($18): In a fundamentally misogynist society, young women have to stick together, because nobody else will protect them. That’s the message of Miller’s Little Wrecks, set in the late 1970s and starring three strong young women who are a little different from the rest, and who have had enough of a life that’s “factory-made and totally meaningless, pretending to be paradise and full of road kill.”
It’s initially not clear why Isabel, Ruth, and Magda want to leave their small hometown of Highbone, Long Island so badly, though their shared desire to get out is one of the things that initially united the trio. The town seems lovely, even perfect, but we soon see the seedy underbelly of gender-based violence that informs each girl’s need to flee. In a buildup reminiscent of Joyce Carol Oates’ Foxfire, they witness this violence on both a quotidian and extreme scale, as Isabel realizes her boyfriend’s idea of sex is much closer to rape, Ruth’s mother is dealt a scarlet letter and a subsequent handful of abusive boyfriends while her married lover goes free, and Magda faces the silence of the police officers who witness her father’s public physical attack on her. They discover that women are “the collateral damage of all that pretending.”
Faced with this series of injustices by family, and being groped and threatened by strangers, the formerly powerless claim power in the only way they can. They have a chance to commit a crime and get out of town (or just burn it down). No opportunity comes without a cost, however, and the decisions they make and secret they keep might wind up tearing apart the shelter they’ve built. It’s hard enough to go against the world with other people. It’s worse to do it alone.
What books make you want to take on all comers? Tag us in your next protective read @BritandCo.
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