Book review: Novels explore the intricacies of family
“Loving Day,” by Mat Johnson
From the author of critically acclaimed “Pym” comes “Loving Day,” a fantastic new novel about race, family and life’s surprises. Warren Duffy finds himself in a mid-life crisis after the end of a childless marriage and the death of his father. The only physical remnant of his father Warren possesses is a dilapidated white mansion that resides in the heart of black Philadelphia.
When Warren moves into the biggest house in the ghetto, he struggles with his failures, as well as the nagging guilt of his perceived identity as “not black enough,” as he is the son of a black woman and an Irish man. Warren possesses a cynical humor about his situation; until he meets a daughter he never knew existed and is stunned by not only her existence, but also the fact she identifies as white. Warren and the reluctant teenage Tal work to make a life together in the roofless house Warren calls, “more of a massive cup.” Warren gets a new opportunity to change his life, and together, they find life’s disasters and pitfalls make us who we are, and at times, the remains can be stunning.
“Loving Day” is a hilarious and subtly moving book. Mat Johnson’s gift for writing and humor is a rare combination and one that makes this novel so wonderful with its moments of brilliance that hit you like a shot through the heart. One of the book’s most powerful lines about family will never leave my memory: “A man’s daughter is his heart. Just with feet, walking out in the world.”
“The Book of Speculation” by Erika Swyler
All the women in Simon Watson’s family have drowned — on the same day, July 24. Simon’s mother died in the ocean in front of their family home when he and his sister Enola were young.
Years later, the family home is constantly in a state of disrepair, much like the family, as Enola runs away and reads tarot cards in a traveling carnival and Simon lives alone in the house that holds too many sad memories. His life is changed when a book arrives at his home; he becomes consumed by the contents of a traveling carnival log during the 1700’s in which strange and magical things were recorded. The book contains stories of a Wild Boy who could disappear into thin air, a fortune teller whose tarot cards hold a dark fate and a beautiful mermaid with strange eyes who could hold her breath and never drown.
Beginning with the death of his own mother, Simon goes back generations with the help of the book to discover why women who traveled as mermaid spectacles for a living all did the unthinkable and drowned. Simon races against the clock as July 24 approaches to solve the mystery of his family and save Enola as she becomes increasingly anxious when her tarot cards read the same fate of death over and over.
Erika Swyler weaves the lives of past and present together and creates a new story of the power of family and magical circumstances.
Shannon Ross is a bookseller at Off the Beaten Path.
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