A Cupboard Full of Coats
By Yvvette Edwards
Oneworld Publications, 2011
Jinx, a woman in her early thirties, is living alone in the East London home she grew up in with her mother, when Lemon, a friend of her mother’s, unexpectedly knocks on the door. It has been 14 years since Jinx’s mother was murdered, and 14 years since Jinx has seen Lemon. Jinx invites Lemon in and they begin a three-day remembrance of the turbulent time leading up to her mother’s murder, when Jinx’s mother fell in love with Berris, Lemon’s oldest friend.
This is a powerful story. The chapters seamlessly glide between the present visit with Lemon, and Jinx’s teen years when Berris and Lemon came into her life. There is also a brief scene with Jinx’s ex-husband, Red, and her estranged son, Ben. Jinx, the daughter of a Montserratian mother and Jamaican father, who died when she was quite young, had an unremarkable childhood until her mother fell in love with, Berris. Berris literally changed the course of her and her mother’s lives, and through her conversations with Lemon, Jinx works through guilt, shame and anger around her mother’s death.
Longlisted for the 2011 Man Booker prize, Edwards has not gotten a lot of press in the US. Nor did I find an author website. I read about this book in Poets and Writers magazine and learned more about Edwards from an interview in The Millions that was published in 2011 when she was longlisted for the Booker. Although the woman on the jacket of the photo looks like she is in her late 20s, Edwards was 45 when A Cupboard Full of Coats came out in the UK. I found this book to be beautifully rendered and completely engrossing. It is a mother-daughter story with incredible depth. Edwards talks about how she came up with the story idea in on the Foyles website.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home
By Carol Rifka Brunt
The Dial Press
Jane Elbus is a teenage girl living in Westchester in the 1980s when her favorite uncle, Finn, a visual artist, dies of AIDS. Alienated from her older sister Greta, and distanced from her accountant parents, who are swamped with tax season, Jane strikes up a friendship with Finn’s ex, Toby, a man she never met while Finn was alive, because her parents think Toby “murdered” her uncle by giving Finn AIDS. The story begins right before Finn’s death. He was an accomplished artist who never made as much of his talent as he could. His final painting is a portrait of Jane and Greta, and the portrait becomes a character in the story, as it joins the Elbus family after Finn’s passing.
Brunt is adept at capturing the angst of awkward 14-year old June and her alienation from her talented sister, who has the lead in the school production of South Pacific and is under consideration for a professional role in Annie. The plot of the story twists and turns in pleasing and unexpected ways. You could call this a sisters, or mother – daughter story, but at the same time Brunt explores the affects of AIDS on life in the 1980s and the role of art in families. Just as June is not as talented a performer as her sister, as the story unfolds it is revealed that her mother, the accountant, although not as talented as her brother Finn, also has artistic gifts.
I picked up this book from the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers shelf at my local Barnes and Noble, without knowing anything else about the book or author, and I am glad I did. Brunt is an American, but currently lives in the UK. This book was nominated for a bunch of awards and lists in 2012. And she also got over 4,000 votes in the Goodreads Best Fiction Choice Awards, coming in right after Junot Diaz in that year-end round up.
Happy New Year! Thanks to all my readers, especially those of you who dove in and subscribed to my blog early on. I appreciate your interest and look forward to sharing reviews with you and hopefully hearing from you in 2013.
After all the best of book lists came out in December, I want to note three that stood out to me. The Seattle Times had an interesting list of 15 best fiction books, including a debut novel, Alif the Unseen, written by a woman, G. Willow Wilson, who has also written a few graphic novels. It is described as a thriller with a hacker main character. I have added it to my 2013 reading list.
Salon has a nice round up. They asked authors who published books in 2012 to list the book they loved most from the year. Not a lot of debut books on the list, but a list worth checking out.
And the Wall Street Journal had a few debut novels on their list, including one, Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt that I will be reviewing next week