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.
The ABA just came out with the November Indie Book List
Two first novels are mentioned:
The Stockholm Octavo, by Karen Engelmann
Described as a suspenseful,l layered story set in 18th century Stockholm. Compared to Elizabeth Kostovo’s The Historian. ‘Octavo’ is a type of fortunetelling
Crossing on the Paris, by Dana Gynther
Described as a story of three woman travelling on a transatlantic ocean liner from France to New York City in the post-WWI era.
Both look intriguing to me!
The Lifeboat, By Charlotte Rogan
Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown and Co, 2012
After Grace Winter is rescued from a lifeboat, in which she spent 21 days floating in the Atlantic Ocean, she is arrested, along with two other women, for attempted murder. The year is 1914. Grace and her newlywed husband, Henry, were travelling fist class passage from London to New York when their ocean liner, the Empress Alexandra, suffered an unexplained explosion and fire. In the chaos of the evacuation Henry makes sure Grace gets into a lifeboat. She does not know his fate while she spends 21 days at sea with 38 other survivors.
I don’t usually pick up historical fiction, but I found this premise intriguging and I was completely engaged by this book. It is a literary pageturner. The story, told from a close first person point-of-view, chronicles the survival on the lifeboat—the initial attempt to flee the fiery boat; hopes of rescue; the leadership of John Hardie, the only crew member on the boat; the dwindling food supplies; and the wearing damp crowded conditions—while also telling the story of how Grace got on the boat and what her hopes had been for life in New York with her new husband. Drama builds as the days at sea add up and tensions rise. The story explores class and gender differences of the time as some of the women in the boat begin to disagree with the survivalist choices made by the men. The writing is engaging and personal.
The author’s story is also intriguing. The NYTs wrote that Rogan signed her book contract right after her 57th b’day.