Interestingly enough, the next two books on my list both employ humor to tell their stories. I admittedly have a somewhat tough sense of humor. I find a lot of humor to be forced and that always puts me off. These two authors use humor so deftly, often intertwined beautifully with sadness or real heart. Here are a couple of really great reads.
Characters in novels are often flawed: they drink too much, they’re short-tempered; they flirt a little two much, but the characters in Matthew Quick’s (Q’s) novels suffer from slightly more serious cognitive challenges. What potential mental disorder Batholomew suffers from is never explicitly stated, but it certainly seems like slightly more than a socially-awkward 40-year-old who has never held a job and has lived with his mother all his life. In fact there’s a very angry man in Bartholomew’s belly who rages in frustration and belittles his host with such taunts as “retard,” when Bartholomew is faced with challenges. As his mother succumbs to brain cancer, Bartholomew begins to channel her favorite actor, Richard Gere, in order to make her happy in her last days. After she dies, he decides to start up a correspondence with the actor, inspired by his mother’s stories about Gere’s kindess and need to help free Tibet.
The Good Luck of Right Now is a remarkable novel; each chapter structured as a letter written to Richard Gere. It’s the story of a damaged man who suddenly finds himself without the person who was his world, struggling to makes sense of what is supposed to happen next. His only help include a self-defrocked Catholic priest, a grad student therapist assigned to help Bartholomew even when she can’t help herself, a similarly troubled man named Max who can’t get over the death of his beloved Alice, and the Girlbrarian, who Bartholomew has watched shelve books at the library for months. Quick’s characters are funny and sad at the same time. They deal with challenges from within and without, and somehow seem truer and more authentic than 95% of the rest of the characters in fiction today. He writes moving prose without seems sentimental, and knows how to keep the pace quick and satisfying. I highly recommend this novel.
Is there a better contemporary novelist than Elinor Lipman when it comes to delivering a charming, witty, modern-day novel about adults? If so, I need to be reading their books. Elinor’s The View from Penthouse B chronicles the lives of two sisters stuck in a bit of social limbo; one widowed suddenly over a year ago, the other a divorcee and victim of a Ponzi scheme. The two sisters become roommates, and take in a boarder in the form of a young gay man, also unemployed, and in his own state of limbo. While the story eventually gets around to the two sisters trying to move forward in their lives, Elinor’s observations and writing are so delightfully witty and honest that it almost doesn’t matter whether or not Gwen and Margot regain their social lives. The journey is so entertaining, so much fun to read that it’s almost enough by itself. Then add a beautifully realized plot that sees a lovely ending that actually moved me enough that I got choked up, and you realize that with deceptive simplicity, Elinor has delivered a masterpiece of contemporary fiction. I adore Elinor’s novels, and look forward to each new one with giddy anticipation.