It’s nerve-wracking being friends with published authors. I always worry I’m not going to like their books! Fortunately, that rarely happens, and I have found being completely honest usually serves very well. This pair of books both took me by surprise. One I didn’t expect to like, and the other I grew to like more and more after I completed it and time passed.
#8 - The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I was a slow convert despite the hype. Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is an exquisitely crafted fantasy/romance/historical mash-up that, like the circus it describes, contains ever-increasing wonders as each page turns. Celia and Marco are bound by their father/mentor respectively to spend much of their lives preparing for, then competing in a mystical challenge. This particular challenge has been repeated for centuries with very little variance in
the outcome: one participant wins, the other is no more. The problem is, Celia and Marco meet and fall in love, despite the challenge, which they are bound to and upon which they are unable to turn their backs.
This bizarre challenge/romance takes place against the backdrop of Le Cirque des Rêves a glorious circus that appears in different cities during the cover of darkness and is only open at night. Morgenstern’s debut is intricately layered and filled with a rich and fascinating cast of characters. But best of all, she manages to continuously convey the wonder of the magical circus tents throughout at 400-page book, without repeating herself, or resorting to cliche. It’s a magnificent effort, and a joy to read.
For a novel, that on the one hand, appears as a slightly sudsy melodrama about a gay couple desiring a child, Michael Lowenthal’s The Paternity Test challenged me the way few books do. Here is my best attempt to convey the complexity of emotions I felt throughout my reading it. At first The Paternity Test seemed like it was going to be a fairly straight-forward story; gay couple, together for a while and facing a turning point, decide to leave the big city, move to Cape Cod and have a child by using a surrogate. There would be the typical dramatic moments exploring issues such as having a child to save a relationship; difficulty with the surrogate, that kind of thing. In fact, I wasn’t all that interested in the subject matter, and wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy it. But when you get an advanced copy from the author himself, you make a point of reading it.
The first thing I noticed was how compelling it was. I couldn’t put the book down and read it in record time. That said, it was a very tough read for me, stirring up all sorts of conflicting emotions. For much of the book I wasn’t sure I was enjoying it, and had particular trouble with the lead character, Pat. Often I was worried about the direction the book was headed in. Sometimes I had the distinct feeling that I was reading a novelization of “Days of our Lives.” But by the end of the book, I was excited by the journey it took me on, the very fact that I was all over the place emotionally with the characters, yet ultimately having it be a really satisfying reading experience for me. Like parenthood, like relationships, like family, there is nothing simple about The Paternity Test; there are ups and downs, moments of melodrama, laughter, tears, anger… all the things that make a wonderful novel.