FICTION REVIEWS THE PARTY UPSTAIRS WANT LEE CONELL 308 LYNN STEGER STRONG 209 AUTHOR AUTHOR PAGES PAGES Brought up side by side in the same Upper West Side apartment building, childhood friends Ruby and Caroline have both boomeranged home after college, two Gen-Y kids still in search of a purpose. But there’s a fundamental difference: Ruby is the super’s daughter, a product of basements and boiler rooms; Caroline floats far above in the penthouse. Like so many social chroniclers before her, Lee Conell has a keen eye for the grand delusions and small daily hypocrisies of a “classless” America; if her take isn’t quite a revelation, it’s still brisk, canny fun— an upstairsdownstairs for the modern age. Want is a constant state for the largely nameless narrator of Lynn Steger Strong’s spare, cool-toned second novel. There is the Brooklyn shoebox she and her woodworker husband can hardly afford; the literature Ph.D. curdled into a thankless series of adjunct teaching jobs; and most of all, maybe, the elusive figure of the best friend she fell out with nearly a decade before. Strong’s unadorned prose aptly captures a certain kind of queasy millennial unease, though its very plainness can also place a pane of glass between her voice and the reader; a diary of desire, once removed. POETIC JUSTICE ONE OF THE MOST DECORATED POETS ALIVE, NATASHA TRETHEWEY CONFRONTS HER TRAUMATIC PAST IN THE BRUTAL, BEAUTIFUL MEMOIR MEMORIAL DRIVE By David Canfield on the page, inviting us into the pain of her process. Trethewey does not hold your hand. But she does guide you, confidently, into states of grace and revelation and beauty. A former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner, Trethewey revisits her Deep South childhood, offering profound meditations on her mixed-race identity, allowing bits of family lore and American history’s bloody landscape to skirt her narrative’s edges. Her love of language proves crucial: Metaphor and allegory, modes of understanding instilled by her father, become tools for finding meaning in her mother’s tragedy—a meta-argument for the value of telling one’s own story in memoir. At the heart of though, is her mother, ghostly and incomplete, but mercurial, vibrant, and curious in recollections—a complex hero, the core to every great story. In this one, it’s the root of its sadness, too: There was so much more to know. AN ACT OF MURDER TENDS TO BE A grisly affair in books, an engine for pulpy true-crime mysteries or juicy plot twists. It might seem an odd fit, then, for a reflective, lyrical memoir (the literary genre known for introspection, wreckage, and resilience). To encounter a horrific killing in this space is to see it sapped of its entertainment value, laid bare for both its author and its readers to examine, plainly and deeply. How unusual—and how powerful it is in Natasha Trethewey’s telling. At 19 years old, she learned of her mother’s brutal death at the hands of her former stepfather; it took more than 30 years for her to confront the trauma, a rigorous personal investigation that takes the shape of her debut memoir, The book is difficult, undaunted by its subject matter. Scenes of domestic violence are depicted with agonizing clarity; the narrator’s struggle to come to terms isn’t kept out of view, but documented Memorial Memorial Drive, Drive. B —LEAH B+ A– —LG GREENBLATT JULY 2020 EW ● COM 81
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