This is our book club selection for April, and I think there will be plenty to talk about. I was glad that I knew nothing about the novel when I began it, and maybe even a little glad that – once again – I had accidentally ordered a large print edition with a different cover from the one above from the library. So, I hadn’t noticed the chimpanzee hanging from the tree. I hate to spoil things! Suffice it to say, Fowler’s novel is about separate family members attempting to heal from a great loss. The protagonist and narrator, Rosemary, is in college in the opening chapter of the novel when she promises the reader that she is beginning at the middle of the story. She flashes back to her early life with her “sister” was taken away without explanation when Rosemary was six years old, and the time shortly afterward, when her brother disappears. Her father is a psychology professor, and the passages of the novel that deal with Noam Chomsky, the psychology of happiness and solipsism make it a very smart book, indeed. One passage I bookmarked would be enough to keep a book club going all night – “And so we constantly infer someone else’s intentions, thoughts, knowledge, lack of knowledge, doubts, desires, beliefs, guesses, promises, preferences, purposes and many, many more things in order to behave as social creatures in the world.” I didn’t love the book, but it kept me thinking.
I received a digital review copy of this fascinating novel and will admit to being unable to put it down for about a week. The opening line is, “Nobody ever warned me about mirrors so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy.” Boy Novak is a teenager who has just fled from her abusive father when the narrative opens. She lands in a small Massachusetts town where she meets and eventually marries a widower named Arturo who has a daughter named Snow. Didn’t take much for THIS intelligent reader to assume that a character named Bird would be forthcoming. Sure enough, Bird is the name that Boy gives to the daughter she and Arturo have. But the novel is much, much more complex than this simple synopsis suggests. It is full of magical realism details and borrow heavily from fairy tales, especially Snow White. It tackles race and what qualified as “passing” in the late fifties and early sixties. It unmasks gender issues. Helen Oyeyemi is gifted, and this complex novel left me wanting to have a reading buddy to dissect its hall of mirrors with as soon as I put the book down.