Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
I killed someone tonight are the words on the cover of this novel, the second I've read of Jennifer McMahon's tales of suspense and mystery. As with (almost) all of her novels, the covers are as much of a beckon to read as are the hooking phrases. Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants, also quotes on the cover that the book is "deeply disturbing and darkly compelling". I would agree...mostly. I didn't feel that I would be looking around each corner for the Potato Girl, but she did leave an impression on me.
Last summer, I read McMahon's fifth novel, Don't Breathe a Word and found it to be much more refined and crafted than Promise Not to Tell. By the end of Promise..., I found myself a tad disappointed: like I was at the end of a Murder, She Wrote episode with canned phrases and unrealistic behaviors contrary to the rest of the novel where I often felt empathy, anticipation, and anxiety for the characters and their experiences. McMahon weaves snippets of issues like bullying, incest, sexual abuse, homosexual experimentation, divorce, sub-culture, and Alzheimer's all in one story. None are the main theme, but all come together for one dark story.
Like with Don't Breathe a Word, I read this novel faster than I have most others and for longer stints of time. I look forward to the books of hers between these two and her newest creation. I am not fond of formulaic novels, and can see threads of the same themes and characters as I read summaries and previews of her other work. I hope they are going to be different enough or differently penned so I will not lose interest--because there is nothing like reading about a person with a flashlight sneaking down a path following steps she knows not to whom they belong and having something creeping outside my window at 1:00 a.m....
Promise Not to Tell
This tender, sweet story by Yoko Ogawa revolves around a housekeeper and the man for whom she cares: the professor, who has a memory of no longer than 80 minutes. After that time, his world essentially "resets". To accommodate for this seemingly problematic situtation, the professor pins a plethora of notes to his suits to remind him of things, including who the housekeeper is.
A mathematical genius, the professor exposes the housekeeper to a way of seeing the world she previously had not: through numbers and their meanings. In reacclimating himself to her each day (or each 80 minutes, in fact), he asks her questions about everything from shoe size to birthday to phone number. Then, he then assesses her world according to how those numbers "fit"--amicable numbers, prime numbers, etc. Her world has been a series of simplistic experiences and disappointments up until the time she meets the professor, and she realizes the interconnectedness of the world through numbers.
The only character named in the book is the housekeeper's son, whose nickname becomes Root when the professor likens his flat topped haircut to a square root symbol. The relationship between Root and the professor is forged through baseball, both the enjoyment of the game and the mathematics inherently within.
I ended up buying the book since it quickly became one of my all time favorites. Author Paul Auster, a well known fiction writer, commented that the story was "Highly original, infinitely charming, and ever so touching". I would agree.
The Housekeeper and the Professor