Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, March 31, 2006

Reruns are not just for TV

Over a week ago,I went book shopping and wound up buying two titles that I've already read in ARC format. It wasn't an easy decision to make,there were a few other tempting books out there(such as the new Sophie Kinsella aka Madeline Wickham novel)but in the end,I went with the tried and,in my opinion,true,plus a copy of Anna Quindlen's Imagined London to fill my not-previously- read qouta.

Most of you are saying"Why in the world would you buy two books that you've read for free?". Well,one reason is that I don't have them at home(they were loaned out to others and never made their way back to the book store's treasure trove of readers' copies)and the other is that they're really great books worth rereading. Mind you,I am not always sensible about things like this;I've been known to own both the hardcover and the paperback editions of the same book,many of the justifications for that include"But I have his/her other books in paperback" and "This one has the tie-in movie cover!" Sad,sad,sad.

Anyway,the books I bought are The Good Wife by Stewart O'Nan(many of you may recognize his name from the baseball book he co-wrote with Stephen King)and The Ha-Ha by Dave King. Both books introduced me to these authors(The Ha-Ha is a first novel) and they both recieved excellent reviews from the critics. Saleswise,they're no threat to the Da Vinci Code but they should get a wider audience in soft cover and are a shoo-in for the reading group circuit.

The Good Wife of O'Nan's story is Patty Dickerson,a young lower middle class housewife who wakes up one morning and finds her husband charged with murder. Seems he and his good buddy decided to do some B&E,only to find the elderly female homeowner still on the premises which leads to her death and a botched fire to cover up the crime. Patty's husband winds up doing hard time(his friend gets a better deal for himself by turning state's witness)and Patty has to face everyday life without him. She raises their son and holds down a number of go-nowhere jobs to make ends meet while regularly visiting her husband,Tommy,in prison over the years.

One of the good things about this book is the matter-of-fact way the situation is treated;this plot could easily become Lifetime made-for-televison fodder but O'Nan respects his characters enough to treat them as realistically as possible. Patty is not a very introspective person but she handles the bad luck life has given her with resolve and frustration at times. There's no big drama bomb dropped towards the end or major moment of clarity. The Good Wife is a slice of real world experience that few people care to focus on or even think about. It's like watching a really good indie flick,compelling with plenty of food for thought.

The Ha-Ha's leading man is Howard Kapostash,a Vietnam vet with a major injury that keeps him from speaking and give the impression that he's mentally retarded. An old girl friend of his,Sylvia,asks Howard to take care of her nine year old son(who is not Howard's)Ryan while she hits the rehab trail. Howard already has a couple of roommates,one of whom acts as sort of an unofficial caretaker. Ryan's presence in the household not only opens up Howard's limited world but also helps to form a surrogate family between the house mates during the tough times.

Again,this book has a similar matter of factness vibe that saves the story from the land of melodrama. Dave King's narrative style helps you get in synch with Howard and even provides some humorous moments,particularly involving a riding lawn mower. A ha-ha,btw, is a depression in the earth used as a land boundary-the best way to describe it is as a waterless moat. I took a picture of one during my Jane Austen trip a few years ago and even loaned it to someone who wanted to show her reading group what a ha-ha looked like(she never returned it but I did have double prints made.). The Ha-Ha is a stunning debut and I hope that King's next book will be available soon.

So,if you're looking for a decent read this weekend or any night that's there is nothing to watch on the boob tube,keep these two in mind. Whether it's your local book store or the library,The Good Wife and The Ha-Ha are kind of books that make you take your time in answering the phone or being interrupted by one of your family members who can't find something that's probaly right smack in the middle of the room. I look forward to revisiting these stories again and perhaps finding some new insights the second time around. Even if I don't,I know that I'm guaranteed to have a real good read.

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