Summer of 2013 has been a blur, but that's only natural since time speeds up as we age, and heat makes my brain go foggy. Speaking of age, my trousers are rolled up to my knees, readers. (My first and only "Prufrock" reference, I promise.) In the recent humidity, I've been grasping for books as life preservers, temporary rescue from the hot commonplace. I read some duds, some good ones, and two excellent ones. These are And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini and Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel.
Hosseini's latest fiction is his best. Darting back and forth in time, the chapters in Mountains read more as short stories linked by character than a traditional novel. In 1952, a poor Afghan family gives a daughter away to a rich dysfunctional, family, and multiple inter-continental story lines emerge. California, Greece, Kabul, Paris~the settings and plot twists intertwine to make a rich tapestry of story. Each chapter presents a character's flaw and the humanity required to overcome said defect. As in The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini presents a hopeful portrayal of people at their worst trying to become better.
Likewise, Susanna Daniel's Stiltsville presents a character faced with life-changing choices whose reasoning provides the novel's moral structure. The setting is Miami in the last part of the 20th century, with the heart of the story occurring in a stilt house rising from the azure waters of Biscayne Bay. In 1969, Atlanta girl Frances Ellerby attends a Miami wedding and meets her future husband (whose family owns the stilt house). With this chance meeting, the course of her life changes, and Frances lets marriage and Miami consume her. She loves the water, sand, and banyans (deliciously described by Daniel) but always seems somewhat set apart from her surroundings. Is France's thrumming separation a byproduct of being raised in Georgia or foreshadowing deftly wrought by Daniels' first person narration? Read Stiltsville and find out.
I know these books are keepers because I've been revisiting the settings in my mind. The heat of Kabul and Miami, captured through words, living on in imagination. The books end, but the ideas and images do not. This alchemy is why we read.