In this poignant, darkly funny, and sometimes outrageous novel that is reminiscent of Zoe Heller’s What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal, Claire Messud takes us inside the angry, messy head of a frustrated, middle-aged school teacher.“ I’m not crazy. Angry, yes; crazy, no,” protests The Woman Upstairs (Knopf, $25.95), forty-two-year-old Nora Marie Eldridge, a talented artist who has set aside her craft to teach third grade in Cambridge, M.A. When she meets a new student, Reza Shahid, the childless, single Nora becomes obsessed with both the boy and his exotic parents. She insinuates herself into the family, sharing a studio with Reza’s mother—a celebrated artist in Paris, where the Shahids are from—and befriending the Lebanese father, whose fellowship at Harvard is the reason for the family’s temporary relocation. Messud painfully, deliciously captures Nora’s alienation and her desire to belong to another world.
Grammarians typically advise exclamation points be used sparingly, but the one affixed to the end of the title could not be more appropriately placed. The third novel from local writer Mary Kay Zuravleff is exuberant, dazzling, and thrumming with electric energy. Psychiatrist Owen Lerner is hit by a bolt of lightning while feeding the parking meter during a vacation at the Delaware shore, changing his personality and altering the dynamic of his family. The incident comes to define him as he tattoos "lightning flowers" on his arm to echo the jagged pattern of capillaries that a lightning strike brings to the skin's surface. He also develops a comical lust for barbeque, filling the freezer with hunks of meat and constructing a chicken coop in the backyard. The lightning strike serves as a perfect metaphor for the way a single random incident can alter many lives, while highlighting the interconnectedness of the family ecosystem itself.
Fat pigs, crazy roosters, monster squash, and day-old loaves of bread will never look---or taste---the same after reading Mardi Jo Link’s Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm. This honest and irreverent memoir of divorce, child-rearing, and housekeeping is a stark reminder of what it’s like to live on the financial edge. With a perpetually overdue gas bill, three hungry, growing boys, a wrecked credit rating and a small but steady streak of bad luck, Link crafts a heartwarming, and heartbreaking, memoir in the vein of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, except that instead of hitting the road, she’s determined to stay put.