A handful of reads for this day of gratitude
It’s been a tough year since our last Thanksgiving, what with everything being terrible. To make things better, I put together a list of four books I’ve read recently that made me thankful.
But wait, there’s more!
Since it’s Thanksgiving, a uniquely American holiday, these are also books that, in some way or another, speak to the American experience.
I hope you enjoy these suggestions, and happy Thanksgiving! And if you eat so much that you end up nauseous, then you’re also doing something uniquely American. I salute you.
Bolt Action Remedy by J.J. Hensley. Perhaps nothing is more anti-American than praising a sport outside of football, baseball, or basketball, but that’s exactly what Hensley does in Bolt Action Remedy, the first mystery in a series featuring former cop Trevor Galloway. Galloway is brought to a small, godforsaken town in Pennsylvania to investigate the murder of a man who, seemingly, has been shot by someone versed in both skiing and marksmanship. Unfortunately for Galloway, the man was shot next to a camp dedicated to training biathletes. Hensley’s research into biathlons is effectively used here, and sprinkled in efficiently to match the story’s quick pace. But it’s Galloway’s experiences as a cop, and the resultant PTSD, that will resonate with American audiences. Galloway is both weary and wounded, and the author’s frequent use of wry humor doesn’t mask that. There is a tortured soul here, and it will speak to you.
Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett. Another debut in a mystery series, Garrett’s Hollywood Homicide finds Dayna Anderson, a poor, formerly famous actress trying to solve a hit-and-run for a $15,000 reward. Anderson needs the money to help her parents pay for a massive expense, and this desperation for money struck me as an American essential, particularly because Garrett doesn’t shy away from financial difficulties or cravings as her story continues. And for contemporary readers who find themselves distraught by the unsavory elements of Hollywood, it’s refreshing to know that there are smart, insightful writers like Garrett willing to act as our tour guide through those dark depths.
Are You Sleeping? by Kathleen Barber. A note on the jacket of Are You Sleeping? describes it as a book for the podcast generation, but I think that does it a disservice. It's true that Barber's book, inspired by the "Serial" podcast series, is a necessary glimpse into those affected by unwanted fame, and the social-media mores that come with it, but that description is limiting. Barber's thriller is an unsentimental look into the demands of family loyalty, the haunting pain of examining a tortured past, and a portrayal of the unapologetic and unembarrassed American chase for fame (that likely has its roots in reality television), and more. The protagonist of Barber's book, Josie Buhrman, finds herself immersed in a public spectacle after a podcast begins its investigation into the decade-old murder of her father; from that point on, the pace is unrelenting.
The Unfinished World: and Other Stories by Amber Sparks. At first glance, nothing about these short stories speaks to the American experience; at a second, more-sober look, everything does. The stories are always unafraid and occasionally angry; angry at societal trappings, angry at form, angry at God. And that passion stirs below the surface of Sparks' sentences and brings them to life. I read it and was reminded of Jen Conley, Tara Laskowski, and other women (Kelly Link is another obvious example) who are writing today's most urgent, most powerful short fiction. This is a collection meant to be read and re-read. In particular, and entirely subjectively, I’ve been haunted by “We Were Holy Once,” ever since I came across it. That haunting is relentless and lovely. I’m thankful for it.