Thursday, July 12, 2012

July Book Club Meeting. A Partial History of Lost Causes

Book Club this month met at Laurie Hill's lovely home. The warm evening air felt good after we completed reading our May book selection, set in icy cold Russia. Sitting in Laurie's lovely home watching the sun set, looking out over the grove covered hills of Fallbrook, the contrast with the Russian cities described in the book was mind-boggling.

Elizabeta lived a few miles north of my hostel, out in a gray neighborhood with rows of identical flats that expanded outward like the units of a self-replicating virus. The streets became narrower and more finicky the farther north we got, and after a while I relieved my indifferent taxi driver of his duties and struck out on foot. I took several wrong turns as I hunted for Elizabeta's apartment, searching through sixteen-letter street names that often differed by only one vowel. I looked down alleyways at fluttering clotheslines, schools of androgynous blond children, large dark dogs that seemed to answer to no one. Above me, apartments were stacked on and over each other like cliff dwelling. 

Traffic in Moscow

"A Partial History of Lost Causes: A Novel", by Jennifer Dubois was enjoyed by most for the fascinating story and the superb writing. As we are all interested in various aspects of Russia such as the economy, day-to-day living, economic status of women, life style - the book rang a different chord for everyone. Rox listened to the book on tape and enjoyed the two principal voices, Irina - diagnosed genetically and on the verge of sinking into the pit of Huntington's disease and Alexsandr, chess champion and political figure living constantly with the fear of assassination.

This is the debut novel of a brainy master of description, clever word deployment and simile; throughout the intriguing story she skillfully engages all the senses. I got so absorbed in her illuminated story-telling that it was only after I'd finished the book and gone back to re-reading certain passages that I realized how deft the similes were, page after page. Here's a few examples and forgive me for pointing out the sense engaged..this is more as memory trigger for myself than for the reader.

And if there is an actual sense of loneliness longing, it's like feeling a human hand touch you through gauze - removed and almost unrecognizable.

The man's legs were shriveled and mostly missing, and his face had an odd flatness to it. When he lifted his head into the light, Aleksandr could see that he was missing teeth, too, which wasn't unusual but which contributed to the man's overall look of unnerving concavity. He looked like a person who'd been taken apart entirely and then put back together wrong.
She turned to face him, and when she moved, he heard clicks and clinks, the unidentifiable feminine shifting of heels and various bits of jewelry. She was dressed in black, although he thought there might be multiple components to her outfit - a shirt, and a short jacket, and a skirt, maybe? Her face was pretty, but maybe not pretty enough to sustain the attention that came from wearing only black. The outfit was like a drum roll. 

In the light of day, I could give my room a more complete inspection. There were mysterious stains on the floor, and I soon found an apocalyptic toilet down the hall. In the shower, the smell of somebody's gardenia shampoo floated just above the smell of wet dirt. I walked down the hall and passed the rockabilly poker player, who was shuffling his iPod with his thumb. There was a horrific smell outside the hostel's entrance. I declined to investigate it's source. 

A special guest, Laurie's mother Pat added much to our discussions; the rest of us are sadly bereft of mothers and we loved having her join us.  As an antidote to the stark life style described in the novel, Laurie served us a wonderful lobster bisque, a delightful eggplant dish and fresh tomatoes from her splendid and lovingly attended organic garden. In addition we had a salad, guacamole, pierogi and for dessert, as nothing exceeds like excess, we enjoyed Roxs' delicious blackberries and boysenberries fresh from her garden accompanied by chocolatey brownies, the dense moist kind with a crackly crust. As usual plenty of wine was dispatched. We celebrated excellent news from Susan - impending grandmotherdom. Laurie gave us an abbreviated trip report about her visit with her daughter living in South Africa - we need to hear more. 

Sorry - no pictures. I was too busy eating and drinking. 

Next month's book will be Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry, an ultra-light summer thriller.

Jennifer Dubois, so young and so talented
Jennifer duBois is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and was a 2009-2011 Stegner Fellow in fiction. Her stories have appeared in Playboy, The Missouri Review, The Kenyon Review, The Florida Review, The Northwest Review and elsewhere. Her first novel, A Partial History of Lost Causes, will be published by Random House in March 2012. She is currently the Nancy Packer Lecturer in Continuing Studies.

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