Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Overlooked Books of 2009: Rocking Patrick Somerville's The Cradle

As I've mentioned before, spring 2009 was a wash for me, book, wise. We were closing a bunch of stores and opening others, and who had time to read ahead. But now that I've pretty much lived through the fall books and started into the winter, I'm worrying that I'm not going to be ahead of the game for years to come.

One book that I'd been meaning to get to was Patrick Somerville's first published novel, The Cradle. Schwartz hosted an event for his short story collection and I remembered he had Wisconsin connections. The new book is partly set in Milwaukee, though it's more of a jumping off point. It's about a young man who sets off on a quest to find his wife's childhood cradle, which her mother absconded with when she abandoned the family. Woven into that is another story about an older children's book writer who is worrying about her son going off to fight in Iraq, reawakening memories of her first love, who died in Vietnam. Everybody gets more than they bargained for in the stories (which of course fit together), and the whole thing is a really powerful meditation on family identity.

Halfway through reading The Cradle, the book appeared on Janet Maslin's top 10 of the year in the New York Times. Here's the funny thing--also on that list was Dan Chaon's novel, Await Your Reply. Not only are both books about identity, but both use a very clever literary trick, and I fell for it both times. I can't even name the device (I'll abbreviate it as TS), because naming it would take away your "aha" moment when reading it.

I'm sure it's been used quite a bit in other novels but I in my reading haven't come across it. Coincidence? Or did they share a beer at Breadloaf? Only they know for sure.

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