great book about the experience of loneliness.
There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar. A strong gust of wind could dislodge me completely, and I’d lift off and blow away, like one of those seeds in a dandelion clock. The threads tighten slightly from Monday to Friday.
Eleanor Oliphant is a socially awkward and lonely woman, surviving off vodka and weekly phone calls with her Mom. She is not sick. She is not “on the spectrum.” She is just very, very lonely. Eleanor typically goes from Friday to Monday without speaking to another human. She uses copious amounts of vodka to make herself fall asleep every night. This is perhaps the first book I’ve read entirely focused on the experience of loneliness. There are so many books about mental illness, but so few books about real, feel-it-in-your-bones loneliness. In Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman has given us a great one. Jenny Colgan, writing for the Guardian, says it best: “This is a narrative full of quiet warmth and deep and unspoken sadness. It makes you want to throw a party and invite everyone you know and give them a hug, even that person at work everyone thinks is a bit weird.”
Jesmyn Ward’s prize winning novel is constructed around a punishingly long road trip in Mississippi. Two children, Jojo and Kayla, go with their black mother to pick up their white father from prison. The family is joined by a pair of ghosts that only Jojo and his mother, Leonie, can sense. Sing, Unburied, Sing reflects upon the importance of history in examining the position of African American families today. Ismail Muhammad, a Slate writer based in Oakland, writes: "Sing, Unburied, Sing is an ornate ghost story about cultural memory, a parable for how history permeates the life of a community. Sing marks Ward as the sharpest voice in the contemporary conversation around the past’s relationship with the present and asks how black people can even begin to envision a future when the weight of history anchors them in ways they can scarcely begin to perceive."
If Ward is one of the “sharpest” voices in this conversation, Yaa Gyasi is one of the leading voices. The multi-generational stories of black families in Homegoing also push readers to more fully recognize the complicated history preceding today’s shameful racial landscape in the US.