The Ex-Debutante by Linda Frances Lee read by Susan Bennett

The smart daughter of a beautiful mother comes back to her “godforsaken sheep-happy hillbilly town” to handle her mother’s fourth or fifth divorce, and finds herself staging the annual Debutante Ball. “Don’t the pilgrims make skin cream?,” her mother asks her before mentioning how hard she has worked on maintaining her own natural beauty.
Miss Carlyle Ridgely, daughter of the Daughters of Texas, assembles 7 indelicate but moneyed 17 year olds, definitely not Ridgely Wainwright Cushing Jamison Ladley Ogden Harper-approved material.

Mary Higgins Clark…

Here’s the recipe: a youngish, pretty-ish, orphaned wife in or near Manhattan; a deceptive, felonious, or sleepwalking husband; a repressed or forgotten family scene, and wealth. Large, plush estates in tony suburbs, classic co-ops on exclusive avenues, perfectly cut clothes and lawns, professionally designed apartments, luxurious offices, always seen as if by a dazzled outsider, a maid, a secretary, a clerk, a tradesman to a privileged class.

Somewhere, somehow, somebody is murdered, kidnapped, arrested, accused.

A crime develops by pulling at and pulling out the pins of identity: what happens if a person forgets what she has done? What happens when a person has no memories of a mother, a father? What happens when a person believes that she is married to a man who is not who he pretends to be? What happens when a person does not tell her husband about her past? What happens when a friend, a neighbor, a son, a sister, a priest, a doctor, a lawyer is untrustworthy? What happens when a child is removed from a mother, and a mother is removed from her child? What happens to a classy woman when she is removed from her class?

Twelve Rooms With A View by Theresa Rebeck read by Marguerite Gavin

What begins as a story about a girly James Dean with two wicked sisters and a  drunk mother becomes a story about a CPW apartment building and its history, its doorman, its neighbors.

Tina Finn is outrageous and outraged, at everyone with a bank account  or a stable identity, at her sister with the crackberry, at her other sister with the perfect husband, at grown ups. But in a Jacuzzi surrounded by gay men she becomes another Doris Day …. relaxed, bubbly, verbal.    The twelve room apartment gathers around itself a seraglio of children, thieves and lovers, and delivers an ending both righteous and happy.

Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman read by Kimberly Farr

Two mothers.

Iris, mother of the bride, is pushy, ambitious, Jewish, overpresent, and proud of her Red Hook genealogy, which can be traced back to the Battle of the Bulge. But Iris is not exactly a local. Yes, every summer Iris comes back to the oceanfront Queen Anne house, chats up the Red Hook Ladies, attending “every last bean supper and blueberry breakfast of the season,” where she tries to befriend the wives of lobstermen by feigning enthusiasm for rummage sales. But every Fall, Iris returns to New York, to art and to work, and will never, in the eyes of the locals, be anything but a “from away”.

Iris’ father, Mr Kimmelbroad, is indeed “from away”: a real gentleman,  a refugee violinist from Prague who still smells of polished wood, rosin, violets and 4711 Kolnisch Wasser.   The family are immigrants: bustling, displaced, well educated.

Jane, mother of the groom, is a local: by temperament, by income and by genealogy. Jane is strong from “clomping up and down stairs and hauling laundry and vacuum cleaners.” Jane has been taking care of  houses for the “from aways”  for a long long time, as had her mother before her. One of these houses is Iris’, which she cleans in the summers and tends all year long.

She [would get] the furnace and the propane tank filled, turn on the water,   take down the storm windows and put up the screens, mow the meadow and lawn, replace the water filter, have the piano tuned, and replenish staples like flour, sugar and the fancy teas ….

The story begins in the middle of the wedding, detailing the  profusions of fresh flowers, mismatched vases, white lace tablecloths, blues band,   bar, hanging lanterns, crab-cakes and lobster puffs and champagne of  the  reception at Grange Hall, where the mothers find out that the bride and groom are dead.  What becomes of the mothers and their other children is part of the story of the wedding, because the wedding  joins not only the bride and groom but the mothers; makes them, in Yiddish, Machatainisteh.

Agatha Christie, differently

A wagonful of new Agatha Christie audiobooks (“lesser” works?) shows us an Agatha knee-deep in Freud, perhaps, indeed, an “English Freud”. Here she experiments with the entire merde ridden hagiography of psychoanalytic terms: pathologies, neuroses, perversions, deviances, persecutions. Sarah has just finished her M.B. and is interested in psychology. She looks on as an old obese mother, an ugly wheelchaired figure wields a regime of psychological oppression over her “nervy” “nervous” unnerved family. The ugly Mrs. Boynton continues to perform her chores as the warden of a women’s prison, although she no longer performs them inside a prison. Instead she institutes prohibitions against the emotions, liberties, impulses, movements, of her step sons and daughters.

Sarah complains of the rudeness of Raymond Boynton, who ignores her in the presence of his mother, despite their earlier conversation. The tradition of English manners comes to Jerusalem not in opposition to rudeness but rather as a prophylactic to madness; madness is the excess of civilization, the bad habit of civilization. As the narrator in An Appointment With Death tells us about the horrific Mrs. Boynton: “In a savage tribe they would have boiled and eaten her up her years ago”.

Dick Francis 1921-2010

Dick Francis died in his home on the Cayman Islands. He was 89.

A successful steeplechase jockey, Francis turned to writing after he retired from racing in 1957. He penned 42 novels, many of which featured racing as a theme. His books were translated into more than 20 languages, and in 2000 the Queen – whose mother was among his many readers – honoured Francis by making him a Commander of the British Empire.

For more info: The Globe and Mail

The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner

Wonderful, well developed characters modeled on silly, overchewed, Oprah-certified victim-types. The victim of an alcoholic, depressive, schadenfreude-mother, the victim of a childhood kidnapping by a pedophile, the victim of an unforgiving corrections system, the victim of overwhelming emotions, overwhelming fears, overwhelming doubts, of poor parents, poor teachers, poor morals, poor taste. But magnetic and memorable, nonetheless. The woman who for no apparent reason leaves a pleasant husband and a pleasant child is a curiosity: for the police, for us. The mild mannered husband with quiet habits and no past is, likewise, unusual, and leaves us wondering.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson read by Simon Vance

“Salander was not a normal person.” Bandied about from one institution to another,  she has a casebook full of entries written by social workers, psychiatrists, administrators: serious Swedish officials. Because she does not speak, she is assumed to be stupid. She is not. Because she looks too young, she is assumed to be innocent. She is not. She is a child of the institution, its data and its archives, and she is at home among data, at home with texts. She rents her mother’s old flat, somewhere in Stockholm, and feeds herself like a latchkey child: thick bread sandwiches with cheese and liverwurst. She is contracted by a security firm to find confidential information and report it, piecemeal. One day she is assigned a case.

The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta read by Campbell Scott

Firm writing, good characters, heavy social issues, but no story.

Meet Ruth. A divorced mother who teaches sex education at a public high school is more or less forced to teach abstinence according to a rosy if delusional Christian fundamentalist agenda. Meet Tim: divorced, saved and reformed by an evangelic Jesus-loving pastoral group, coaching soccer. Imagine supper:

Tonight was Lemon Pepper Mama, a recipe she had gotten from Five Hundred More Ways To Cook Chicken or It Doesn’t Matter How You Cook It It’s Still the Same Crap or Eat Chicken Till You Die. Because there were nights when that was what it felt like. Like you were just some stupid animal put on earth to eat a few hundred thousand animals who were even stupider than you were, then to disappear without a trace…

And so we are left in between chicken, abstinence and temptation.