Instructions for a Heatwave
Maggie O’Farrell, 352 pp., Fiction
Told during the historically accurate and epic heatwave during the summer of 1976 in England and Ireland, the oppressive heat works as a Bunsen burner on one family’s dramas. Secrets are teased out into the muggy air, a marriage is examined under a magnifying glass, and siblings arrange and rearrange their opinions of each other repeatedly. Flashbacks provide both context for the familial saga and a break from the stifling temperatures.
O’Farrell does what she does best here: explore how people make sense of themselves within labels of Mother, Father, Spouse, Daughter, and Son. Make sure you have an air-conditioned spot for reading this one.
Snippet: “Why is it that twenty-four hours in the company of your family is capable of reducing you to a teenager?”
Trials of the Earth: The True Story
of a Pioneer Woman
Mary Mann Hamilton, 318 pp., Nonfiction
One of the early homesteaders in the wilds of the Mississippi Delta, Mary Mann Hamilton and her family had to face incredible hardships just to eke out a living. Toward the end of her life, Mary’s family encouraged her to write of her experiences, and these recollections, conveyed in plain and straightforward language, take the modern-day reader back to a time few of us could have otherwise imagined. Having a historical record of this corner of America’s early days, in a woman’s voice, is notable for its rarity and quality.
Snippet: “Oh no, not love: I was sure I didn’t love him, yet something seemed to say, ‘It is fate, and it will bind your life to his to the end of the trail.’ I wonder if that was love and have wondered hundreds of times since.”
Alice Adams, 308 pp., Fiction
Four college friends (or perhaps I should say “university” friends, because they’re British) traverse tangled webs of romance, adulthood, mental breakdown, careers and marriages. This book may have you looking back nostalgically or feeling grateful for the stability of midlife. Either way, it is an entertaining read that won’t overly tax your summer-break brain.
Snippet: “It’s that friendship and love are pretty much all we’ve got that’s worth anything.”