We seem to be reading our way through an exceptional time in Aussie literary fiction and somehow Loveland just set the bar even higher.
May inherits a lakeside house in Nebraska as part of her Grandmother Casey’s will. She travels there from Australia, leaving behind her controlling husband and belligerent teenage son. On arrival, May discovers the building is rotting, the lake is poisoned and there is the shell of a fire-damaged amusement park. Still, it has become her escape. As she works to repair the house, she meets Casey’s old friend, who tells her more of the troubled Grandmother she barely knew. The story unfolds in two parts, Casey as a trapped young woman in 1950s Nebraska and May’s similarly suffocating experiences in the present.
Loveland is a tender and sophisticated novel. Though sometimes painfully sad, it surprised us with its compassion in revealing the shared history of the two women, as well as their determination to change their lot.
In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss by Amy Bloom
It would be easy to describe Amy Bloom's new book as a memoir of love and loss, but then that makes it sound like a book you've read before. And In Love is simply not that book. It's a rare, beautiful and raw story that asks a specific question: would you agree to help your beloved end his life when he receives a hopeless diagnosis?
"I'd rather die on my feet than live on my knees" is what Brian Ameche, Bloom's husband of 12 years, tells her after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's in his mid-60s. Supporting each other in their last journey together, Brian and Amy make the unimaginably difficult decision to go to Dignitas, an organisation based in Switzerland that empowers a person to end their own life with dignity and peace.
For those who have read Bloom before, you will know she is an exceptionally adept writer. Even here, writing so openly and heartrendingly and even sometimes very humorously about this period of her life, you cannot help but be awed by her skill. It goes without saying that you will need plenty of tissues on hand when you read this deeply moving but remarkably unsentimental memoir. Courageous, expansive and enriching, it shows its reader that love is always worth its inevitable loss.
If your heartrate can handle something explosive, seek out this slim and spiky volume which, translated by Sophie Hughes, has just been shortlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize.
Polo works as a gardener in a gated community, home to the most privileged of Mexican society. Polo himself is poor, his life is tough and so removed from the luxury of his workplace, he struggles even to pronounce its English name; ‘Paradise’ not ‘Paradiso’, or as he manages, ‘Paradais’. He begins drinking after hours with one of the wealthy teenage residents, Franco. Bored and addicted to porn, Franco is obsessed with his neighbour, the wife of a famous TV personality. He concocts a grim plan involving Polo, who relishes the action but can’t quite tell whether Franco is in earnest or not.
There’s no doubt that what follows is a dark and nightmarish story, the kind that has you running through long sentences and turning pages in a haze. But its macabre intensity is what makes it such a sharp tale of the instability and inequity within Mexican society.