I usually like to try and tie together the two books featured on The Literary Horizon, be it through common source material or just genre. I was quite surprised to realize that there were two books on my reading list that not only dealt with polygamy, but were also comedic. Let’s dig in!
Crane Spreads Wings by Susan Trott
Susan Trott, author of The Holy Man, has now written an ingeniously quirky and completely compelling novel whose compulsively lovable heroine will capture your heart from first page to last.
Effie Crackalbee (a.k.a. Jane Croy), the loving, daring, and generous protagonist of Crane Spreads Wings, is a self-proclaimed T’ai Chi warrior who practices the ancient movements that center her spirit even as she sets out to re-create her life.
When we meet her, she is Jane Croy, and she has just decided to run away from Alan, her husband of one month, because, as she says, he has misrepresented himself. He’s full of hot air–always spouting off–and Jane hates spouters. Nevertheless, within hours she, too, is misrepresenting herself. When she runs into Gled Saltonstall, the bearish, slightly pudgy single father of an adorable little boy, she becomes Effie Crackalbee–indeed her given name–and immediately signs on as the boy’s nanny for the summer, neglecting to mention that she isn’t as single and unencumbered as she appears.
When it turns out that Alan and Gled share the same summer community on the Massachusetts coast, Jane’s little lie of omission begins to take on enormous dimension. One fib inexorably leads to another, until there is virtually no one in this moving and vastly entertaining novel who doesn’t at some point bend the truth, whether out of kindness, self-preservation, fear, or love–because at its heart this is a book about love; and about families, from the most conventional to the most bizarre.
By the end of her sometimes dizzying journey of discovery, Effie will have found her balance, creating a new life not only for herself but also for all those she loves–and who love her.
This recommendation came to me from Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust, from which I drew my original reading list in high school, because otherwise, I usually don’t pick up novels like this. I hesitate to call it chick lit, but that’s what it’s presenting as, especially with a cute concept tying the chapters together. (I have no love for mysteries with recipes. I don’t know why, they just turn me off.) Still, the comedy of errors sounds funny and Nancy Pearl, I feel, is a trustworthy woman.
Because it was published twelve years ago, there aren’t a lot of book blogger reviews of Crane Spreads Wings. It does rate a 5 star rating over at Amazon, but then again, that’s only from four reviewers. Edward Hower reviewed it for The New York Times when it was published, and especially praised Trott’s way of making a character like Effie work without being too cute or zany. That gives me great hope–perhaps she’ll be like the wonderful Alice of True Confections.
Crane Spreads Wings was published on July 13, 1998.
The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
From a luminous storyteller, a highly anticipated new novel about the American family writ large. Golden Richards, husband to four wives, father to twenty-eight children, is having the mother of all midlife crises. His construction business is failing, his family has grown into an overpopulated mini-dukedom beset with insurrection and rivalry, and he is done in with grief: due to the accidental death of a daughter and the stillbirth of a son, he has come to doubt the capacity of his own heart. Brady Udall, one of our finest American fiction writers, tells a tragicomic story of a deeply faithful man who, crippled by grief and the demands of work and family, becomes entangled in an affair that threatens to destroy his family’s future. Like John Irving and Richard Yates, Udall creates characters that engage us to the fullest as they grapple with the nature of need, love, and belonging.
What fascinates me about polygamy is the power dynamic, especially when you come to religiously dictated polygamy–how can a poly marriage be equal on those terms? (We must remember that there are poly folk who make it work, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen overlap between the two groups.) But The Lonely Polygamist also drew me in because it seems like a sweeping family epic, which I love.
Jessica at Both Eyes Book Blog found it “touching and funny”, and The Reading Ape enjoyed it as well, especially Udall’s way of lightening the events with his prose. I think my desire for a family epic will be well rewarded, but maybe not so much examining the power dynamic. Still, there’s a lot to look forward to here.
The Lonely Polygamist was published on May 3, 2010.