By Maxine Swann | [4 stars]
REVIEWED BY CAROLINE LEAVITT
Once upon a time, two hippies raised their four kids in a rural Pennsylvania idyll during the '70s and '80s, letting them run naked in storms and do as they pleased, all under the assurance that they were "the luckiest children alive." But in Serious Girls author Swann's hypnotic second novel, expanded from a prize-winning story based on her own upbringing, not all fairy tales—even the most rapturous ones—end happily.
Narrated mostly by middle sibling Maeve, Children follows the foursome as the exuberant shine of their lives starts to tarnish: Their artist mom ditches Dad and takes a boyfriend; Dad, a charming screwup, can't keep a girlfriend or jump-start a business. And as the kids dip their toes into the outside world, the oddity of their upbringing begins to seem more mortifying than exhilarating. Swann's writing is mesmerizing, even if her tale, a series of vignettes, occasionally seems to be just skimming the surface of a tantalizingly deep pond. Still, readers won't soon forget the portraits of flower children struggling to bloom in a very different world from the one in which they were first planted.
Silent Partner: A Memoir of My Marriage
By Dina Matos McGreevey | [2 stars]
REVIEWED BY JONATHAN DURBIN
The author's ex is Jim McGreevey, the former New Jersey governor who ended his term with his "I am a gay American" speech. Here she explains how she was duped by a secretive man who never said he was gay (McGreevey now says she knew before they wed), a deeply confused politician whose bond with his first wife (oddly enough) at times made his second feel like an intruder. The author describes herself as trustworthy: "My mother tells me I've missed my calling as a CIA agent ... I never reveal secrets." Perhaps that's why so much of this reads grudgingly—and why you finish it still wondering about the real story.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
By Barbara Kingsolver |[3.5 stars]
REVIEWED BY MICHELLE GREEN
In this provocative account of a year living off the land with her biologist husband and two daughters, bestseller Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible) not only reveals the least-troubling way to turn homegrown turkeys into sausage (don't name your victims), but evokes the sheer joy of producing one's own food. A suburbanite until her family moves from Tucson to their Virginia farm, the author delights in breaking clods with her grape hoe and watching asparagus shoot up in the spring. And her daughter Camille, 20, offers testimony about growing up green. The biggest boon? Says Camille: Learning to enjoy "working for the things I want."
The Sea Lady
By Margaret Drabble |[4 stars]
REVIEWED BY JOANNA POWELL
A turbulent, unfinished relationship swirls through this aquatic-themed tour de force by decorated British author Drabble. Thirty years after their breakup, Humphrey Clark, a studious marine biologist, and Ailsa Kelman, a shrewd, flamboyant feminist who made his "heart stand still with fear," encounter each other in a town by the North Sea where they've come to receive honorary degrees. After decades of attempting to "scissor" each other out of their lives, this hesitant, unplanned reunion unleashes a squall of emotion. There has been no true ending for these ill-matched lovers, and here on the precipice of old age, their intercut "forgettings and rememberings" create a melancholy canvas as they work toward forgiveness.
With lyrical originality Drabble captures the idealistic, eternally self-absorbed paradoxes of the aging baby-boom generation. The result, like its contradictory protagonists, is as sensual as a moonlit beach, as bracing as an offshore wind.
By Deepak Chopra | [4 stars]
With its crackling dialogue, lush feasts and bone-crunching battles, mind-body guru Chopra's engaging novel has the over-the-top appeal of a TV extravaganza like Rome. Following "the prince who became a living god" from his beginnings as Siddhartha to his final incarnation as one of the world's greatest teachers, Chopra includes well-drawn supporting characters—nobles, monks, demons, temptresses—to make his protagonist's spiritual odyssey that much more believable. Accompanying his brisk tale ("fictionalized ... but psychologically true," as Chopra describes it) is a brief "practical guide to Buddhism" that even non-seekers will find seductive.