When I look at photographs of my parents, I can see how I inherited my eye color from one, my curly hair, the other. I’m convinced that my reading tastes are just as genetic.
One of the fixtures in my father’s bathroom was a tub with a copy of a detective novel on its wide ledge. From time to time I’d glance at his reading material, and often the book was a crime novel by Mickey Spillane, whose detective character was Mike Hammer. The prolific Spillane, praised for his style by Ayn Rand though panned by most literary reviewers, kept my father in novels for all of my growing up years.
I admit I never read one of Daddy’s books, but his reading preference must have influenced me, as I love mysteries. My husband gave me Mystic River by Dennis Lehane for Valentine’s Day years ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Recently I read Lehane’s The Drop, and he did not disappoint me. Dark and spare, the novel is set in Mystic River. The main character Bob gained my sympathy at once as he finds and rescues a puppy at the bottom of a large trash barrel.
Trust is a real issue in his neighborhood. Nadia, a neighbor, asks him what he is doing going through her trash, and then takes a photograph of him when he tells her about the pup. She warns him she has sent the photo to Father Pete and six other people. But gradually Nadia and Bob develop a relationship as she agrees to take care of the dog until Bob can figure out how to fit the pup into his crazy schedule as a bartender for his cousin Marv.
On a more sinister level, there is Marv, who can trust no one. In order to survive, Marv has for years been a fence for the Chechen mafia owners of the bar. Once the pup comes into Bob’s life, he can talk about little else, but Marv has no interest in the dog as he has bigger problems to worry about. While Bob struggles to keep the dog (Eric, the original owner, shows up, repeatedly and threateningly, and wants him back), Marv struggles to survive the constant pressures the Chechens put upon him.
The Drop is a novel my father would have liked, and I do, too, but I am convinced I do not ever wish to walk the scary streets of Mystic River.
My mother kept her novels beside the sofa in front of the fireplace in our large farmhouse kitchen. While growing up, I read all her childhood books: Heidi, Robin Hood, The Wizard of Oz, and Little Women, to name a few. After I was grown, we shared a love for James Michener‘s Hawaii and The Source and any books about animals. Later she and I traded books back and forth, so I can say with little reservation that she would have enjoyed The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams.
While The Drop is only a little over 200 pages, Violet Grant is more than double that length. About book length Mother and I agreed: “the longer, the better.” This novel is divided into the lives of the two narrators. First, there is Vivian, Violet’s great niece, who lives in New York City in 1964. Her first person narration often made me laugh as she is a quick-witted young woman with a bit of an attitude. Her family has kept her curiosity about her great aunt Violet at bay, but Vivian is determined to discover what happened to her. Every other chapter, narrated in the third person, is about Violet in 1914 Berlin. Violet, an intelligent young woman, is married to Dr. Walter Grant, a man who is three years older than her father and whom she met at Oxford University. Violet shares his passion for atomic physics and helps him with his experiments when they move to Berlin.
Violet’s lost suitcase, full of articles, shows up decades later addressed to Vivian. She must go to the Post Office to claim the mysteriously large package. There she meets a doctor who offers to help her carry the package home. Vivian’s relationship with the doctor is one of the intrigues of her chapters in addition to the riddle of the never-talked-about Aunt Violet.
In Violet’s chapters, there are mysteries, intrigue, and romance. Why is she in Berlin? How does her suitcase get lost, and how could the contents have prevented World War II? Just who is Dr. Grant?
Yes, Mother would have enjoyed this book as much as I did.
What are some books you have shared with your parent?