"The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries (P.S.)" by Marilyn Johnson: I love learning about parallel universes, and this is one: people obsessed with obituaries. This book has one of my favorite all-time lines from a book, which came from an obituary of a Mormon:
“After mentioning that Allred was survived by eight wives, 23 children and more than 200 grandchildren, McKie (the obit writer) referred to one of the wives as ‘his better eighth.’”
I particularly appreciated the section on the alt.obituaries newsgroup, where people discuss obituaries and lots of other things.
"White Oleander," by Janet Fitch. I enjoyed this rather sad, depressing book – a condemnation of the foster care system and a study of a messed up mother-daughter relationship. The plot: A woman angry at being ditched kills her boyfriend and is sentenced to life in prison, sending her 12-year-old daughter into foster care where she encounters one bad placement after another. She has a sexual relationship with the boyfriends of two of her foster mothers, is shot by one of them, and witnesses another one commit suicide. It was sad to watch a talented, brilliant young woman be destroyed and not able to fully take advantage of her talents. This was a first novel, and seemed a bit overwritten – too many metaphors and florid descriptions and obvious imagery. But I enjoyed the plot and the characterizations. And I wonder if Fitch realized that she was writing about someone with borderline personality disorder.
"Fortune’s Rocks," by Anita Shreve. I had read and enjoyed "The Pilot’s Wife," so got this for 50 cents at the library book sale (same for "White Oleander" – although that was just 25 cents). The connection between the two Shreve books is that the house the protagonists live in is the same – and it is a real house on the Maine coast. This book starts in 1899, with a hard-to-stomach romance between a 15-year-old girl and a 41-year-old married man with four children. I have a great deal of trouble accepting this relationship (which the author wants you to believe is the “real thing” – true love). I just can’t accept, under any circumstances, an affair between a teenage girl and a middle-aged married man – their relationship just didn’t work, and the author did not convince me it should and I resent that she tried. I did enjoy the book, and the payoff at the almost-end was worth it. I’d actually call this feminist literature, since the main character eventually fights for a right that few women had 100 years ago. It was a thought-provoking – very disturbing – story.