Who knew when I picked up A Christmas Blizzard by Garrison Keillor in early December that it would be a prediction of our weather to come. This is a tale of two Chicago yuppies James and Joyce Sparrow who are living the good life. James hates Christmas and can think of nothing better than spending the holiday at their Hawaiian home but Joyce is laid up with the “flu.” James decides to travel anyway but he ends up traveling to Looseleaf, N. Dakota to see his dying uncle. He braves a deadly blizzard and the equally deadly small town eccentrics he meets along the way. The simple and well-written story does contain surrealistic elements when the storm strands him in an isolated fishing shack. There he meets a wolf, a lady with big hair, and a Chinese wise man. The three teach him the great secret of life, much like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.
In many ways, Jack is a typical 5-year-old. He likes to read books, watch TV, and play games with his Ma. But Jack is different in a big way–he has lived his entire life in a single room, sharing the tiny space with only his mother and a nasty nighttime visitor known as Old Nick in Room by Emma Donoghue.
For Jack, Room is the only world he knows, but for Ma, it is a prison in which she has tried to carry on a normal life for her son. This was a fantastic story, imaginative, creative, unique and beautifully written. It was never tiring to read from Jack’s perspective. I was reminded of what the world could look like from the perspective of a small child. It makes a parent want to be more kind with their words, more respectful of what their child’s needs are, and more understanding when things seem confusing. An original novel of survival in captivity and just when you think that escaping is the best thing for the two of them, imagine what it feels like to a boy who has only known Room.
The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger is based on the real Lady Duff Gordon’s journey to Egypt during Victorian England. She is forced to leave her family, friends, and country because of debilitating tuberculosis. Her lady’s maid, Sally Naldrett jumps at the opportunity to travel with her. Sally, at the ripe old age of 30 is a paragon of virtue and rebuffs any man’s advances. But as the two women get farther from their homeland, Sally feels a freedom she has never known, including the freedom to love. Of course you know things are not going to end well when she falls in love with her Lady’s dragoman, Omar, who is already married and a father. After a close relationship of over ten years with Lady Duff Gordon, she is turned out without a reference, money, or the support of her Egyptian “husband” after delivering a baby boy. Pullinger is at her best describing the politics and customs of the period, along with the complexities of power, race, class, and love.