This blog is dedicated to the amazing staff at the New Canaan Public Library in New Canaan, Connecticut.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, 2012, * * * *

Meet Nick and Amy Dunne whose marriage is their most obsessive and dangerous passion.  Their marital un-bliss is so destructive that it could undo George and Martha who burned up the pages of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? How did things get so bad?  Gillian Flynn, whose award winning Dark Places and Sharp Objects also shone a dark light on dysfunctional characters, delves this time into what happens when two people marry and one spouse has no idea who their beloved really is.  Life starts to unravel when Nick and Amy lose their jobs in New York and move to Carthage, Missouri to care for Nick's ailing Mom. One day Amy disappears and, because they always do, the police take a close look at the seemingly distraught husband. To peel away even one layer of what happens to Nick and Amy is giving too much away. Nick insists he had nothing to do with her disappearance even though he's a liar and a cheat. Someone may be setting him up, and as the investigation goes deeper, he's looking more and more like a murderer with a means and a motive. Flynn tells this dark story by alternating first-person accounts from Amy and Nick. Flynn  manipulates the story-line of Gone Girl by releasing tidbits of information at the most opportune time, when the shock value is at its highest.  The plot is mind-blowing; while the book has many twists, there is one huge one that will leave you aghast. It is a wonderful psychological thriller. 

Oxygen by Carol Cassella, 2008, * * * *

The protagonists of Carol Cassella's debut novel Oxygen is a 37-year old anesthesiologist Dr. Marie Heaton, a dedicated and conscientious physician.  After introducing herself to patient and reassuring them that they are in good hands, she administers drugs that bring about "a temporary loss of sensation, an absence of pain.."  Marie loves the precision and focus of her job with its balance of technical skill and judgment.  Marie's life, however, comes to a screeching halt when she administers anesthesia to an 8-year old girl named Jolene Jansen.  For some inexplicable reason, Jolene's heart rate plummets and her blood loses its oxygen supply.  Although Dr. Heaton tries every technique at her disposal to bring the child back,  she fails.  The devastating tragedy leads to sleepless nights during which Marie second-guesses herself, wondering what she could have done differently. She is also on tenterhooks waiting for the inevitable malpractice suit to be filed.  she is raked over the coals by lawyers and members of the hospitals board and the events in this novel demonstrate how selfish and callous individuals bring untold misery to their friends, family, and coworkers.  The author, who is a practicing anesthesiologist, provides an insider's look into the political, legal, and human sides of modern hospital care.  She also imbues the story with an added dimension by shedding light on Marie's personal life. Oxygen builds in intensity until it reaches its electrifying conclusion.  With the compassion of Jodi Picault and the medical realism of Atul Gawande,  Oxygen proved to be a very satisfying read about relationships and family that collides with a high-stakes medical drama. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty, 2012, * * *

From Australian writer Moriarty (The Last Anniversary) this novel amounts to a domestic escapism about a woman whose temporary amnesia makes her re-examine what really matters to her.  Alice wake from what she thinks is a dream, assuming she is a recently married 29-year-old expecting her first child.  Actually she is 39, the mother of three children and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband Nick.  She has fallen off her spin cycle and the resulting bump on her head has not only erased her memory of the past 10 years but has also taken her psychologically back to a younger, more easygoing self at odds with the woman she gathers she has become.  While Alice at 29 is loving and playful if lacking ambition or self-confidence, Alive at 39 i8s a highly efficiently if too tightly wound supermom.  She is also thin and rich since Nick now heads the company where she remembers him struggling in an entry-level position.  The 29-year-old Alice cannot conceive that she and Nick would no longer be madly in love nor that she and her adored older sister Elisabeth could be estranged.  She is doubly shocked to learn that her shy mother has married Nick's bumptious father and has taken up salsa dancing.  She neither remembers nor recognizes her three children nor does she know what to do with the perfectly nice boyfriend she has acquired at 39.  As her memory gradually returns, Alice initially misinterprets the scattered images and flashes of emotion, especially those concerning Gina, a woman who evidently caused the rift with Nick., although she senses that Gina may not have been a completely positive influence. The novel asks the age-old question, What if? What if you had the chance to do over your past?  Would you make the same decisions? I didn't love the way the author tided up the end of the story but it does make your think about choices and chances. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Out Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook, 2011, * * * *

Supermarket produce sections, bulging with a year-round supply of perfectly round, bright-red-orange tomatoes have become all but a national birthright. But in Tomatoland, which is based on his James Beard Award-winning article, "The Price of Tomatoes,", investigative food journalist Barry Estabrook reveals the huge human and environmental cost of the $5 billion fresh tomato industry.  Fields are sprayed with more than one hundred different herbicides and pesticides.  Tomatoes are picked hard and green and artificially gassed until their skins acquire a marketable hue.  Modern plant breeding has tripled yields, but has also produced fruits with dramatically reduced amounts of calcium, vitamin A, and Vitamin C, and tomatoes that have fourteen times more sodium than the tomatoes our parents enjoyed.  The relentless drive for low costs has also fostered a thriving modern-day slave trade in the United States. Estabrook traces the supermarket tomato from its birthplace in the deserts of Peru to the impoverished town of Immokalee, Florida, a.k.a. the tomato capital of the United States.  He visits the laboratories of seedsmen trying to develop varieties that can withstand the rigors of agribusiness and moves on to commercial growers who operate on tens of thousands of acres. Throughout the book Mr. Estabrook presents a who's who cast of characters in the tomato industry: the avuncular octogenarian whose conglomerate grows one out of every eight tomatoes eaten in the USA; the ex-Marine who heads the group that dictates the size, color and shape of every tomato shipped out of Florida;  the US attorney who has doggedly prosecuted human traffickers for the past decade; and the Guatemalan peasant who came north to earn money for his parents' medical bills and found himself enslaved for two years.  Tomatoland is not as philosophically rich as Michael Pollan'sOmnivore's Dilemma nor as adrenalized as Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. However, it reads like a suspenseful whodunit as well as an expose of today's agribusiness system and the price we pay as a society when we take taste any thought out of our food purchases.