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Groff's dark, lyrical examination of life on a commune follows Bit, aka Little Bit, aka Ridley Sorrel Stone, born in the late '60s in a spot that will become Arcadia, a utopian community his parents help to form. Despite their idealistic goals, the family's attempts at sustainability bring hunger, cold, illness, and injury. Bit's vibrant mother retreats into herself each winter; caring for the community literally breaks his father's back. The small, sensitive child whose purposeful lack of speech is sometimes mistaken for slowness finds comfort in Grimms' fairy tales and is lost in the outside world once Arcadia's increasingly entitled spiritual leader falls from grace and the community crumbles. Split between utopia and its aftermath, the book's second half tracks the ways in which Bit, now an adult (he's 50 when this all ends, in 2018), has been shaped by Arcadia; a career in photography was the perfect choice for a man who "watches life from a good distance." Bit's painful experiences as a husband, father, and son grow more harrowing as humanity becomes increasingly imperiled. The effective juxtaposition of past and future and Groff's (Delicate Edible Birds) beautiful prose make this an unforgettable read.
Two teenaged half-sisters make their way through WWII-era America in Bloom's imaginative romp. After being left on her father's Ohio doorstep by her absconding mother, 11-year-old Eva meets Iris, the older half-sister she never knew she had. They escape to Hollywood, where Iris hopes to become a movie star. But they wind up on Long Island, where the girls and their father, Edgar, find employment in the home of the nouveau riche Torelli family. Over the course of the story, Edgar develops a relationship with a black jazz singer named Clara Williams, Iris falls in love with the Torellis' cook, Reenie Heitmann, and Eva learns to read the tarot and sets herself up as a psychic. Joining the lively cast is Francisco Diego, a Hollywood makeup artist; Gus, Reenie's German husband, who is deported; and Danny, an orphan who is ultimately raised by Eva. On the way to a gloriously satisfying ending, these characters are separated by fate and distance, but form a vividly rendered patchwork American family (straight, gay, white, black, citizen, immigrant). Bloom (Away) transforms history to create a story of stunning invention, with characters that readers will feel lucky to encounter.
White Teeth, a multigenerational, multiethnic, somewhat zany novel, is the ambitious undertaking of first-time novelist Smith. Set in London and spanning more than 25 years, with recollections and accounts back to earlier days, it presents the combined story of the Jones and Iqbal families. The friendship of Archibald and Samad, respectively, the fathers, dates back to their shared, if somewhat bizarre, experiences during World War II. Their much younger wives (Clara Jones, a Jamaican who escaped from her Jehovah's Witness upbringing, and Alsana Iqbal, married because of family arrangements) and the children (a girl for the Jones', twin sons for the Iqbals) become like one family out of habit and self-defense. They grow and change (or not) as the years progress, and there is a sort of predestined circularity of the events and outcomes. Smith has an excellent ear for dialect and a wonderfully descriptive sense in the way she presents the multiethnic underclass.
In this elegantly written novel, Omotoso introduces readers to two accomplished, unforgettable women, Marion and Hortensia, who have been neighbors for years in Cape Town's upscale Katterijn. One is an architect and the other a designer, one white and one black, and though they were the products of differing childhood experiences, you might think that they would have found common ground. Instead, they nurture an overt enmity apparently based upon race. Now widowed, the two women face uncomfortable truths about the men they married, with each reflecting upon choices made, dreams deferred, and lost chances at connection. Forging ahead into old age, these proud, feisty women must decide whether to expend waning energy on their feud or call a truce. Omotoso's warm and witty story is more complex than a simple tale of black and white, with Katterijn a microcosm of a city and a country still grappling with the repercussions of apartheid's end.