Okay, not all the books, but three books for the price of one post: The Golden Day, Winger, and The Midnight Dress.
(It was going to be four books, because I stayed up way too late reading More Than This the other night, but I think I need to sit on that for another day or so before I can do it justice.)
Other than the facts that all three feature murders and have garnered three stars, these aren’t linked by anything other than that they needed to be talked about in the context of awards season.
What a marvelous little book, and what a dark horse this is.
The Golden Day showcases the hands-down loveliest prose I’ve come across this year. The sentences, the tone, the music and the rhythms: Sorrow’s Knot is the closest peer, but this is top of the heap, from the opening — “The year began with the hanging of one man and ended with the drowning of another” — to the final sentence, which I won’t quote but which falls from a brief rush of excitement into the stillness of the unknown but hopeful future.
Plotwise, this is thin — a slice of time, more absorbed in finely wrought observation than in forward movement. But the thinness perfectly suits the book; nothing seems to be missing, because this is a book about death and time and decay and the unknown, about mystery and love — and it gets at all of that in those small moments, in a way that more plot — or just more — would have wrecked.
The eleven girls are depicted as the little girls they are (somewhere between 8 and 10, I think, assuming they leave school between 16 and 18). They are confused and obedient, they adore their glamorous, passionate, womanly teacher. Miss Renshaw is all the mystery of adulthood; her conversation hints at sex and desire and knowledge. The girls stand rapt before her, and when she disappears they behave in a way that is immensely stupid and also exactly what one would expect given their personalities and the dynamic Dubosarsky’s writing has so clearly made apparent, even in a tiny page count. Through them we can see the appeal Morgan holds for Miss Renshaw, and through them we can see the threat as well; the descriptive writing plays a significant role here.
In so many ways, this one has award winner written all over it, but there are issues: The fine thread of magical realism or maybe haunting may not work for some readers (I initially thought it didn’t, but having sat with the book for a while and reread the bulk of it, I have lost my certainty that it’s a flaw at all). And then there’s the age issue — these are little girls, after all, a phrase used throughout to remind the reader of just how little and uncertain they are, but the book is actually about very adult concerns, which might strike many as a fault. But this is at its core explicitly about the adolescent journey; eight years pass after the time that comprises the bulk of the text, and the final chapters crystallize the thematic examination of growth and the gaining of knowledge. Cubby has been changed forever, and recognizes that she has been changed; she has emerged from childhood and has lost something. This might be a strange YA book, but the scope ultimately speaks to the heart of adolescence — good enough for me, and an argument I would make at the table.
So, yes, dark horse, but this might just have what it takes, if someone is willing to fight for it.
Humor, angst, art, romance, raunch, AND a hate crime? This book has it all!
Also the best cover of the year, and from a consistently excellent but underrated writer (The Marbury Lens gave me nightmares, in the best way).
Because it’s funny, this is a really subjective book. If the humor works for you, I think it would be an easy book to champion — it’s creative and unusual, it has a distinct narrative voice, and it covers a lot — alienation most of all.
For me, the humor didn’t work, which made most of the things that I noticed come across as flaws. I’m not sure that the illustrations added anything (except to make it clear that Wimpy Kid readers who have hit puberty are a target demographic here). That distinctive voice? Belonged to a character I found annoying and also unbelievable (a sympathetic reader might argue that he’s an unreliable narrator and some of the things I say seem inconsistent — either he seems like a little kid or he doesn’t, but he can’t look like a kid AND be messing around with Megan in any world I know — are to prove how unreliable he is). Finally, I mentioned pacing, but the real problem I had here was a tonal shift; it’s a humorous coming of age and then it’s the aftermath of a hate crime; to me, it read as two books shoehorned together, with Ryan Dean as the glue between them. But since Ryan Dean was flawed in my reading, the two pieces didn’t cohere.
Which sounds like I thought this was a terrible book, and I really didn’t; I find myself recommending it on a regular basis. I just can’t support it for literary recognition.
Another Australian, another dark horse.
Honestly, I’m not sure who (besides the reviewers and I) read it. The rest of you are missing out!
Layered, dreamy prose, a mystery, and a construction that leaves the reader aware that something is coming and desperately searching for clues to a murder we know is approaching all coalesce into something special.
(Note that there is an element of mystery for some time about which girl has disappeared, which I will spoil in a few paragraphs, so don’t read on if you plan to read the book. You’ve been warned.)
While this doesn’t have the sheer lyricism or rhythm of The Golden Day, the prose is generally stunning. Quiet, but not workmanlike, tightly crafted, and the dialogue is just amazing. Rose, Pearl, and Edie each have their distinct voices and their burdens from the past: Edie who holds on to things, Pearl who looks forward, and tightly knotted Rose who finally blooms — her name was very carefully chosen — under the love and support of Pearl and Edie. Rose speaks in shorter sentences; Edie has so much to say; and Pearl’s speech just flows on and on. The small town, too, is made clear through the writing. The people, the flora and fauna (mostly flora; nature is an important force here), the rhythm of life and the way a community constrains and cradles are all evoked in the pitch perfect descriptions.
And there’s so much pain here, but laced through with hints of healing. In the past there are promises for the future, just as Edie’s bits and pieces from the past come together to show Rose as a woman when she finally puts on the titular dress. Metaphor laces through this on all different levels, and all of it works seamlessly.
It’s funny — I read and really liked this several months ago, but only now, after revisiting it and writing it up, am I realizing that this is probably in my own top five and it’s one I would go to the mat for if I were at the table. It’s so infinitely unpackable: the symbolism of the chapter titles, the way sewing connects, the quiet but unmistakable elements about womanhood and growing up, and especially the many permutations of mothers and daughters. I could write a book or two about this, and it’s a well-crafted mystery as well, although not, in the end, that mysterious. It’s dangerous to be a girl who gives, who takes life in both hands and never mind the risks, but it’s also incredibly powerful; even after her death, Pearl continues to give and her life transforms others.