The River by Peter Heller (Edgar Award Nomination for Best Novel)

The tension is palatable from the very beginning.

What they wanted by giving themselves almost a month, more, to cross the lakes and run the river was a voyage with no end date…Most of their previous river trips had been a hustle, because they were students with jobs and so their time off was short. They wanted to try this, to feel.what it was actually like to live in the landscape a little. But now everyrhing had changed. The fire they’d seen the other night and the early frost changed it. (p. 19-20)

The fog, and the impending fire, are not the only things that threaten Wynn and Jack, two friends canoeing in Canada. They encounter two men who are drunk, and then they overhear an argument between a man and a woman coming through the fog. Later, they stop a man in a canoe from going over the falls, and when he approaches them they can see he is in a state of shock. His wife, it seems, has disappeared. Did he kill her? Were they attacked by the two drunks? Was it a bear that caused such harm?

He (Jack) was forming a theory. He was gathering evidence and he would indict and convict the man before they even met him again. Wynn wouldn’t. It was plausible. It was. A whole handful of possibilities. The Texans with their quiet motor could have stalked the couple in the fog. The poor man, Pierre, in the grip of terror, had lost his wife and fled this new bear here by the falls, or fled them. Thinking that they had been the ones who had taken her in the mist and were now probably after him. (p. 106)

The two young men care for the woman, struggle to keep them all alive, and outrun both the fire and the man ahead of them whom they suspect is a threat. It seemed unrealistic in places, that they could escape the fire or escape their hunger. My interest waned…and then, at the end, my heart broke. I thought I would like it much more than I did, as the beginning was so strong, and the ending so piercing. Maybe I just didn’t like how upsetting it was, and for the ability to imbue that much emotion, Peter Heller ought to win something.

I have read four of the five books listed for Best Novel. So far, my favorite two are Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham and Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland. After a brief summary post of the Edgar Award contenders, I will return to Japanese literature. And, soon there will be a few books reviewed for Boekenweek which begins March 7. (Boekenweek is a ten day celebration of Dutch literature which first began in 1932.)

Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland (Edgar Award nomination)

Art has a way of putting everyone at their most transactional. I’m invisible until someone calculates my value. (p. 37)

I devoured this book like I did the latte macchiato and ginger cookie from Peet’s, the traces of which you see above. It absorbed me completely and drew me into the art world in ways I have never been aware of before.

As I began to pull my thoughts together for this post, I realized that the narrator (for it is told in first person) never identifies herself. All we know is that she is a young painter, with an alcoholic mother left behind in Gainesville, Florida, and that she admires a group of artists called Pine City beyond what some might call normal admiration.

Who of us hasn’t been enchanted with a figure which seems to loom larger than life? Be it an artist, a writer, a singer, we seem to look for heroes, and then elevate them to impossible heights. Such is the way with Pine City, artists who are on the cutting edge, who cling to themselves and carve a successful path for their work to be recognized.

Somehow it doesn’t matter how old you grow, or how sophisticated you become. The people who impress themselves upon your consciousness at nineteen ill never shrink of fade from memory. They will always be just a few steps ahead, and you’ll both hate and worship them for it, because you cannot help but compare yourself. (p. 80)

Pine City is not the only object of her admiration; there is also her friend, Max, a woman who seems to have it all: style, fame, and a rich husband from the art world. They live in a house designed by one of the members of Pine City, Carey Logan, who has used sculpted hands for doorknobs, the crook of an elbow at the top of a landing of stairs…

The novel centers around Carey, a woman who has allegedly committed suicide by sticking her feet in boots filled with cement and filming herself walking into a lake where she drowns. The whole thing is filmed, as her final piece of art. Carey evolved from sculpture showing bodies in decay to performance art, where she hugged people, or smelled their breath, or did equally bizarre things that constitute art in the art world.

“I’m creatively lonely all the time.”

“Right? It’s so dissonant. I want to be an individual. I want my work to be so unique that everyone says there’s nothing like it, but then, I’m always looking around, like who’s making tracks? Who can I follow? How am I supposed to do this? (p. 156)

Really, as I think about it, Fake Like Me is more about what happens when the objects of our admiration can not bear up to our affection. It is about the loneliness inherent, perhaps, to each of us. It is about finding a place of contentment with who we are and what we do. I found it extremely well written, and very powerful.