Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Other Typist: A Novel by Suzanne Rindell

The Other Typist: A Novel.  Suzanne Rindell. Penguin Group (USA). April 2013. 368 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9780425268421.

Rose Baker is a staid, ultraconservative typist/stenographer for the New York City Police Department.  She types reports and confessions of criminals, a responsibility which calls for quite a staunch stamina indeed!  The Sergeant and the Lieutenant Detective seem to vie for her attention, but her respect definitely seems to be for the former, an attitude that perhaps foreshadows some trouble in the future.  A significant change when the department hires a new typist, Odalie, who saunters into her interview and later daily appearance as if she were the most famous movie star in the world!

Initially Odalie ignores Rose and befriends the other typists who are even blander than the perfect and proper lady, Rose.  That changes, however, after Odalie drops a bejeweled brooch which Rose picks up and conveniently forgets to return to Odalie the next day.  Rindell’s depiction of Odalie is perfect as narrated through the observations of Rose.  For Odalie reads people’s personality quickly and reacts accordingly; but she also seems adept at sensing their weakness which she exploits covertly.  She then introduces Rose to a world of speakeasy rooms and parties where there’s no shortage of liquor despite Prohibition laws.  It isn’t long before Rose is totally sucked into excessive drinking and dancing the latest jazz numbers.  While there’s always a tinge of guilt and questioning in Rose’s acquiescence to every invitation by Odalie, it doesn’t stop Rose from eventually agreeing to be Odalie’s roommate in a very posh hotel in Manhattan.  Then the trouble begins!

The possibility of raids on the places where the two friends party, the many questions that arise out of Odalie’s stories about her background and the appearance of a man named Teddy carry the rest of the novel into a tense, riveting mystery that ends in a calamitous act.  The reader is stymied about who did what and actually who is the actual perpetrator of several heinous crimes.

The Other Typist is an excellent mystery that illuminates Rindell’s formidable talent at pacing a story with just the right amount of increasing intensity and dread.  The characterization of both women is superb, one a foil for the other’s sociopathic personality – or perhaps it’s the reverse?  Highly recommended novel about obsession and the unique facets of the criminal mind!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

We'll Always Have Paris: A Mother-Daughter Adventure by Jennifer Coburn

We’ll Always Have Paris: A Mother-Daughter Adventure.  Jennifer Coburn. Source Books. April 2014. 400 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781402288630.

Jennifer Coburn’s travels with her daughter, Katie, are fueled by the desire to avidly appreciate every moment one has, while one has it.  The loss of her father, Sheldon Coburn, is the source of her fear of losing to death and of an unspoken ambivalence about his life.  For he chose to immerse himself in smoking and pot and a free lifestyle that caused his young demise; although he tried to be all he could be to Jennifer, she perhaps didn’t really “get” his message of grasping every moment for its special qualities, a gift.  She and Katie are now, without both realizing it initially, on the journey to “get it!”

Throughout this memoir, they travel through Europe, to Paris, Italy, Spain, England and Amsterdam.  Sometimes they do the tour thing, usually with disappointing results, but their best moments are had in totally unexpected ways that are funny, poignant, frustrating, precious, and deeply memorable. 

Yes, they are the victims of scams, meet some nasty hotel personnel, get motion sickness on planes and trains, sleep in a famous “Shakespeare” room that is more like a New York City shelter full of homeless people, cope with skyrocketing temperatures, get caught up in the Italian version of a train strike, and other not so fun events but they handle them with humor and their “European shrug of shoulders” manner.

However, there are innumerable beautiful moments when they visit museums full of gorgeous art they fall in love with, climb up the Eiffel Tower, listen to opera and symphony concerts in Vienna, meet a famous actress on their trip from Europe to London, eat at simple but delicious restaurants and bakeries, walk along the banks of rivers and streams in every country, and so much more that carries the essence of this mother-daughter journey!

Interspersed into these descriptions are the memories Jennifer shares about her father’s life, from its early beginning as a briefly famous musician and singer to his eventual coping with his lung cancer and death.  One senses Jennifer trying to understand his life, and therefore her own, as she shares these memories, treasuring the moments she had with him and yet somehow finding something elusive about him as well.  Somehow her husband, William, captures it best toward the end of the account, but we must wait for that wisdom until she is ready to really “get it.”

The tone and style of this memoir is so comfortable, relaxed, honest, raw and beautiful that words themselves feel elusive to grasp the very heart of this MUST read book.  The reader is touched not only by each step of this heart-warming story that shows this author’s best writing to date.  Highly recommended!