On the plane, at the beach, before bed: five summer reads from local authors.
Red Hook Road (Doubleday) by Ayelet Waldman
With her latest novel, Berkeley author Ayelet Waldman has crafted a lyrical, briskly moving family drama. After John Tetherly and Becca Copaken die in a car crash an hour after their wedding, their surviving kin search for connection through common grief, love and classical music. Humor and melancholy share the pages in equal measure, and Waldman’s knowing dissection of New England class divides elevates the novel above melodrama. Passages featuring the violin-virtuoso patriarch and his young female protégé are especially riveting, thanks to Waldman’s deft touch for telling detail. Red Hook Road might not change your life, but it will certainly raise your expectations for an intelligent summer read.
Death is Not an Option (Norton) by Suzanne Rivecca
San Franciscan Suzanne Rivecca’s debut is a collection of short stories that reads like an illicit glimpse into your girlfriend’s diary. A Pushcart Prize winner and former Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford, Rivecca creates female narrators who unflinchingly put some of their stickiest life issues on the table—from the scars of a Catholic upbringing to tales of an awkward adolescence to an even more uncomfortable one-night stand (with rejected love letter follow-up). Rivecca’s tales speak frankly about sexuality and victimization, subjects that some readers will undoubtedly relate to and voraciously eat up, while others might feel the need to pick and choose, digesting the material more slowly, one story at a time.
This is Where We Live (Spiegel & Grau) by Janelle Brown
Staged during an all-too-familiar economic downturn, This Is Where We Live opens with an earthquake and the resulting fissures that ultimately upend the foundation of Claudia and Jeremy’s new ReadyMade marriage: The cute, midcentury Los Angeles cottage bought on credit; her struggle as an indie filmmaker grappling with the ethics of Hollywood; his musician Peter Pan syndrome. Former Salon editor and Bay Area native Janelle Brown—now a Los Feliz resident—clearly understands the dramatic nuances of life in the City of Angels. But with her second novel, she’s also created characters whose relationship growing pains alone are poignant enough to give This Is Where We Live the page-turning qualities of a real thriller.
Peep Show (Algonquin Books) by Joshua Braff
If you’re looking for a book to satisfy your summer smut craving, Peep Show is it. Written by Joshua Braff (brother of actor Zach), the story of a 17-year-old boy torn between his newly converted Hasidic mother and his self-obsessed, strip-club-operating father is a coming-of-age tale that should appeal to the real “guy’s guy” out there. Perched somewhere between improbable and outrageous, this sophomore effort shares with his debut novel, The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green (Algonquin Books), themes of awkward adolescence, strained family relations, and apathy toward Jewish tradition, with human sexuality peeking out from behind every corner. Reading it is a guilty pleasure.
Cakewalk (The Dial Press) by Kate Moses
Kate Moses’ latest book could be at risk of falling into the oversaturated “memoir with recipes” category. But it’s saved from that fate by Moses’ rich stories, recounting a childhood with an absent father and a desperate mother; a first, unhappy marriage and unexpected pregnancy; and finally, a happy ending. Baking is the central thread running through every season of her life, the thing that grounds Moses at even the worst moments. Sweet, maybe, but it’s an unnecessary thematic device, because her tales are compelling enough without the incessant mentions of and recipes for cookies, cakes and brownies (that brownie recipe, however, did get M.F.K. Fisher’s vote of confidence).