Saturday, April 4, 2009

Alice Mattison/THE BOOK BORROWER


Ruben and Deborah first meet in a park, where Ruben is walking with her infant and Deborah is playing with her toddler daughters. Deborah, whose husband has a fascination with old trolley systems, lends Ruben a book about a trolley strike in 1920. Although Ruben dabbles at and misplaces the book, her friendship with Deborah carries on over an arch of years, changes, and catastrophes.

I do hope people who haven't discovered Alice Mattison yet will--in my mind, she's a female (and more embraceable) counterpart to Saul Bellow: an observer of the filaments of relationships and comfort, dialogue nuance, and natural reactions. I hadn't heard of her until last August, and now I own all her books. Her talent is in seeing and capturing the unusual mundane, and putting it forth so honestly you're pretty sure you've been that character before. The plot is incidental or even nonexistent, but it doesn't matter, because you read slowly to absorb the personal details.

The first book I read of hers was Nothing Is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn, which I reviewed here. The Book Borrower is perhaps better known, having been a NYT Notable Book of the Year in 1999 and now in its 7th printing, but I think NIQFIB is possibly even more polished and well-played in its tight, common themes: the vagaries of friendship between women, impossible prodigal children, art, old age, and husbands with innocent but frustratingly single-minded hobbies.

Anyone else a fan?

9 comments:

Emily Cross said...

i am really awful. when i saw the title of the book i automatically thought it was a movie tie in *shakes head*

She sounds like a talented writer, i'll definitly check it out. thanks

Dana said...

I haven't read any Mattison... and my 100 books list is already published. Dangit! This might have to be added. It sounds wonderful.

moonrat said...

not to be a pusher, but start with NOTHING IS QUITE FORGOTTEN IN BROOKLYN. i do think i liked it better. the structure is magical.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

My book club read this years ago. (Why do I wind up talking about books I read years ago over here? It's not like I'm caught up on current stuff!)

We were disappointed -- *because* the plot was so thin. As a group (and personally), we prefer at least SOMEthing happening, SOME forward movement.

But no argument about the fine details. It's been years, but I can still recall some of the details of the people on the trolleys.

Lily said...

She's such a beautiful, careful writer -- and I love how so many of her books explore women's friendships. So, yes, count me in as a fan.

moonrat said...

Susan--that's why I think I'd recommend NOTHING IS QUITE FORGOTTEN for neophytes--there is more of an obvious plot, same fine touch.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Oh, my poor groaning wish list...

Naomi said...

IN CASE WE'RE SEPARATED is the only mattison i've read, but it's in my top 5 list of short story collections. the characters resonate long after the book is over. i'll have to add THE BOOK BORROWER to my reading list (plus the rest of her books, of course).

Anonymous said...

Alice Mattison's "In Case We're Separated" is absolutely brilliant. I've read "Nothing is Forgotten in Brooklyn" which was mildly interesting but too sketchy. I just finished "The Book Borrowers" which was wonderful in parts. Mattison writes about loss, death, friendship and marriage in a very real and interesting way. The characters in "The Book Borrowers" are very richly drawn and you can see and feel them in front of you. I'm about to open up "Hilda and Pearl".