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?