Summer reading: fiction

The first half of July was so action-packed I’m going to be spooling out the adventures until mid-August, I’m afraid. One thing I did was pick myself up a couple of quality-paperback treats at the Logan bookstore before I left: Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife and Tana French’s The Likeness.

American Wife was quite good–if you somehow don’t know, it’s a novel based on the life of Laura Bush. Political novels are always so risky; will anyone still give a damn once the characters they’re based on are out of history’s spotlight? I won’t speculate as to whether Ms. Sittenfeld has written a book that will last or not. But at this moment in history, it’s an entertaining, thought-provoking, page-turning read. I suspect if you don’t like Laura Bush, reading about “Alice Blackwell” may make you more sympathetic, and that if you are a fan of the former First Lady, it will make you a little less so.

But The Likeness is the one that really had me going. It starts off a bit slow, so be patient–it takes a while for the characters to get established. But the opening situation is such a grabber that I was willing to plod for a bit, and once the plot really took off, well, that was that.

We start off meeting Cassie Maddox, an Irish detective in the domestic-violence squad. Cassie’s got a past in undercover that didn’t end too well. One morning, her boyfriend Sam, himself a homicide detective, calls her out to a crime scene. Was it a spousal killing? No. The victim is Cassie’s body double … and the contents of her wallet identify her as “Lexie Madison,” the same name Cassie used as an undercover agent.

Granted, the entire thing is built on a coincidence of Dickensian clunkiness, but once you get through that, it’s a brilliant read, a detective story that is also a deep examination of identity, friendship, family, and loyalty. The plot is nicely twisty and turny and the language literary without causing eye-rolls (and these here eyes do roll at the whiff of anything resembling a precious “prose style”).

What good novels have you read this summer, or hope to read? (We’ll do nonfiction later, so let’s stick to fiction for now.)

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