Amy and Isabelle

by Elizabeth Strout

Continuing the recent trend of reading books about mother-daughter relationships, I picked up Amy and Isabelle because I liked the cadence of the title, and found myself in a slow novel, not in the plodding sense of the word, but in the sense that this was a story of gradual emergence.

The book opens on a hot summer day in an office where there is no air conditioning, and while the period is never specified, the mention of typewriters and and lack of computers, or even any specific office supply other than such things as legal pads and Papermate pens puts us in the late sixties to early seventies.

We are introduced to both characters, Amy, the teenaged daughter of single mother Isabelle, within the first few pages, and while the rest of the novel does peel away their layers – Isabelle was raped by a family friend, never married, and has an unrequited crush on the boss, while Amy is discovering sex and lust and is openly attracted to her substitute math teacher – I never got past the feeling of wanting the story to really BEGIN.

It’s a slow tale, of people who live slow, quiet lives, and while the details are impeccable, I was left unsatisfied. Some undefinable “something’ is missing from Strout’s work.

Home from the Vinyl Cafe

by Stuart McLean

This book is subtitled “A Year of Stories,” so I knew that it would be short stories and vignettes, which makes it an excellent bathroom book, incidentally, but when I read the blurb on the back and it mentioned that Dave owned a record store, I was expecting at least something involving illicit snogging behind the audio racks. Instead, we glimpsed scenes of Dave and his wife Morley away from the store, witnessing their courtship, the early years of their marriage, and various events in their lives, over the course of a year, from winter to winter.

Author McLean has been called “the Canadian Garrison Keillor” by various media sources, and while he does share a similar folksy style, his work is also much more grounded in contemporary life than his American counterpart’s.

While I’ve never heard any of Stuart McLean’s broadcasts, his voice as an author is charming and he captured my attention. It’s true that some of the stories in this collection were a little too sitcom-ish, with pat endings and issues too easily wrapped up, but some of them made me laugh out loud at three in the morning while I was reading them on the toilet, which made Fuzzy come running to make sure I wasn’t somehow concussed.

I’m eager to read more from this collection.