Book Reviews: Exit West, Do Not Be Alarmed, The Arrangement, All Our Wrong Todays, The Party

By | October 31, 2017

Five great books grouped together only by quality. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see all five of these wind up in my “Best Books of the Year” list but I know at least one of them will…

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid…Hamid’s mercifully slim, fully captivating tale of the war in Syria starts by depicting the slow erosion of normal life (cell phone service simply stops), and winds up a head-spinning romance that incorporates a device of magical realism: the refugees enter fantastical doors that can transport them to safer cities. When our main couple winds up in Greece, all is not quite magical, and the book does a realistic job of showing what day-to-day life might be like for a refugee (better, but not what you’d hoped) and that nativist fears of overpopulation aren’t entirely unjustified. Grade: A

Do Not Be Alarmed by Maile Meloy…A close-knit pair of Los Angeles cousins take their spouses and children on a cruise through the Panama canal, but things go awry during an excursion in Ecuador, as the children are separated from their parents, the catalyst for a tense manhunt. Meloy’s book may technically be a thriller but the writing is rich, the characters well-drawn, and the plot so realistic that it feels closer to a humane drama enveloped by realistic chaos. [If Noah Baumbach ever wrote a script for a Liam Neeson thriller—and he’d be better for it—it would look like this.] Grade: A

The Arrangement by Sarah Dunne…A stagnant married couple decide to try a 6-month “open” marriage with finely restricted rules of course (wink, wink). The book is usually pretty funny in addition to being humane, and the sex scenes are nicely detailed for a novel mostly about suburban disaffection. [This may be the most erotic book Tom Perrotta could never write.] You may see the inevitable downside to this arrangment coming, but that doesn’t make getting there any less compelling. Although Dunne perpetuates the persistent myth that millennial women have such casual attitudes towards sex it’s practically like ordering something off Amazon. Grade: A-

The Party by Robyn Harding…A girl’s sweet sixteen goes disastrously wrong when one of the other girls is injured and her mother wants to make the parents of the host girl pay for it. Lawsuits, criminal charges, and threats hover in the air as all of it seems to be manipulated by a popular mean girl displaying a “maturity” that only covers up how childish she can be. The book’s plot moves along at a brisk pace—I nearly finished it in one sitting—and the characters are more than believable. I only wish Harding didn’t overly punish some people for their mistakes, as you really do feel sorry for some of them, but that seems to be in service of the book’s cliffhanger ending. Grade: B+

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai…The “future” utopia of sci-fi dreams is actually a reality that we’re currently living in until a clumsy time traveller accidentally messes up the timeline to what it is in our current 2017. It’s a nice twist that the “dystopia” is actually our reality, and Mastai is refreshingly optimistic about where things can go from here. The book finds a way to make sci-fi personal, and believable romances and characterizations abound in a plot that never stops finding new ways to surprise you. Grade: A

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