Editor’s Note: I don’t have as much time as I’d like to blog about the wider pop culture spectrum and such wonderful things as books, television, music, etc. That’s why I’ve asked my friend Shawna Foxgrover, a gifted copy editor and writer, to pen the occasional guest post for lavendervroman.com. Shawna is an avid reader with witty insights on contemporary literature. Below, enjoy her first review for the blog.
By Shawna Foxgrover
Days of Awe
By Lauren Fox
Fiction, 272 pages
The first page of this book had me rolling my eyes. Someone has just died and our protagonist is at a funeral. How cliche. And it’s the funeral of our heroine’s best friend, Josie. I just read a best-friend-dies story about six books ago and that one was so painfully boring I never finished it.
To be fair, I had just come off a science-fiction kick when I picked up “Days of Awe,” so anything without zombies, intergalactic assassins or post-apocalyptic teenage heroes was guaranteed to make me yawn. But I soldiered on and was not disappointed.
Isabel Moore, the heroine of Fox’s third novel, is likable and funny, and “Days” turns out not to be a story about death after all. Fox writes Isabel, and her mother and daughter — and all her characters — to life: Mom Helene is haunted by the loss of relatives in the Holocaust. She holds onto Isabel, her only child, a bit too tightly but stops short of becoming the stereotypical overbearing, smothering Jewish mother.
Isabel’s daughter Hannah, 11, is at that age when she doesn’t fit in her mom’s embrace anymore, nor does she want to. Recalling a time when her daughter was 6, Isabel says, “It would be the blink of an eye before Hannah turned into the girl she is now, the one who disdains my affection and cringes from my touch. If I’d know then, I would have … well, what would I have done? Recorded a caress? Taken notes on a hug? You can’t preserve anything; every happy moment is already on its way to becoming nostalgia. That’s the problem.”
Fox’s narrative voice sounds so clever and familiar, I kept flipping to the front cover to look at her name again. Had I read any of her stuff before? I hadn’t. When a scene in the book reminded me of a scene in “When Harry Met Sally,” I realized she reminds me of Nora Ephron. Her writing also brings to mind Elizabeth Berg and Liane Moriarty.
At the center of “Days” is the mystery surrounding Josie’s death, which Josie’s husband claims is his fault. Isabel reassures him: “How could this be your fault? It’s not!” But then she tells us, “Of course it was his fault. And it was my fault, and possibly Chris’s, and most definitely Josie’s, and some other people’s faults too.”
The titular Days of Awe refer to the Jewish High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and also sometimes are said to include the 10 days of repentance, a time during which Jews meditate on the subject of the holidays and ask for forgiveness from anyone they’ve wronged. With this in mind, we wonder if Isabel needs to be forgiven for what happened to Josie. And how was she responsible? Does she need forgiveness from her husband, from whom she is separated one year after Josie’s death? And why are they no longer together?
The story jumps around from past to present to further past and back again, but it’s (usually) easy enough to follow and the author’s subplots don’t feel like an annoyance but instead are so diverting you almost forget to be impatient for the secrets to be revealed. Anyway, this is not a plot-driven story. As Isabel obsesses about the downward spiral that led to her friend’s death, it is Isabel’s own unraveling that is under the microscope here.
The novel examines love and loyalty and all the complicated feelings we have for our children and our parents, and in our friendships and marriages, and how some of these bonds are more fragile than we realize. It sounds depressing but it’s not. Isabel’s observations and wisecracks had me chuckling every few pages and ultimately it is Fox’s sense of humor which elevates this character study into a book you won’t want to put down.
More Recommendations by Shawna
Here are a few of my recent favorites, new in paperback:
“Big Little Lies,” by Liane Moriarty: The latest novel by the Australian author is fun and accessible, as are all of her books, most of which I read one after another. This one is a sort of light-hearted murder mystery, if there is such a thing. The story is told from the viewpoints of three mothers whose children attend the same school where, on the night of a parents’ fundraising event, one of the parents in attendance ends up dead.
“The Goldfinch,” by Donna Tartt: This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is the epic tale of the events that unfold after a teenager steals a priceless painting from a museum after it’s bombed by terrorists. It’s a beautifully written book and I loved it, but some critics groused about its length (771 pages), so if you prefer your books short and sweet, steer clear.
“The Girl With All the Gifts,” by M. R. Carey: If your tastes run more toward Stephen King, this is for you. It’s creepy as hell, but unputdownable. Don’t say I didn’t warn you (on both accounts).
Shawna Foxgrover graduated from Cal State University, Northridge, with a bachelor’s degree in English literature and worked at the Antelope Valley Press for six years before her current position as a stay-at-home/out-and-about mom to two kids and two naughty cats. She likes reading, writing and watching movies.