Spending a week traveling the highways and byways of America is interesting stuff. At the moment I'm in Virginia, preparing to cross a few more state lines so I can visit a waterfall I've always wanted to see (but like too many things, never got around to it until now.) I've been reading, too. I decided to pick up random novels from any interesting indie book shops I found on the road, and this has been fun. My most recent purchases are Delicious! by Ruth Reichl and The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman from Left Bank Books in Belfast, ME.
If you enjoy stories of foodies, New York City and letter-based mysteries from WWII you should probably go out today and invest in Delicious!; it's a lovely novel that combines all three. I was surprised at how well-written it was, too -- food writers tend to focus more on the edibles in such stories, but this one has as many interesting characters as it does scrumptious dishes. The plot is likewise very well done, with the kind of twisty deftness you don't often encounter outside the genre writing community (and yes, I'd classify it as literary, but thankfully not anywhere near the God awful variety.) I haven't enjoyed a lit hardcover this much since I read The Book of Unholy Mischief.
I'm not yet sure what to make of the Hoffman book, which I finished last night. It's very ambitious, and works hard at being one of those luminous-in-the-dirt kind of stories. A few times while reading it I flashed back to the days when I was wrestling with Allende and Mieville (not a time I've ever wanted to revisit.) The primary setting, a turn-of-the-century freak show, is portrayed rather rosily for the time period -- but then, a lot of elements in the story were. I liked the characters, though, especially some of those who were incidental or had very minor roles. There's a fascinating criminal-turned-liveryman, and a wolf-taming hermit, both of whom steal every scene they're in; I think they're the reason the main characters come off rather trite by comparison. Still, it was a book I'm glad I read; it illustrates why it is important to think carefully about how you balance your cast, and why you should consider limiting how much you try to romanticize wretched situations.
Time to gather my belongings and brave the highway merge lanes. I'll check in with you all again when I have the chance.