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Check It Out

Courier Articles by Sandy Schultheis
Sunday, September 12, 1999

"Oprah Might Have Picked These"

Today's column features books that Oprah may have picked, but didn't. Ms Winfrey's Book Club continues to bring our attention to writers who are not usually on best seller lists In looking for books similar to those chosen by Oprah in the past year or so, I sought out little gems, both old and new that you may have missed. Speaking of something you may have missed, today we are celebrating the Sunday re-opening of Central Library in Evansville. From now until May 14th we will be open from 1 to 5 Sundays. Central Library, in its 68th year, is a great old art deco building full of wonderful books, videos, cd's and magazines. But it is also inadequate as a modern library and we would like to build something worthy of a city the size of Evansville. So come on down, take a tour and see the infamous closed stack area which houses most of our book collection, then check out some books or videos. I will be on the second floor to help you locate some good fiction which may or may not be available at your branch library. If that isn't enough incentive there will also be sundaes from Lic's for the first 300 visitors.

American Pie by Michael Lee West (HarperCollins, 1996).

I loved Where The Heart Is by Billie Letts and was glad to find this read-alike by a writer acclaimed for her uniquely Southern voice. Jo-Nell McBroom, with one too many tequila sunrises under her belt, drives her yellow Volkswagen into the path of an on-coming train This latest accident, in a family beset with tragedies, becomes the impetus for Jo-Nell and her two sisters to come to terms with their fears and finally conquer them. While West's novel is raunchier than Where the Heart Is this is an equally appealing and comedic tribute to family ties. I found myself laughing out loud.

While I was Gone by Sue Miller (Knopf, 1999).

If you enjoyed The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve then you will probably like Sue Miller's latest. Jo, a successful veterinarian, wife, and mother finds her life unraveling when an old housemate from the distant past settles in her small town. The darkest moment of her former life, the murder of her best friend, returns to haunt her. Miller and Shreve are both wonderful writers and I can recommend anything they have written.

The River Midnight by Lilian Nattel (Scribner, 1999).

In a the turn-of-the-century town in Poland, the village midwife becomes pregnant but will not reveal the identity of the father, heightening the tension between the men and women of the village. This debut from a major new talent is reminiscent of Midwives by Chris Bohjalian, which is set in Vermont in the 1980s and is about a midwife whose patient dies during an emergency. Ms. Nattel's writing has been compared to Isabel Alende and Isaac Bashevis Singer. Combining extensive research and equally intense imagination, The River Midnight brings life in a Jewish shtetl brilliantly alive, particularly the lives of women and the intimate details of day to day existence.

I Been in Sorrow's Kitchen and Licked Out all the Pots by Susan Straight (Hyperion, 1992).

A rich and poignant novel of a mother's love for her children shares a similar theme with Jewel by Bret Lott, the story of a woman whose fifth child has Down's Syndrome. "…Sorrow's Kitchen: takes the reader into the life of Marietta Cook, a tall "blue-black" South Carolina woman who guards herself from the outside world as she struggles to raise her sons. Straight's powerful portrayal of a black woman's life is moving and enlightening.

The Man Who was Late by Louis Begley (Ballentine, 1992).

Begley, one of my favorite authors is a holocaust survivor and his own story sounds like fiction. This book reminded me of an Oprah selection The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, in which a German teenager has an affair with an emotionally remote older woman and only years later does he discover that she is a survivor of the Holocaust. In Begley's book, Ben who left Europe after surviving the holocaust, becomes a successful financier and falls in love with Veronique who is unhapily married to someone else.

Amy and Isabel by Elizabeth Strout (Random House, 1998).

If you loved White Oleander by Janet Fitch, an edgy and dark mother-daughter drama,then you will want to try this story of a mother and her teen daughter who live in a small New England mill town. The daughter becomes involved with her high school teacher who leaves town when their affair is discovered Many characters and sub-plots diffuse the mother-daughter theme, but frankly, I didn't like either one of these beautifully written books. However, that doesn't mean you won't love them. I recognized their literary merit, but the dark mood that each conveys, the unpleasantness of smells, sights, and the high level of psychological tension was not appealing to me.

Sandy Schultheis is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.