I stepped into an aisle in my local library’s fiction section and checked out the first two books that looked good. Each of them turned out to be the first novel by an author experienced in another type of writing–Erin Kelly is a journalist, and Richard Kramer is a television scriptwriter. Both of them are pretty good, in different ways.
The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly
This is a British thriller written in observant prose that reminds me of Barbara Vine, but with Generation X characters who feel very real both in the 1990s and 2008 scenes. It has plenty of suspense and twists!
Karen is bringing her partner Rex home from prison, where he served ten years for a double homicide he didn’t commit. Now he and Karen and their nine-year-old daughter will finally be a family–if only Karen can stop worrying that someone will find out the truth–no, not the truth that Rex didn’t do it but the truth of who did and the other truth, the one Karen knows but Rex doesn’t and Karen isn’t quite telling you….
Along with the fascinating plot, I loved Karen’s recounting of that one summer when everything changed for her, when meeting a new friend opened her eyes to the narrowness of her old life and the beauty of a crumbling old house on the edge of a forest in the middle of London.
These Things Happen by Richard Kramer
A family of very interesting characters goes through much more drama and trauma than I expected. Their personalities and conflicts were intriguing enough without having to make something terrible happen to them, I thought, and then the final chapter drags you through 46 pages of so much talking and feeling that even I (normally a fan of stories about People and Their Feelings) got tired of it! But it’s still well worth reading for the characters and the things they say and think.
Wesley is a tenth-grade boy with four parents in two Manhattan households. This semester is the first time he’s lived primarily with his father Kenny and Kenny’s partner George above George’s restaurant. His mother Lola and stepfather Ben are trying to step back so Wesley can get to know Kenny better–but Kenny’s so busy with his job that Wesley is spending a lot of time with George. Meanwhile, Wesley’s best friend Theo wins the election for class president, comes out as gay in his acceptance speech, and asks Wesley to ask his dad and George some important questions. Wesley and Theo are such intelligent guys with such a great rapport, and George is such a former actor sensitive to everyone’s nuances and constantly drawing entertaining parallels between daily events and theatrical moments, that it would have been fun just to read about them and what everybody learns about themselves and each other.
Instead, everyone has to suffer, either directly or by watching their loved one suffer or by realizing that trauma triggering panic can trigger bias so ugly you hardly know how to live with yourself. I wish the author hadn’t felt like he had to hurt them so much to make them grow. I also wish that, after writing 82% of the book in first person from the viewpoint of one character at a time, he hadn’t turned the final chapter into a third-person fluctuating-omniscience perspective on Wesley and George.
Still, the story of a boy who has distinct and important relationships with his two stepfathers was an interesting one, told from a lot of perspectives that all seemed real.