Although we have nearly two more months of summer, with the school year beginning this month it seems to be ending quickly. Annette McMullen and Brian Spangle devoted their VSC columns earlier this season to the topic of summer reading recommendations. Let’s seize the last precious weeks of summer by delving into some enthralling books/beach reads.
This summer I read novels by Jeanne Ray and her daughter, Ann Patchett. Both are “page turners” and I highly recommend both.
“Eat Cake” by Ray is about a middle-aged woman named Ruth who bakes cakes for every occasion. It’s a creative outlet and a way to cope with stress. This is an increasingly important coping mechanism as Ruth finds herself caring for her teenage daughter, elderly divorced parents and a newly unemployed husband. The characters in this novel were endearing and reading about Ruth preparing the luscious cakes made my mouth water. I also found myself wanting to learn to decorate cakes to give away to family and friends.
When Jeanne Ray, at the age of 61, contemplated her life after retiring from her nursing career, she considered finally writing the novel that had been rolling around in her mind. Already a renowned literary novelist, Ann Patchett, Jeanne’s daughter, urged her mother to write the novel. Shortly after the novel was published in May, 2000, I read “Julie and Romeo,” by Ray. Romeo Cacciamani and Julie Roseman are both in their sixties and rival florists. When they have a chance meeting at a small business seminar they realize that they have an intense attraction for each other. It’s a lively romance and I read the novel on one Saturday afternoon.
Ann Patchett is an acclaimed, bestselling author and winner of the 2002 PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize for her novel, “Bel Canto.” She’s the owner of Parnassus Book, an independent bookstore in the Green Hills neighborhood of Nashville, Tennessee. The store is named for the mountain, in Greek mythology, where literature lovers gathered.
Patchett’s novel, “Commonwealth,” was one of my favorite books of this year. It had me with the first sentence. “Commonwealth” tells the story of how an unexpected romantic encounter forever changes two families’ lives. It began on a Sunday afternoon in Southern California when Bert Cousins, an acquaintance of the Keating family, shows up, uninvited, to Franny Keating’s christening party. When he kisses Franny’s mother, two families begin unraveling.
“Commonwealth” encompasses five decades and shows how a twist of fate impacts the four parents and six children for decades to come.
Novels by Jeanne Ray and Ann Patchett are available at the Knox County Public Library. Also available at the library is Patchett’s memoir, entitled “The Story of a Happy Marriage.” With this book, the writer explores what’s most precious in her life including her family, friends, her husband, dogs and writing.