Tag Archives: Harper Perennial

Guest Post: Gillespie and I

Gillespie and IEvery so often you read a book so outrageously strange and mind-bendingly, well, mind-bending, that you have to tell people about it–––if only so you have someone to puzzle the details over with. Gillespie and I, a 2012 historical novel by Jane Harris, fits this description to a ‘T’.

When I say Gillespie and I is strange, I don’t mean that in the post-modern sense. There are no incomprehensible, Pynchon style linguistic acrobatics to leave readers dazed and confused. On the contrary, Harris’ writing is consistently polished and easy to follow.

The story Harris presents, however, is far from clear-cut and direct. This is thanks to Harris’ remarkably well-crafted unreliable narrator, Harriet Baxter, from whose vantage point we see the novel unfold. Harriet is the motor that drives the entire story, as well as the crazy.

When I say crazy, please keep in mind that I don’t mean slightly unhinged. I mean bat-shit, holy crap, locomotion of the romantic variety, of a mode that gives Peter I of Portugal a run for his money (What up, History nerds?). It is the layers of Harriet’s insanity, gradually revealing themselves in tiny pieces, that is the true engine of the book, which is ostensibly a simple murder mystery.

Unraveling the depths of Harriet’s madness is as addictive as it is disturbing. Harris did an incredible job crafting this character, and the psychological portrait she paints is one of the most convincing character studies I’ve read in a long time. Even now, I’m still struggling to determine exactly how far the rabbit hole Harriet went, and trying to separate fact from her own strange vision of reality. I doubt I’ll ever be entirely successful in either endeavor.

All that gushing aside, if the novel does have a weakness it’s in the main subplot. Harris divided the book into two alternating sections, one written from Harriet’s POV in the 1880s and the other from her POV in the 1930s.  The 1880s POV makes up the bulk of the story, and this ends up being for the best. While the 1930s section is promising at first, it ultimately sputters and doesn’t fulfill its promise. I understand why it was included in the book, but it felt far weaker to me and I think dragged the book down a bit overall. But at the end of the day, this isn’t a particularly big deal.

Bottom Line: Gillespie and I is a good book. Jane Harris is a talented writer. You should read it so I have someone to talk about the crazy with.



Erectile Dysfunction and the American Dream

I picked up Domestic Violets, by Matthew Norman (Harper Perennial, September 2011) while I was at BEA. I noticed it because of the fabulous bright blue cover with fun typefaces and silhouettes (although I was told the cover could possibly change). I had no clue what it was about, except that it dealt with a man facing life’s disappointments with “goodwilled absurdity,” which was enough to pique my interests.

My first impression of this book was, in a word… penis. I think I was taken aback by all of the immediate phallic conversation in the beginning pages because a) I seem to generally pick up books written by women and therefor forget how much men like to talk about their dicks and b) I read more Young Adult books (which contain chaste kisses and fade to black sex scenes) instead of Grown-Up books. I say “Grown-Up” books because any time I say “Adult” book, people give me weird looks and assume I am talking about porn or erotica. Trust me, if I am reading about the Sheikh and his virgin bride, I’m going to tell y’all about it! Needless to say, while most grown women have been in that “It’s ok honey. It happens to everyone” situation, I don’t often read about in my books, and let me tell you, it was hilarious.

Tom Violet is your average 30 something. Wife, kid, corporate job, secretly writing a novel he’s been working on for years… oh yeah, and his father, Curtis Violet, just happens to be one of America’s most beloved authors. The relationship between Curtis and Tom is really what drove the story for me. His father has been kicked out of his home (again) for cheating on his (4th) wife (again) and finds himself crashing in the guest bedroom (again). Needless to say, that daddy issues abound and are fascinating and humorous to watch unfold. Throw in a 23 year old hot coworker, a wife who is ovulating, and a step-mother younger than him and you get an odd mixture of American Beauty and FMyLife (minus the pedophilia) that you can’t put down. It’s funny, well written and oddly relatable.

No matter what life throws at him, you find yourself cheering on the protagonist, because after so many face-in-palm situations, the guy really has to catch a break. He maintains his sense of humor, if not his dignity, throughout it all. I wish that my internal monolog was as interesting and comical as Tom’s to get me through the day. Ultimately, Tom Violet is someone we all know, which is what makes this such a fabulous and enjoyable book. Be sure to grab it when it hits shelves in September.