The Rowing Lesson

On the surface, The Rowing Lesson tells the life story of Harold Klein, a Jewish physician who made his life and living in a Boer community in rural South Africa, now lying comatose on his deathbed. Beneath -- as the metaphorical oars of his daughter Betsy's thoughts dip in and stir the waters of his experience -- is something much more complex. Over the course of several days' vigil by his silent side, Betsy's mind races across vignettes of family events that she's reconstructed from his stories, her memory, and her imagination, gliding ever closer to understanding this irascible man she has come to adore. What results is a disarming and urgent soliloquy in second person that puts a fleshy intimacy on memory as it slips from excursions on the Touw River, where Harold's sexual awakening began, to the ripples of such pivotal, historical events as Hitler's rise to power and Kristallnacht, felt even by the Jews across the ocean. Feverishly strung together, all these scenes pull the reader across a river into the swirls of Betsy's rage and eddies of Harold's cold rationality by illuminating tender moments -- "I beg you to teach me how to row. Your movements are slow and steady and I try as hard as I can to follow them. All the time your hand stays clamped on mine. Finally you let go of my hand and I start rowing by myself, just with the left oar. You have the right one?.The boat slips through the water sweetly and easily" -- ultimately laying bare a bond that churns with life, even in the face of its demise. "I'm soaking your pillow and you're spraying my face, my hair, my breasts. Death is fierce after all."

April 21: " 'Pull' includes 'invitations to tea' at which one hears smiling reminders that a better life is available to people who stop talking about massacres..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.