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May 1, 2020

George Ernsberger - Columnist
Posted 5/1/20

A BOOK OF LONGINGS by Sue Monk Kidd (Viking). Alternate-history novel, witty, not exactly irreverent—but the first-person narrator is the wife of Jesus of Nazareth. Not preaching, understand, just …

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May 1, 2020

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A BOOK OF LONGINGS by Sue Monk Kidd (Viking). Alternate-history novel, witty, not exactly irreverent—but the first-person narrator is the wife of Jesus of Nazareth. Not preaching, understand, just telling the story, with wit and warmth, and, I suppose, lessons to be learned within it—which is what alternate history means to accomplish: help us understand what happened by getting us to consider what might have, instead. In this case, among other things, it might occur to us to imagine what Christianity might have been like, instead. But it's an honest novel, with deeply realized characters (names we know, of course) to believe in. Kidd is the author of the quite different but similarly brainy and original bestsellers THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES and THE INVENTION OF WINGS. You will trust her and believe her, scene for scene, page for page.

A HUNDRED SUNS by Karin Tanabe (St. Martin's). A beautifully written historical novel with nothing on its obviously well-furnished mind but storytelling, enriching only in the general sense of knowing intimately, and feeling at home with, people and places we'd never otherwise come anywhere near. This is Hanoi, in 1930s Indochina; the central character is a young American woman, the wife of a wealthy Frenchman sent there to manage a rubber plantation, and so a member of the colonial aristocracy there. She loves her husband and young daughter, but finds this exotic, rather decadent milieu intoxicating—but then, too, the political currents running in the '30s are unsettling, thought-provoking. With a richly various cast of fully human characters, with no simple villains. These are people to get to know, and maybe even more so, a writer to get to know. This would once have made a classy movie, a “costume drama”; now, more likely a (much better) limited-run TV series.

THE LOVE STORY OF MISSY CARMICHAEL by Beth Morrey (Putnam). And still another intelligent, likable, and surprisingly tough-minded novel of feelings—this one, the very opposite of exotic. Missy Carmichael is an elderly widow, believably smart and not overly patient with sentimentality (though she isn't the sort of sharp-edged curmudgeon that, say Elizabeth Strout's immortal Olive Kitteridge is). You might be a little way into this, as Missy is, before her loneliness begins to make itself felt at full strength—at which point, before Missy even considers the matter, you begin rooting strongly for a good resolution.

MASKED PREY: A LUCAS DAVENPORT NOVEL by John Sandford (Putnam). Could this guy actually be getting better? This is the 30th of this classic series, one of the greats: not just really good: great. I haven't even managed to just sample it carefully, as I often do with familiar writers, I'm almost all the way through it as I write.

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