After the heft of Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, I needed something a bit more light – in weight if not in content. So I tripped lightly over to re-read some of my favorite Edith Wharton short stories in Roman Fever and Other Stories (#30). “Roman Fever” itself is one of my favorite short stories ever – marvelous characters created in just a few sentences, a beautiful setting, delicate yet powerful emotional value, and even a gasp of surprise at the ending. I don’t adore all the stories in the book as much as the title one, but they are all great reading.
I followed Edith up with a murder mystery for #31, Ruth Rendell’s A Guilty Thing Surprised. I don’t think I’ve ever read one of hers before, at least not in the last few years during which I’ve kept my book list. It had a great setting – a wealthy couple in their grand country home – and even though the book is set in 1970, it feels remarkably like an Agatha Christie manor house mystery. It’s well written, definitely a cut above many mysteries I’ve read, and Chief Inspector Wexford, her recurring hero, is a decent enough fellow to spend a murder investigation with. Not sure I’ll read too many more of hers, but maybe just one to say I’ve given her a real chance.
#32 was a not-very-good Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. The story is fairly interesting, set in Seattle in 1986 with flashbacks to the main story set in the years of World War II. The main character is a middle-aged Chinese-American man who is looking back on his first love, a Japanese-American girl he met in school when he was 12, in 1942. She and her family are interned during the war, and learning some more about the Japanese internment was interesting. But Ford’s writing is pedestrian and his characters are not compelling. They walk through emotions like puppets, and repeat the same words and actions. Henry, our main character, is emotionally constipated, formal and constrained. Keiko, his love, has almost no personality, just a collection of traits. Henry and his grown son Marty have the same stiff, formal relationship that Henry had with his own – surprise – distant father. It’s all pretty predictable and pretty dull, but easy enough to read. I wouldn’t pick up anything else by this author, though.