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Oldies but Goodies; Banks, Miller, Packer

Wonderful writers to discover: Banks, Miller, and Packer.
One of the great pleasures of reading is discovering good writers who have been around a long time. Melissa Bank’s book Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing first published in 1999 is worth seeking out. I prefer novels to short stories, but this is one of the best reads I have had in a while. It is a collection of short stories, loosely woven together into an almost-novel about Jane, a young woman who negotiates her way through first love to love with an older man, telling her stories with a warm, funny and wry sense of humour. Bank’s spare and direct writing, especially in the “first person” chapters, is very effective, and a refreshing change from more flowery prose. This is better – and deeper -- than Bridget Jones’ Diary and every bit as amusing.

Sue Miller is another writer who has been around for a long time; indeed considerably longer than Melissa Banks. I had read her novel While I was Gone While I Was Gone (Oprah's Book Club) years ago, but when seeing some other titles on a second-hand book internet site decided to buy a few more. I began with The Good Mother : A Novel and enjoyed it immensely. Anna is a divorced mother with a 3-year-old daughter who finds a new and wildly abandoned lease of life in her passionate affair with Leo, a man who takes her far from the traditional and contained experiences of her upbringing and her marriage. But in the process of finding herself, she sometimes almost “forgets” the needs of Molly, with sad consequences. Miller is masterful at drawing very real and likeable women, flaws and all, and she has that ability to show her character’s secret thoughts and desires without flinching. This is a thought-provoking and beautifully written novel that could be read more than once. I followed this book with Miller’s The Distinguished Guest which was almost as good. Here she portrays the independent and feisty Lily when she is forced by her Parkinson’s disease to move in with her son and his family. As she nears the end of her life she tells her story to a memoir writer, and re-engages with her family. I have more of Sue Miller’s novels sitting beside the bed to read in due course. Can’t have too much of a good thing all at once!

Last but in many ways the best of all these “oldies but goodies” is Ann Packer’s The Dive From Clausen's Pier: A Novel Published in 2002, this beautiful story follows 23-year-old Carrie Bell after her fiancé is paralyzed in a diving accident – a dive he launches into in a youthful effort to hold onto her waning love. As Carrie moves on with her life in a quietly desperate struggle to forgive herself and discover what kind of life she now deserves, the reader is drawn into her dilemma with nothing but empathy for her and the other people in her life. If you read one “oldie” this year, this would be a fine choice.

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