Reckless and The Lightkeeper’s Daughters

Fall officially starts on Friday and it already feels like it’s here. Temperatures have dipped and the leaves are starting to turn yellow. It must mean the literary award season is upon us, and this past week the longlist for both the National Book Awards (U.S.) were announced as well as those for Canada’s Giller Prize. Out of the 10 that made the U.S. longlist for fiction, I’m keen to read Jesmyn Ward’s “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” Jennifer Egan’s “Manhattan Beach,” Min Jin Lee’s “Pachinko,” and Lisa Ko’s “The Leavers.” From the Canada fiction longlist, I’m most curious to read Rachel Cusk’s novel “Transit,” which apparently is the second book in a trilogy that began with “Outline.” So I need to start with that first. Both award lists will be cut to five finalists during the first week of October with the winners being announced in mid-November.

Also this past week, eyes were raised when three American authors made the shortlist for this year’s Man Booker Prize, which had been a literary award historically reserved for U.K. authors and those of the Commonwealth. The Brits are none too pleased to have the Booker Prize opened up the past few years to Americans; can you blame them? And the fact that many favorites failed to make the shortlist, including the novels of authors: Arundhati Roy, Kamila Shamsie, Irish authors Sebastian Barry and Mike McCormack, and British authors Zadie Smith and Jon McGregor (even American Colson Whitehead) shocked some critics and made others quite ticked. Instead this year’s Booker shortlist for fiction includes:

“4 3 2 1” by American Paul Auster
“Lincoln in the Bardo” by American George Saunders
“History of Wolves” by American debut author Emily Fridlund
“Exit West” by British-Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid
“Autumn” by British author Ali Smith
“Elmet” by British debut author Fiona Mozley

Who would have guessed this list? I’ve read “Exit West” and wanted more from it (sorry to those who thought it sublime) so I think that leaves it wide open for George Saunders to win. But while I still need to read “Lincoln in the Bardo” (many loved it), I’m sort of more curious now to read Emily Fridlund’s debut novel “History of Wolves.” Aren’t you? I remember when it came out in January, somehow I let it pass by not sure about it, but it’s received a lot of praise since then. And it sounds like a sense of foreboding and suspense permeate the novel about a 14-year-old girl’s awakenings as she confronts a web of mysteries in the icy woods of Minnesota. Hmm, I’ve read the ending is a bit disturbing and moving, but I want to check it out.

As for what I finished this week, I read with bated interest Chrissie Hynde’s memoir “Reckless: My Life as a Pretender,” which I should have raced through when it came out in 2015. Good grief, I was a big fan of hers back in the day, when Chrissie and the Pretenders put out their first few albums. Oh their music made an impact on my high school; it was cool stuff. Remember that punk phase in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s? I can’t say I was too huge into the music of the Clash, the Sex Pistols, or Iggy Pop, but I did fall for the sounds of David Bowie and the Pretenders. So I thought her rock memoir would be an interesting read.

Her book though is a bit of a curious thing. The first half is about her life growing up in Akron, Ohio, with her parents and brother, and how the times were a changin.’ The placement of highways and the removal of stores downtown, she says, ruined things for her city, and there was a disconnect between one’s parents and the generation coming of age in the ‘60s. From early on, Chrissie seemed a bit of a rebel and a tomboy who was only good at art in school and tried to hide her carousing and behavior from her folks. With her friends, she started getting into the radio tunes of the day and bumming rides to see shows.

Despite her poor record in school, Chrissie ended up attending Kent State University, where I didn’t realize she was one of those in the crowd on May 4, 1970, when four unarmed college students protesting the Vietnam War were shot and killed by members of the Ohio National Guard. One of her friends’ boyfriends was killed that day. As college progressed, Chrissie seemed to be getting more and more into the counter-culture life (the hippies and bikers) and experimenting with drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll. She mentions seeing shows of the Stones, Bowie, and Iggy Pop as well dozens of others.

By 1973 at the age of 21, she was ready to bolt Ohio, and wound up in London, hanging around the British punk scene. This is where you think the book is right where you want it to be — at the heart of the music. And it is interesting the milieu she talks about. You get the picture of her: loving her new London environs, scraping by to make ends meet, listening to bands, and eventually coming to know various rockers such as Joe Strummer of the Clash, and Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. She was right there in the thick of things, but man, there were a lot of drugs. It sounds like all those around the music scene, including Chrissie were — as she says — “truly fucked up most of the time, or at best, reeling from the effects of the day before.”

It gets pretty exhausting in the book all the drug use, which she laments looking back but says it was the defining characteristic of her generation. Her story mills about quite a while during her days figuring out her direction. It’s only the last 45 pages of the book where she talks about her band the Pretenders forming by lucky circumstance, which surprised me. It only covers her life up until the Pretender’s first two albums and their touring behind them with the four original members — two of whom overdosed and died thereafter, which altered the band’s course. It doesn’t get into her later family life, her marriages, or the rest of her career with the Pretenders, argh.

Despite being cut short, I thought the memoir was quite honest and insightful and also very modest of her talents and what she came to accomplish. Her writing in the book is quite good and paints the music scene of the 1960s and ‘70s well. It reminded me a bit of Bob Dylan’s 2004 memoir “Chronicles, Volume One” since it seems impressionistic about her life, the times, and the people she meets. It felt a tinge sad about regrets she’s come to live with and changes that came to pass. I was only sorry that the book didn’t include a bit more about the songs, where they came from, and her performing of them. Still I feel I know her a little bit better now (one of my rock singer heroes) and I’m glad that she was able to become drug-free in later life.

Also last week I finished the audiobook of Jean Pendziwol’s novel “The Lightkeeper’s Daughters,” which unravels the story about a woman’s past growing up on remote Porphyry Island on Lake Superior, where her father manned the lighthouse seventy years before. The story alternates chapters told by the woman (Elizabeth), who is elderly now and nearly blind, living in a senior facility and a delinquent teenage girl (Morgan) who comes to help Elizabeth figure out her past from old journals found amid the ruins of an old shipwreck.

What’s apparent is that Elizabeth was born and raised on the island with her parents, two brothers, and a mute twin sister Emily, but the gaps in the history of what happens to them unfolds as the story goes on.

Oh I really did want to love this novel, which is popular on Goodreads and has a great cover. And I did enjoy the storytelling in Part 2 particularly, and the setting on the island with the lighthouse was great. The characters were interesting too and I did get into the woman’s life story, but as it went along I found the amount of twists and secrets in it went overboard and strained my believability. The fates that tied together and the story’s details became a bit too convenient and too coincidental for me, not to mention a bit confusing. What is it about a lighthouse story that brings everything out of the woodworks?

Still I’m in the minority on this one, so if you like plot twists and family secrets in your novels, you’d probably like this one as well. It reminded me a little bit of a Kate Morton novel, if you like her tales.

What about you, have you read any of these books — and if so, what did you think?

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24 Responses to Reckless and The Lightkeeper’s Daughters

  1. Judy Krueger says:

    The fall awards season is always exciting to me as a book lover, but I agree with the Brits that opening the Booker to American authors is an odd and probably bad move. I also however am now more interested in The History of Wolves.
    Chrissie Hynde! I can see how the book left you wanting more, but I have got to read it very soon anyway. That could have been my life though I was a bit too much of a good girl to go that far, but if I had not married my first husband I wonder…
    I just read A Superior Death by Nevada Barr, a mystery featuring a female National Park ranger who investigates crime set on Isle Royale in Lake Superior (it was awesome!) so The Lightkeeper’s Daughter caught my interest. It will go on the “possible” TBR due to your reservations.
    Happy Equinox Susan!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Judy, Happy fall. I need to get some of your albums — I’ve recently clued into your albums, tours and singing/music career. So I commend you for all that and will check out your music! I once met Chrissie Hynde after one of her DC shows and she signed the back of my shirt that night. She & her music were very cool, even when I listen to those first two albums now. Brings high school back, lol.
      The setting of The Lightkeeper’s Daughters was the most alluring part of the book to me; so perhaps I’d like Nevada Barr’s mystery. Thanks.

  2. It still feels like summer here. The heat isn’t too bad but the humidity is killer.

    I’ve kind of given up on rock star memoirs because of all the drug use – reading about it gets to be exhausting.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Kathy, I know what you mean about all the drug / alcohol use in these rock memoirs. It is exhausting and so unhealthy sounding. Yet the fascination with all the great music back in the 60s and 70s draws me in. Still I pace myself about 1 of them per year.
      I hope you get some cooler weather there soon.

  3. Brian Joseph says:

    I tend to like Rock biographies. I have heard a lot of good things about the Chrissie Hynde book. Numerous accounts of drug taking seem like it is almost mandatory in these books 🙂

    These books awards make me want to read more books then I have time to read!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Brian,
      Yeah I agree — I’m sort of a glutton for these rock biographies/memoirs. But the amount of drugs in these books is stupendous! Only Springsteen’s book had little of that in it. I didn’t realize Chrissie was such a druggie back then, but I did like her songs! As for the literary awards, I agree — there’s too many good novels to read!

  4. Ti says:

    I just love fall so much. It’s not like the weather changes all that much (for us) but the quality of light changes, things seem easier. Meals are easy. And the reading! Fabulous! I have Manhattan Beach and I am trying to quickly catch-up on my review copies so I can get to it.

    Lincoln in the Bardo was a real surprise to me. I had high hopes but then some of my book club bashed it so then I wasn’t looking forward to it. However, it exceeded my expectations. I loved it.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Ti, yeah I’m glad you told me how much you liked the Bardo novel b/c it made me get back interested in it. I should read it by the end of year. I also have a e-book copy of Manhattan Beach — so I will likely start it in Oct. (I’d rather get a print copy of it though.) I think it’s a long-ish story. Enjoy your fall! (I’m off to visit my folks in Redlands at the end of Oct. — excited about going there.)

  5. Carmen says:

    Welcome to Fall! 🙂

    Of all the books nominated for awards this season, I have only read Lincoln in the Bardo, and I liked it very much. I thought it could have benefitted from a little tighter editing, but it was a minor quibble. Wow! It seems like it’s been forever since I read it.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Carmen,
      Happy Fall to you as well. I’m sure back East where you are — it’s always a beautiful season there with all the colorful trees.
      I’m glad you liked the Barbo novel — it’s still on my list for this year and it seems like it’s going to win the Booker Prize this year — if I had to guess. We will see.

  6. Manhattan Beach and Pachinko are both near the top of my wish list. I haven’t been keen to read History of Wolves until now, but have wanted to read the Saunders since it was released. Thankfully my reading slump is beginning to lift and I may actually read these this fall… fingers crossed!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi JoAnn: Yeah reading slumps are never fun. I get into those too, usually it takes me a while to get into a novel. I hope your slump is ending. I look forward to your reviews and blog posts again.

  7. The yellow leaves which seem to catch the sun is gorgeous, Susan. Thank you for sharing the picture. I have read Rachel Cusk’s ‘Outline’ and loved it. I hope I would read her next book too. 🙂

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Deepika. I hope to add more fall photos in the weeks ahead. I’m glad you told me about liking the Outline book — I just picked it up from the library. So I’m keen to get to it. Cheers.

  8. Naomi says:

    The photo at the top of your post is beautiful!

    I hope you do get to read Outline and Transit – I’ll be curious to know what you think. I wonder if they are very different from one another… maybe I’ll like Transit more than I liked Outline.

    So many fun lists! I would love to read History of Wolves, and I’m also curious about Elmet.

    I’m usually drawn to books about lighthouses, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I eventually read this one. Not right now, though – too many in line!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Naomi. Yes I recall your lovely photo of the lighthouse on your trip — so perhaps you should read the Lightkeeper’s novel! I think I preferred The Light Between the Oceans, which also is set at a lighthouse; that one off Australia. Still I loved the settings of both. I’m reading Cusk’s novel Outline now so I will see what I think. I would love to get to History of Wolves soon. Enjoy your Giller reading list!

  9. JaneGS says:

    I’ve started paying attention to award lists and plan to read The Leavers and Lincoln in the Bardo yet this year. History of Wolves is also appealing as is The Light Keeper’s Daughter.

    I think I would find a Reader’s Digest version of Reckless interesting, but reading the whole book might wear thin.

    Happy Fall!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Jane, thanks fall is a nice time of year here. I’m getting to Bardo this week and have a copy of History of Wolves from the library. It’ll be nice to hear what you think of them too. Enjoy your reads!

  10. I’ve had a copy of History of Wolves on my review stack since January and I still haven’t gotten to it. But I need to read it soon. I am really curious about it. I think Lincoln in the Bardo will probably win. The premise is really brilliant and it’s quite funny, though as a whole it fell flat for me. Exit West too, unfortunately.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Kate, yeah I agree I think George Saunders will likely win the Booker; I’m midway into the book at the moment; we’ll see. I’m eager to get to the Wolves novel, which looks quite good. Happy reading!

  11. Jillann says:

    I just started reading The Lightkeeper’s Daughters and my first reaction is that I’m finding the beginning very choppy. I’ve just started the second section which has a better flow. I’m thought I would like it more considering all the buzz. Jillann

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Jillann, thanks for stopping by! I agree with you. Yeah luckily I thought the 2nd section is where she had her best storytelling & flow but then at the end it got a little too crazy for me. I did like the whole setting and such. It did get a lot of high reviews on Goodreads but I think I gave it 3.5 stars. Did you get to the Kingston Book festival this year? We have our book festival here soon.

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