Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson
Curious about the older man he rescued, Jeff drifts into working at his gallery. Although Francis gives no sign of recognising his saviour, he takes him under his wing. As Jeff learns more about corruption in the art world, he wonders if he should have let him die. But he’s already seduced by the wealthy lifestyle, never mind the daughter, when the question arises: who is manipulating whom?
When the author chose to frame this intriguing tale as a confessional to a struggling author whom Jeff meets in an airport lounge, I suspected the device would reduce my enjoyment. It’s testament to Antoine Wilson’s brilliant writing that, instead, it drew me in. It also enabled a startling last line.
In a novel about (among other things) the low correlation between talent and artistic success, it was interesting to see that the publisher, Atlantic, who provided my proof copy, linked it to the vastly inferior The Girl on the Train. Mouth to Mouth is a far superior story of complicity, corruption and compromise likely to be one of my favourite reads of 2022.
Booth by Karen Joy Fowler
We follow the family’s ups and downs across three decades of American history, taking in the gold rush, the emancipation movement and civil war. The family’s personal history is almost as colourful, as Junius’s children discover he’s a bigamist, rebel against gender and societal expectations and bury their sorrows in drink.
Having absolutely loved this author’s previous novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, I regret to say that Booth was a disappointment. For me, there was too much (meticulously researched) detail and not enough atmosphere; too many points of view and not enough character depth. I did appreciate delving into the rationalisations of slave-owning liberals and the less harsh but genuine lack of freedom of nineteenth century women but it wasn’t for me. Others, especially American readers, will no doubt feel different. Thanks to UK publishers Serpent’s Tail for my advance proof copy.
The prompt for this week’s 99-word story – the farm life – brought to mind the Booth sons’ reluctance to take on the family farm, while their sisters, respectable nineteenth-century women, were confined to the house. But I’ve written about a mid-twentieth century parallel in a psychiatric hospital, based on my current writing project, the prequel to my novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home.
Matilda heard the cows at night weeping for their murdered calves. But Eustace said the only animals on Ghyllside’s farm were chickens. She must have heard the wind. Or the other women in the dormitory, bemoaning their lost lives.
The doctor laughed when Matilda asked if she might work outside. Only men could join the farm and gardening crews. Female patients may not even tend the rose bushes they passed on Sundays, trooping to church.
Sweating in the bakery, Matilda counted the hours until she’d see her dancing partner. Eustace brought her neither eggs nor flowers, but fresh-air sanity.