Hut's Place
 Weekly Words about New Books in
Independent Bookstores

June 23, 2019

Corrupt Orphanage Kidnaps and Sells Children; Overwrought Woman Tries to Sleep Her Woes Away
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. This emotional and thought-provo king  novel tells the tale of two families, two generations apart - one poor, the other rich, but connected by horrific wrongdoing. Wingate based her story on a notorious true-life scandal in which the Tennessee Children's Home Soci e ty kidnapped thou sands of mostly poor children for sale in illegal adoptions nationwide from the 1930s through 1950.   
The book intertwines the lives of the protagonist families as it jumps from past to present. In Memphis, circa 1939, 12-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings are kidnapped off their family's Mississippi River shantyboat and thrown into the heinous orphanage. The Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents, but they quickly realize the dark truth, and Rill's fight to keep her family members safe and off the black-market adoption market is both harrowing and riveting. Meanwhile, in Aiken, South Carolina, present day, successful federal prosecutor Avery Stafford, born into wealth and privilege, returns home to help her father weather a health crisis. There, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family's long-hidden history, which (unsurprisingly) stretches back to Memphis.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh. The first novel from this young New England writer was Eileen, a dark tale about a lonely young woman working in a boys prison in the early 1960s who is pulled an obsessive relationship that leads to a very strange c rime. Then came My Year of Rest and Relaxation, which was voted by independent booksellers the # 1 pick on the July 2018 Indie Next list. With its arrival on indie bookstore paperback display tables and shelves, more readers have a chance to experience the author described by The New Yorker as "easily the most interesting contemporary American writer on the subject of being alive when being alive feels terrible."  

Our narrator should be happy, shouldn't she? It's 2000, she's young, thin, and pretty - a recent Columbia graduate who works an easy job at a hip art gallery, lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance. But there is a dark and vacuous hole in her heart, and it isn't just the loss of her parents, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her best friend, Reva. To escape her psychic pain, Moshfegh's protagonist resolves to sleep for one whole year, aided by an extremely irresponsible psychiatrist prescribing an frightening array of pills. Her objective is to wake up refreshed, rested, and cured of her alienation from everyone and everything. But as one might guess, things don't play out as planned.  
Loving Memoir about Importance of Gardens 
Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively. This is not a typical book for this column in that it isn't a budding bestseller and there won't be stacks of the just-released paperback version in every independent bookstore. Nothing wrong with the author's pedigree - Lively is a prolific and respected English writer with a Booker Prize on hand for her 1987 novel Moon Tiger. But, as it's title suggests, the book is largely a recollection of the author's lifelong attachment to gardens and gardening - not everyone's cup of tea.
With that disclaimer, this is not merely a book for people with gardens. And it's certainly is not another how-to compendium - no tips on pruning, pest control, or growing drought resistant plants. Instead, Lively folds her lifelong passions for art, literature, and gardening in this philosophical and poetic memoir. She writes about the gardens in her own life, from the courtyards of her childhood home in Cairo to a family cottage in Somerset, and her current urban garden in London. She she also muses on the garden's place in literature, whether it be descriptions by the likes of Virginia Wolff and Edith Wharton or as a character in its own right in The Secret Garden. At age 85, Lively also recognizes that many of her recent plantings will probably outlive her, but that's part of the joy as well. This is a lovely volume that would make a great gift for Anglophiles, those interested in art and literature, fans of Lively's writing and wit, and readers who appreciate nature. Oh, and lovers of gardens - bet you know one or two of those.

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Hi, I'm Hut Landon, and I work as a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, California.

My goal with this newsletter is to keep readers up to date about new books hitting the shelves, share what indie booksellers are recommending in their stores, and pass on occasional news about the book world.

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