Saturday, September 3, 2016

Dear Fang, With LoveDear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Our family had been jumbled by history by war, by falling and rising regimes, by escapes across the world, by drives through orange groves and trips to Disneyland and the slow poison of sugary flowers on supermarket cakes."

Thorpe's new novel (despite the awful cover) is even better than her first, The Girls from Corona del Mar, which got four stars from me. Teen parents, Lucas and Katya decide to have a baby, Vera, who Katya raises on her own while Lucas seeks his own way, attending college, teaching, without seeing his daughter. Seventeen years later, Lucas takes Vera on a history tour of Vilnius, Lithuania where his Jewish grandmother was born and escaped after hiding in the forest during the war, Vera's recent diagnosis of bipolar disease is questioned as the two of them explore the ancient city and their own relationship while alternating chapters reveal the emails Vera sends home to her Samoan boyfriend, Fang.

Thorpe describes Vilnius, a place I never even dreamed of wanting to visit but now I do. She takes us on a tour of the city and through the characters, we explore lives and history of Jewish survivors. Grim and intense descriptions of mental illness and the doctors and medication to try to turn it around made me count my blessings. I loved the characters, especially Judith and Susan and impossibly thick Johnny Depp and unwitting Daniel.I had trouble picturing Lucas but I never tired of his struggles, trying to be a father, trying to curb his drinking.

Favorite quotes:

Vera, about the concert singer:
"the singer was an incredibly short fat little man who was shaped just like a teapot, only he was wearing a tuxedo....his voice..was like bronze and chocolate melted together and flung through the air in something stretched impossibly taut, a piece of silk against the sky, and then something that sags, soft and dead, the belly of a shot fox, the clicking jaw of a dying mink."

Susan, in her fifties:
"It's different when you're my age. All the available men are fish that have already been thrown back. Everyone has gotten divorced. They have years of bad habits and resentments built up and you have to try to find someone who is fucked up in the exact matching, complementary way to your own fucked-up-ness. It's very tiring. Excruciating, really. And all the men who want to date me are in their sixties, all the guys my own age are dating thirty-year-olds, and it's like dating Mr. Rogers, I swear to God."

Lucas, who teaches English:
"What I have always loved most about literature was the way it eased my own loneliness. Even as my mother's son, at my most awkward and chubby and sunburned, sure I would never have a girlfriend, there was always Shakespeare. There was the possibility of having one's most opaque yearnings and vague intimations transformed before one's eyes in to the beautiful forms of perfectly expressed thought."

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