I finished off 2012 by reading three good novels (thank God for vacations) all of which I commend to you. Though I didn’t plan it, they all take up the theme of growing up, or maturing in some way, which seems most appropriate at the turn of the year.
Richard Ford’s Canada (2012) tells the story of 15-yearold boy, Dell, abandoned by his parents after they were caught robbing a bank in North Dakota (see, things do happen in North Dakota). It’s set in the 1960s, the first half mainly in Great Falls, Montana and the second half north of the border. After Ford’s Frank Bascombe trilogy, The Sportswriter, Pulitzer Prize-winning Independence Day and The Lay of the Land, the more fast-paced Canada both thrills and asks compelling new questions. Below the page-turning story is a morality tale, and a boy, struggling to grow up.
David Miller’s Black Swan Green (2007) is another growing-up tale of yet another troubled teenager. 13-yearold Jason’s parents don’t rob a bank, but their marriage is in shambles, they make many a questionable parenting decision, and they seem completely unaware of the bullying their son faces in school each day. Compared to Miller’s other work (especially Cloud Atlas), Black Swan Green is a much more manageable undertaking. The writing is superb, and I particularly enjoyed how each chapter feels almost like it’s own little short story.
Finally, Dave Eggers’ A Hologram for a King (2012) relates not a teenager’s struggle to mature, but the waning working years of Alan Clay, a troubled American businessman trying to close a deal with the king of Saudi Arabia. Now that I think about it, a young person is also involved a bit — Alan often drunkenly composes desperate letters to his daughter in college. Alan’s career is in shambles and looming bankruptcy can only be averted if he closes one last tech deal with the Saudi royal family. I have a feeling this fairly quick read will stick with me, as it carefully addresses not just Alan’s struggle to mature, but America’s — and the world’s — embrace of outsourcing and the downsides of global growth.
I better wrap this up before I think too hard about the fact that, over winter break, I read three novels by three white men about three white male protagonists dealing with similar questions — maybe it’s my inner self preparing to turn 30 next month? Even so, they’re all quality works by some of the finest authors of our day and, certainly, worth pondering as you grow up.