Dave Wood's Book Report, Feb. 27, 2008
In "The Senator's Wife," (Knopf, $24.95) novelist Sue Miller is in top form as she plumbs the depths of two women who have become neighbors in a small New England college town.
First comes Meri, a 30-something newlywed, married to a college professor, who is taking his first tenure track job. Meri comes from a poor family, has worked as a journalist, isn't sure she wants to buy a house, isn't sure just how she feels about her husband or him her, except when they're in bed. They've rented half of a charming two family home.
On the other side of the wall is Delia, in her 70s, still beautiful and active. Her husband was a Kennedy-era senator with a roving eye. He's cheated on Delia for years. Delia knows it, but manages to forgive him to keep up appearances. They haven't lived together for years, but they occasionally still indulge in weekends, even though the ex-senators libido isn't what it used to be.
Sounds interesting, doesn't it? Well it is. In the hands of Miller the two women are dissected as to their thoughts, their wishes and urges, even their aches and pains, especially after Meri has a baby and suffers from post-partum depression.
It's a wonderful look into two very different women, how they interact and how they survive in the face of complex odds.
I'm not much for criminal procedural novels, but "The Anatomy of Deception," by Lawrence Goldstone (Delacorte, $24) hooked me from the start. Goldstone is a journalist and has already written two books on the history of science, so he knows of what he speaks. In his first novel, we find Dr. Ephraim Carroll arriving in Philadelphia in 1889, to work with the famous Dr. William Osler.
Until recently, autopsies had been illegal in the U.S. Upon Carroll's arrival, the doctors discover a beautiful corpse, who appears to have been murdered. The rubber hits the road, so to speak, when Carroll and his mentor Osler disagree on autopsy procedures.
Here's a procedural that is crammed with the atmosphere of 19th century medicine as it moves from glorified barbering to the advances we have come to enjoy and use in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Fans of outdoors writer Patrick McManus will want to rush out and buy "Kerplunk!" (Simon & Schuster, $24), in which the Field and Stream contributor tells tall tales that range from how to respond when a deer invades your camp and your sleeping bag is frozen shut to how to contend with your bird dog's flatulence.
"April is like a nymph, capricious and beguiling, skating across the lakes, arms at her back, swooping by and then sweeping away as our hops for spring pursue her.
"The April wind whips across the lake and moves the ice, creating a jumbled ridge next to the shore. This buildup of ice is accompanied by a thunderous crash that is scarcely distinguishable from the boom made by a far-off jet as it breaks the sound barrier. In the final crescendo a meandering hairline crack appears and then opens wide. Anyone na?ve enough to enter this inviting lead may find herself caught as the ice field signs and the channel clamps shut with the fatal suddenness of a Venus flytrap."
That's the beloved Minnesota author Justine Kerfoot that you've been reading. Kerfoot died in 2001, but her writing about living for 60-plus years on the Gunflint Trail in Minnesota's North Country lives on.
The University of Minnesota Press has just reissued her 1991 book "Gunflint" ($15.95 paper), which takes us month by month through a year -- and even six decades -- of Justine Kerfoot's exciting life.
Dave Wood is a past vice president of The National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. E-mail him at email@example.com.