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The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow

Rita Leganski's prose cast a spell and hypnotized me for 374 pages.  In an epic story spanning three generations,  multiple character threads are woven together to produce the most perfect magical realist novel I have ever read. With a cast of characters showing that every action has its consequences both near and far reaching, Leganski provides everything  a story with true love, questioning of social relationships, and wonderfully unconventional villains. The Louisiana setting saturates the story to the point of becoming a character itself with its hoodoo, voodoo and class divisions.
In an extreme version of loss of one sense amplifying another,  Bonaventure Arrow's lack of speech  amplifies his connection to the universe.  His mother, Dancy, grieving for his father's death, causes Bonaventure to lose his voice and tune into messages no one else can hear. He grows to hear colors, feel souls of objects, and "speak" with  his deceased father, William. William's mother and Dancy both blame and punish themselves for his death but Bonaventure's gift helps them forgive themselves. Karma and love mix with religion and revenge in this truly enchanting story that exemplifies how we are all connected to every bit of the universe.

The Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee

The Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee

Orphaned at a young age, Elizabeth "Betsey" Dobson must work to support herself.  At 14she falls in love with the 19 year old son of the house in which she is working.  Dismissed from this job, she trains to work as a typewriter girl making just enough money to pay her share of rent on a rundown room in a rough part of town. An "inter-office romance" evolves and she is aware that she will lose this job in a matter of time. With the promise of a job as a manager at Idensea Pier & Pleasure Building Company within Betsey's grasp and the knowledge that she will soon be fired for her morals, she forges a letter of character for herself.  In these opening scenes, the reader can't help but fall in love with Betsey's determination while shaking their head at the society she is up against. Betsey's supervisor at Idensea Pier & Pleasure Building Company, John Jones has made a name for himself and is a hard worker, but not a gentleman born into high society. Lilian Gilbey is looking for a husband, but thinks John beneath her.  Betsey must interact with the hotel guests and give orders to men. A Duke is coming to an opening. A spurned lover shows up. At a time when a woman not being a virgin meant she was ruined, virtue was all a woman not of a certain societal standing possessed as a ticket to marriage.  Unless you planned to work hard and support yourself, like Betsey. Not interested in pursuing marriage and determined not to make any more mistakes, she finds herself pushed to her limits in her new role at the hotel. So when feelings arise between her and John Jones, Betsey refuses to give in, refuses to lose another job, especially one she loves so much.  If only it were so easy...

Alison Atlee provides a swirling cast of characters employing a variety of conflicting values and blurred class lines.  While the beginning and end of the novel were wonderful, the prose caused me to drift off a bit in the middle.  Whether it is the dialogue of the time period or my unfamiliarity with some English phrases, it drew long on character mannerisms.  I reread dialogue trying to decipher a subtle phrase and why someone was suddenly smitten or shocked because of it.  However, this slight slump in the middle does not overshadow the action of the rest of the novel. 

Comparable to Jane Austen, Atlee pushes the boundaries of spheres  by giving readers a sharp business woman with modern views on sex, marriage and character.