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  • C. P. Lesley

Books We Loved, Feb. 2017

Bren McClain, One Good Mama Bone (Story River Books, 2017)

Once in a while, a novel comes along that is just extraordinary, in the best sense of that word. One Good Mama Bone is such a book. In little more than 250 pages, McClain brings to life in spare but lyrical prose an unforgettable cast of characters struggling with poverty, family, and reputation against the backdrop of early 1950s rural South Carolina. Perhaps her most remarkable creation is Mama Red, a cow near the end of her “useful” life whose dedication to her calf becomes a symbol of mother love. By first watching, then copying, Mama Red’s devotion to her baby, the main character, Sarah Creamer, faces up to the damage inflicted by her own mother and discovers the “one good mama bone” inside her, which allows her to express her love for the little boy she has raised since his birth—the son of her husband and her best friend.—CPL

Damian McNicholl, The Moment of Truth (Pegasus, 2017)

Feminism was a seedling in the 1950s, and it might have shriveled and died altogether if so many women had not ventured outside the home during World War II to replace the men who’d gone off to fight. Postwar, most of these women were happy to return to domestic life, but there was no denying that they’d gained something out there doing “men’s jobs,” a kind of spunk their daughters would inherit, with or without any coaching.

In Damian McNicholl’s new novel (due in June, available for preorder) Kathleen Boyd, a young art student in Texas, finds herself caught in the crosswinds of the seemingly tranquil 1950s. On the one hand, a traditional future is unfolding before her eyes; on the other, she finds she has an overwhelming desire to become a matador, fighting the bulls across the border in Mexico. This novel, based on true events, is beautifully rendered, as elegant and as exhilarating as the art of bullfighting itself.—JS

Susan Meissner, Stars over Sunset Boulevard (NAL, 2016)

This book traces the story of the decades-long friendship between Violet, a girl from the Deep South who moves to Hollywood to escape what broke her, and Audrey, the almost-starlet who wants nothing more than to achieve the fame that was snatched from her before it was really hers. Set against the backdrop of Hollywood during the filming of Gone with the Wind and following these women during years of friendship and betrayal, secrets and lies, a love triangle and a secret adoption, Stars over Sunset Boulevard is a testament to the love that grows between friends and the ability to forgive not only those we love but ourselves.—CJH

Philipp Meyer, The Son (Ecco, 2014)

An epic, moving story of survival and greed, The Son, as its title suggests, speaks also of the sins visited upon your descendants. The sins are not a literal rebuke from heaven. The sins are the patterns of behavior and the exploitative tendencies we assume from our forefathers. Thus Philipp Meyer’s book is deeply moral, without appearing to be so. The warlike Comanche Indians are not glorified as selfless, spiritually awakened people, but they are at least admirable in their honesty and survival skills. The settlers who encroach on their land and later find oil, may speak of Christian ideals, but they act much like their brutal enemies. There are no heroes in this book, but Meyer’s flawed yet vital characters keep us engrossed.—GM

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