Week fifteen of the United States of Books coming your way! Here’s the road map; every Friday I will bring you book recommendations from each of the fifty nifty United States. Anyone else remember that song from elementary school? We’re just going to follow that order.
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges
Just about everything in Endora, Iowa (pop. 1,091 and dwindling) is eating Gilbert Grape, a twenty-four-year-old grocery clerk who dreams only of leaving. His enormous mother, once the town sweetheart, has been eating nonstop ever since her husband’s suicide, and the floor beneath her TV chair is threatening to cave in. Gilbert’s long-suffering older sister, Amy, still mourns the death of Elvis, and his knockout younger sister has become hooked on makeup, boys, and Jesus–in that order, but the biggest event on the horizon for all the Grapes is the eighteenth birthday of Gilbert’s younger brother, Arnie, who is a living miracle just for having survived so long. As the Grapes gather in Endora, a mysterious beauty glides through town on a bicycle and rides circles around Gilbert, until he begins to see a new vision of his family and himself.
What We Saw Aaron Hartzler
Kate Weston can piece together most of the bash at John Doone’s house: shots with Stacey Stallard, Ben Cody taking her keys and getting her home early—the feeling that maybe he’s becoming more than just the guy she’s known since they were kids.
But when a picture of Stacey passed out over Deacon Mills’s shoulder appears online the next morning, Kate suspects she doesn’t have all the details. When Stacey levels charges against four of Kate’s classmates, the whole town erupts into controversy. Facts that can’t be ignored begin to surface, and every answer Kate finds leads back to the same question: Where was Ben when a terrible crime was committed?
This story—inspired by real events—from debut novelist Aaron Hartzler takes an unflinching look at silence as a form of complicity. It’s a book about the high stakes of speaking up, and the razor thin line between guilt and innocence that so often gets blurred, one hundred and forty characters at a time.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
In 1956, toward the end of Reverend John Ames’s life, he begins a letter to his young son, an account of himself and his forebears. Ames is the son of an Iowan preacher and the grandson of a minister who, as a young man in Maine, saw a vision of Christ bound in chains and came west to Kansas to fight for abolition: He “preached men into the Civil War,” then, at age fifty, became a chaplain in the Union Army, losing his right eye in battle. Reverend Ames writes to his son about the tension between his father–an ardent pacifist–and his grandfather, whose pistol and bloody shirts, concealed in an army blanket, may be relics from the fight between the abolitionists and those settlers who wanted to vote Kansas into the union as a slave state. And he tells a story of the sacred bonds between fathers and sons, which are tested in his tender and strained relationship with his namesake, John Ames Boughton, his best friend’s wayward son.
This is also the tale of another remarkable vision–not a corporeal vision of God but the vision of life as a wondrously strange creation. It tells how wisdom was forged in Ames’s soul during his solitary life, and how history lives through generations, pervasively present even when betrayed and forgotten.
The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf
It happens quietly one August morning. As dawn’s shimmering light drenches the humid Iowa air, two families awaken to find their little girls have gone missing in the night.
Seven-year-old Calli Clark is sweet, gentle, a dreamer who suffers from selective mutism brought on by tragedy that pulled her deep into silence as a toddler.
Calli’s mother, Antonia, tried to be the best mother she could within the confines of marriage to a mostly absent, often angry husband. Now, though she denies that her husband could be involved in the possible abductions, she fears her decision to stay in her marriage has cost her more than her daughter’s voice.
Petra Gregory is Calli’s best friend, her soul mate and her voice. But neither Petra nor Calli has been heard from since their disappearance was discovered. Desperate to find his child, Martin Gregory is forced to confront a side of himself he did not know existed beneath his intellectual, professorial demeanor.
Now these families are tied by the question of what happened to their children. And the answer is trapped in the silence of unspoken family secrets.
The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
On assignment shooting the covered bridges in Iowa, photographer Robert Kincaid falls in love with the Iowa house wife, Francesca Johnson, during four days of love, magic, and beauty.
This is the story of Robert Kincaid, a wandering magazine photographer and free spirit searching for the covered bridges of Madison County, and Francesca Johnson, an farm wife born in Italy waiting for fulfillment of a girlhood dream. It shows readers what it is to love and be loved so intensely that life is never the same again.
When Robert Kincaid drives through the heat and dust of an Iowa summer and turns into Francesca Johnson’s farm lane looking for directions, the world-class photographer and the Iowa farm wife are joined in an experience of uncommon truth and stunning beauty that will haunt them forever.
Their encounter, fraught with dangers, survives only in their psyches. Both know that what could have been, should have been, could not be. Yet, hearts persist, tickling both characters’ minds. Both remember a few stolen moments when two souls sang in perfect harmony, but through circumstance must not sing again.