Historical fiction and pet projects
By Mary Rogers
There are lots of good books coming before summer’s end. Here are a few that interest me.
I’ve put a star beside Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra. It comes out Aug. 2 and, if you haven’t heard of it, here are a few notes. Marra, recognized as an exceptional storyteller, is not yet 40. In fact, he already was an award-winning writer of short fiction in 2014, when his debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, landed on The New York Times bestseller list. Author Celeste Ng (Little Fires Everywhere) calls it “a moving and life-affirming novel that is a true joy to read.” Others echo that sentiment.
Well, I could use some life-affirming stuff; add joy, and I’m sold.
This is the story of Maria Lagana, who grows up in Rome skipping church on Sundays to go to the movies with her father. When he is arrested for some transgression, she and her mother immigrate to the United States.
Years pass, and Maria lands a job as an associate producer at Mercury Pictures. It sounds like a dream come true, but there are problems. Maria’s carefully constructed life is unraveling. Her mother won’t speak to her, her Chinese boyfriend is an actor who is constantly typecast, and her boss has been called to Washington by congressional investigators. Mercury Pictures is on the cusp of bankruptcy, and America is about to enter World War II.
When a stranger from her father’s past shows up, Maria is forced to come to terms with her dad’s fate and to consider her own destiny, as well. I can’t wait for this one.
On the nonfiction side of things, I usually go for historical works, biographies, memoirs, autobiographies, religious books, pop science and essays, but this time around I’m drawn to Good Grief: On Loving Pets, Here and Hereafter by E.B. Bartels. It sounds like a mishmash of self-help, sociology and animal care.
Like the author, I’ve had dozens of pets through the years. Some were rather unconventional, but there have been many, many cats and four dogs. Each was as unique and individual as a fingerprint or a DNA profile, and each brought me to a new level of understanding of life and, yes, love.
My cats and dogs are no longer with us. Truman was a tiny bichon who joined our family, along with his brother, when the siblings were 6 weeks old. He died last July 9 as Charles, my husband, and I cradled him between us. It was about 6 in the evening when he suffered a massive stroke. He survived less than 15 minutes, outliving his brother by more than three years. I grieved for weeks.
Funeral customs for our fellow humans are a given, differing only culturally and from generation to generation. But ways to honor our animal friends are not so codified.
Bartels looks at pet deaths through the centuries and talks with vets, archeologists, ministers and others to explore the ways people memorialize their animal family.
This book is called “a big-hearted look” at the loss of an animal friend and a “cathartic companion” during such times. This sounds like it might be a good gift for a friend who has lost a beloved pet, so I will look to find it when it comes out Aug. 2.
While we’re talking about pets, I should also mention All-American Dogs: A History of Presidential Pets From Every Era by Andrew Hager.
Who knew that there is a Presidential Pet Museum? It’s in Annapolis, Maryland, and Hager is the historian-in-residence.
Full of pictures and original reporting, this book is filled with stories about people in power and the dogs who share their lives. George Washington had several American foxhounds, as well as black and tan coonhounds called Drunkard, Taster, Tipler and Tipsy. Polly, a parrot, belonged to his wife, Martha.
Abe Lincoln’s dog Fido was killed by a drunkard with a knife a few months after the president was assassinated. FDR’s dog Fala was a media favorite. Lyndon Johnson had lots of dogs, including Him and Her, a pair of beagles, and raised a few eyebrows by lifting Him by his ears for the media.
Presidents and their families have had plenty of unusual pets: goats, horses, rabbits, an opossum, lizards, ducks and more. President Howard Taft owned Pauline Wayne, the last cow to graze the White House lawn. But almost every president has been a dog lover.
This one comes out Aug. 9.
Mary Rogers is a Fort Worth-based freelance writer. Have a book or book club recommendation? Contact her at email@example.com.