One year after surviving a heart transplant, Linnea should be celebrating; instead, she is terrified.
In Lucia DiStefano's "Borrowed," on the first anniversary of Linnea’s transplant surgery, she should be celebrating her recovery. Instead, she can’t help but feel that her donor wants her heart back — and that her body is becoming less and less her own. Meanwhile, across town, Maxine struggles to keep her family together in the aftermath of her sister Harper’s death. The one person Maxine thinks she can confide in is her boyfriend, Chris, who, after losing his little brother, seems to be the only one who understands what Maxine is going through. In the first two acts of the novel, the combination of debut author DiStefano’s lyrical prose and effortlessly nuanced characters makes for a gripping and heart-wrenching read. Unfortunately, the final act of the book trades skillful character development for sensationalized scenes of violence and sexual assault (some of which may be triggering to survivors), focusing on a villain whose lack of a defined backstory makes him feel more like a caricature than a real person. Furthermore, the author’s attempts to include diversity do not necessarily succeed; while there are some secondary characters of color, the primary characters are white, and the only one identified as black is Florabelle, a mystical truth teller who embodies the “Magical Negro” trope.
"Borrowed" is a book full of beautifully written prose that, ultimately, includes a poorly executed resolution.
(DiStefano will speak in conversation with Cindy House and sign copies of her book starting at 6 p.m. Nov. 10 at BookPeople. Free to attend; only books purchased at BookPeople are eligible for signing. Information: bookpeople.com.)
Nostalgia, brutality and revenge
Revenge is the predominant theme of Joe R. Lansdale's collection of short stories "Driving to Geronimo's Grave and Other Stories," each accompanied by Lansdale's commentary.
There is a note of both nostalgia and brutality that runs through these stories. Eras such as the Depression and the 1950s are evoked in terms that have less to do with naturalism than with popular iconography. The effect might not always be convincing, but it's pleasing. One of the stories, "The Projectionist," had its start in a project in which writers were invited to devise a short story inspired by an Edward Hopper painting. In some way, the loneliness that runs through Hopper's canvases runs through all these tales. There is a sense that connections, while deep, may be transitory, that self-reliance is the only constant in a world in which the ties of love, friendship and family are subject to circumstance and death. That self-reliance is inescapably masculine — not as any rejection of women but simply because the protagonists are men. An exception is the title story, the best one here, in which the narrator's tough kid sister has a dangerous tongue and an even more dangerous aim. She's like Scout from "To Kill a Mockingbird" recast as hard, funny and wised-up. The story itself is something like Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" reimagined as a piece of wish fulfillment. You'd have a hard time thinking of a story that seems a less likely candidate for a feel-good reworking, which is part of this new story's appeal.
This is a hard-nosed and evocative set of stories that carry a rough-hewn pleasure.