With its many references to the Boston area, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson has been on my TBR* list since it came out last February, but once I finally opened it and read the beginning, I was hooked. I whipped through almost all of it in a single sitting on Saturday.
The Girl with a Clock for a Heart is a true literary thriller with references to novels and other literature here and there, and a main character, George Foss, who works in the accounting department of a struggling Boston literary magazine. The book is about the consequences of George’s running into the girl he fell head over heels in love with twenty years earlier during their first semester as freshmen at Mather College, whom he hadn’t seen or heard from since.
Author Peter Swanson is a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock movies. This comes through especially in the twisty pacing of the book and in several scenes during which I may have literally held my breath while reading. Boston-area readers will enjoy mentions of well-known local spots, including the Kowloon on Route 1 in Saugus, and trying to guess what actual locations the fictional locations might be (New Essex – That would probably be Essex, a seaside town north of Boston? And Mather, the New England liberal arts college George Foss attended – the author’s own alma mater, Trinity College in Connecticut?), but the characters and their motives are more interesting than the setting, so readers unfamiliar with the area won’t miss out on anything important to the story.
Although the meaning of the hard-to-remember title gets explained eventually, I assume The Girl with a Clock for a Heart is also a reference to the literary thriller The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo – another book billed as a stylish literary thriller. (The Girl with a Clock for a Heart has been optioned for film; I’ll be curious to see if a movie is given a different, easier-to-remember title.) As everyone knows, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo was the first in a trilogy. I thought the same might be true here, but Peter Swanson denies that a sequel is in the works in this interview at Coot’s Reviews.
Even with a murder, police detectives, and a private investigator, also a blurb from Dennis Lehane on the cover and elements of noir, I wouldn’t suggest this to a reader looking for realistic crime fiction, but to a literary fiction reader who maybe also likes Patricia Highsmith or Dennis Lehane. You do have to be willing to suspend disbelief a few times and go along for the “sexy, electric thrill ride,” as Dennis Lehane describes the book.
Watch out for spoilers if you read other reviews. Better just get the book yourself, and read it quick!
The Girl with a Clock for a Heart
Feb. 2, 2014
*To Be Read
After listening to Alan Lightman’s recent book about cosmology, The Accidental Universe, narrated by Bronson Pinchot, I immediately requested and listened to another astronomy-related book narrated by Bronson Pinchot: Strange New Worlds: The Search for Alien Planets and Life Beyond Our Solar System, by astrophysicist Ray Jayawardhana. (Strange New Worlds is a 2014 release from Blackstone Audio of a 2011 book.) Although I listened to it right away and found it fascinating, I’m just getting around to writing the review now, several months later.
On the whole, Strange New Worlds is drier, less philosophical, and more technical than The Accidental Universe – not as accessible to humanists and English majors as The Accidental Universe is. (Author Alan Lightman writes literary fiction as well as being a renowned theoretical physicist.)
But even though Strange New Worlds goes pretty deep into the science and technology of looking for habitable planets or signs of life beyond our solar system, it is intended to provide an overview to the layperson. Having at least a basic scientific vocabulary would probably help, but audiobook narrator Bronson Pinchot reads complex passages so smoothly that they, at least, seem understandable. Most of the book is comprehensible to a reader with an average amount of Star Trek-watching under her belt.
In each chapter, readers meet various astronomers and astrophysicists whose work Jayawardhana describes and explains. I especially enjoyed hearing these mini bios of the people behind the science. (It looks as though the author also uses this writing technique in his 2013 book Neutrino Hunters, also available from Blackstone Audio and read by Bronson Pinchot.)
Bronson Pinchot’s excellent narration of The Accidental Universe is the main reason I requested Strange New Worlds, and his narration here is also excellent. If you’re looking for a educational audiobook and have any interest in the search for planets able to sustain life, Strange New Worlds could be a good choice. (No actual aliens make an appearance, so if that’s what you’re hoping for, you’ll have to stick to science fiction.)
Strange New Worlds shows readers the real research and work that’s going on, and demonstrates that the idea that there may be other planets capable of sustaining life somewhere out there isn’t crazy. Strange New Worlds isn’t as exciting or entertaining as an episode of Star Trek, but is a lot more believable.
Strange New Worlds
Jayawardhana, Ray (author)
Pinchot, Bronson (narrator)
Blackstone Audio, 2014
My last Weekend Cooking post was about the Riverside Inn Bed & Breakfast in Intervale, New Hampshire (near North Conway), where all the food is prepared in a 100% gluten-free kitchen and served in a 100% gluten-safe dining room. Here’s the other Weekend Cooking post I promised on the North Conway area in the White Mountains of New Hampshire because it seemed so hospitable to people on a strict gluten -free diet. (Click on any photos to see larger view.)
Driving from place to place during our three-day visit, we noticed many signs advertising gluten-free menu items, etc. and with an advance call, many restaurants in the area seemed familiar with the question and were able to give a clear answer on whether they could provide a safe gluten-free meal for someone with celiac disease.
It wouldn’t be vacation without fried food, but after the first night, we had all had enough fried food for the whole trip! We ate at Rafferty’s Restaurant & Pub. The food was delicious. Rafferty’s offers regular celiac disease information sessions for the public, and had a very well-versed staff.
The second night we ate at the Shalimar of India, which Ken, the innkeeper at the Riverside Inn B&B suggested as a good gluten-free dining option, especially with many of the restaurants in the area closed on Tuesdays to give staff a day off. We ate on the outdoor patio because the air conditioning was turned down low in the dining room. The food pictures didn’t come out well enough to post, but visit the Shalimar Web site to see the food. (You might want to turn the sound off.) We tried two vegetarian dishes and one meat dish. (No bread, but if you can order the bread, I’m sure that would be delicious too.) The food was excellent – as good as at our favorite Indian restaurant.
We went Italian the third night and tried Vito Marcello’s Italian Bistro, another restaurant that was known to be gluten-free-friendly. There were several menu selections that could be prepared gluten-free, including vegetarian choices, and we all ordered from them. The pasta turned out to be the same in all our meals, regardless of the menu description of the original dish, but it was the best gluten-free pasta I’ve tasted so far, and we all were served a g/f roll, which we wolfed down. (Hiking in the mountains takes a lot out of you!) I think the waiter said that the g/f rolls were baked on the premises in a separate g/f oven.
For lunches, we purchased food from local stores and had picnics. The Local Grocer (pictured in one of the North Conway shots at the beginning) had an amazing selection of gluten-free sandwiches and salads, prepared to order in a separate gluten-free area in the back.
The Lucy Brook Farm had a wonderful little farm store that we stopped at one day, where we bought handcrafted items for gifts to take home, and lots of fresh fruit and veggies to eat by the river back at the Riverside Inn.
Happy Weekend Cooking!
There are no discussion questions to answer for the final installment, and as you can see from the readalong badge, I’m almost two weeks late finishing the book, anyway. For other discussion posts by others in the East of Eden Readalong, visit The Estella Society here. There are no spoilers here, but there will be some in other discussion posts so if you haven’t read East of Eden, watch out for spoilers (as well as for your brother)!
East of Eden is currently my nomination for the Great American Novel. (Is it better than The Grapes of Wrath? I don’t know, because I read that so long ago.) The Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939, won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. According to Wikipedia, East of Eden, which was published in 1952, was “not well received by critics, who found it heavy-handed and unconvincing, especially in its use of Biblical allusion.” The Wikipedia article about East of Eden goes on to say, with a thumb of the nose to contemporary critics of the day: “Nevertheless, it became an instant bestseller in November 1952, a mere month after it was released, and is now considered one of Steinbeck’s finest achievements.”
Of course, in any book discussion, we want to talk about the ending with someone who shared the reading experience along with us, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it. The beauty of online readalongs is that I can just share this link to a blog post I stumbled across that says everything I would have said here and has saved me all the trouble of writing it myself:
You Must, You Shall, You May: The Ending of East of Eden written by Alex on the blog I Might Be Wrong.
East of Eden struck me as true to life, even with all the biblical allusions and parallels, because of the way that the lives of the main characters – Adam, Aron, and Cal – are shown to us with the attendant characters playing a large role and then disappearing from the story – even dying – or going away and eventually coming back. Most of us don’t go through life with the same people playing the same role the whole time, right?
I think East of Eden would appeal to family saga readers for the way it shows the passing of generations of a single family and its moments of high drama and long stretches of calm. Readers who like to delve into the psychology of the characters would also like it, with all the passages about personality traits, behavior, and heredity.
If you haven’t read it, don’t let the length of it scare you off! It’s a pretty fast-moving story. The biblical aspects we all keep mentioning are “bible as literature”-type references, so don’t let that scare you off either. The tone of East of Eden is agnostic, not at all preachy.
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