My latest read is The Beet Queen, by Louise Erdrich, a unique tale, and I must honestly say that I'm not sure how I feel about it.
It starts out by introducing us to Adelaide, a "kept woman," who has three children to a married man. When this man suddenly dies, it is a catastrophe for her, and one day she abandons her three children in a most unusual and surreal way. Those children, Karl, Mary, and a baby boy, end up going three separate ways.
So, in the beginning, anything can happen to these three children; the future is full of both danger and potential. Because of the way they were abandoned, I expected the rest of the story to be something akin to a folktale, such as Water for Chocolate, but I was wrong. The story is told by several characters in turn, and all of them are people who have made very strange decisions in their lives. Actually, I felt that both Karl and Mary were released into the world to become blights on other people's lives, causing heartbreak, jealousy, and animosity.
In the end, though, that might have been the point: relationships are emotional, sometimes painfully so, but somehow, people stick together and live with all the feelings, good and bad. They also seek out whatever family they have, so that they can subject them to these feelings without relenting. In fact, near the end of this book, there's a long-suffering dying woman who would really like to not have the company of Mary and Celestine (an old friend-turned-relative), and winds up retreating to her late husband's rec room, where she starts sleeping on the pool table. Now, that's a novel idea: a bed with pockets in every corner, so you don't have to get up for anything!
At the end, I thought that maybe Adelaide's granddaughter was going to escape in the same way she did, but--that's not to be. And so it ends on a happy note, with at least one person realizing that someone desperately loves her.
Louise Erdrich has created some mighty interesting characters for this novel, and also wrote a few very funny scenes. And I kept reading, despite the fact that I had no idea where this story was headed. Erdrich is a talented writer and I might read some of her other books in the future.