Fiction: Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey
A friend fittingly recommended Nobody Is Ever Missing as “a really messed up Eat, Pray, Love.” A woman runs away from her husband, life, family in Manhattan—literally runs away, without telling anyone—with a backpack and a one-way ticket to New Zealand. She’s not so much consciously attempting to escape her problems as attempting to extricate what she sees as her problem self from the lives of others, and to quiet the turmoil she likens to a wildebeest rampaging inside her. She hitchhikes. Sleeps in gardens. Works on a farm, in a commune. Makes and loses friends. Tries to forget her sister’s death. Wonders if she herself is really alive at all. Lacey’s prose is stunning, and while clearly not a feel-good book, Nobody Is Ever Missing holds a magnifying glass to the anxiety, rage and helplessness bred from tragedy and loss—or sometimes just being human. I read this while in a bit of a dark, tumultuous place myself and related to the anti-heroine more than it was comfortable to admit. But this world can be dark and tumultuous, and it’s refreshing to know you’re not the only one with a wildebeest in your belly.
Nonfiction: The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Part memoir, part true crime, wholly complex/provocative/profound/arresting/[insert complimentary adjective here], Marzano-Lesnevich has crafted one of the most dynamic books I’ve ever read. The Fact of a Body unspools from a confession video the author watches as a young law student. The tape unlocks something in her. She becomes obsessed with the case: 26-year-old Ricky Langley’s 1992 sexual assault and murder of 6-year-old Jeremy Guillory. Marzano-Lesnevich recognizes that something deeply unsettling intertwines her own past with Langley and Guillory’s stories. The book is an exploration into the facts of what happened to Guillory and to Marzano-Lesnevich at the hands of her grandfather, but more so it’s an investigation of how we each align and shape and feel the facts through our unique lens of identity, experience and perspective. Stories cannot be distilled into a series of simple, linear facts, Marzano-Lesnevich discovers. Stories, like life, are messy and twisted—and constantly evolving; earlier this year the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal reversed Langley’s second-degree murder conviction. The case is currently in appeals.
Note: If you’re looking for a good audiobook, this one is read by the author herself, and her voice is like the velvety guide on my meditation app.
Nonfiction: Disappointment River: Finding and Losing the Northwest Passage by Brian Castner
Brian Castner had already earned my respect as a human willing to do things most can’t fathom. As a reader, I would follow him anywhere: through two tours in Iraq with Explosive Ordinance Disposal in his memoir The Long Walk, to Ebola reporting from Liberia, and now on a 1,125 mile canoe paddle across Canada on the Mackenzie River, tracing the voyage of explorer Alexander Mackenzie in his search for the Northwest Passage. Mackenzie led his cross-continent expedition 14 years before Lewis and Clark, yet I had never heard of the Scottish fur trader before Castner introduced me to him. I imagine Castner is filling in historical gaps for many readers, and his skill as a reporter is evident. What makes Disappointment River so engaging is Castner’s skill as a memoirist. As he paddles, as we read, Mackenzie’s journey intertwines with his own. We are in both canoes, hundreds of years and alternating chapters apart yet looking at the same all-consuming river, tar sands and remote villages, battling the many of the same threats (I would have turned back at the first mosquito storm, much to my own Scottish ancestors’ dismay). By the Arctic Ocean, I, like Castner, have learned and come to appreciate much.
Lauren Halloran is a former Air Force public affairs officer who spent nine months deployed to Afghanistan as part of a Provincial Reconstruction Team.
Her mother was a nurse with the Army reserves who served in Desert Storm. Lauren is completing a memoir about growing up in a military family and her experiences during and after her deployment. She earned her MFA in creative writing at Emerson College in Boston. You can read her review of Ross Ritchell’s The Knife (“Wishing it Was You, Glad it Isn’t”) in the May 2015 Mil Spouse Book Review.
Nonfiction: Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
This memoir is on almost every single end-of-the-year list (including this one, three times over! -Editor), and the designation is deserved. From the first page, I was taken with Westover’s story of her otherworldly and dangerous childhood on a windy Idaho mountain. The outlandish anecdotes and lyrical prose were what often kept me reading, but what sets this book apart is its heart, Westover’s complicated love for the people who raised her and hurt her.
Nonfiction: Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear by Kim Brooks
Part memoir, part investigation into the culture of fear that surrounds parenthood in America, this book got me through my early breastfeeding struggles with my second baby: I read most of it on my Kindle, pumping at 3 am while watching my newborn sleep. For a book about fear, it is strangely calming, and that has everything to do with Brooks’ voice, which is smart, funny, and deeply vulnerable. Brooks showed me how this culture of fear has helped to make parenting a competitive sport, and made me realize that maybe I’m not the only one having trouble meeting parent friends at Story Time in such a climate.
Fiction: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Ng’s novel about family dynamics and racial tensions in a quiet, well-to-do Ohio town is masterful. She navigates the book’s interconnected family stories with an omniscient voice that reminds me of the great Victorian authors. Guided by this voice, every minor and major character here is worth our fascination, even – or perhaps especially – the town itself. I could not put the book down.
Simone Gorrindo’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Best Women’s Travel Writing, SELF,Tablet, and The Huffington Post, among other publications. She holds an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University, and has received fellowships and grants for her writing and reporting from the International Women’s Media Foundation, the Georgia Council for the Arts, the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences, and the Scripps Howard Foundation. She currently lives in Tacoma, Washington with her husband, two children, and pup, Paddy. You can read her review of Artis Henderson’s memoir, Unremarried Widow, in the March 2015 Mil Spouse Book Review.
Fiction: Persuasion by Jane Austen
This is a novel I return to over and over again, because the backdrop against which it’s set is so familiar and comforting. Jane Austen is timeless, and Persuasion covers much of the modern milspouse experience: Falling in love with a man in uniform, enduring the pain of long separations, reveling in the friendship of other military families, and relying on our partners’ unfailing and steadfast love to see us through. It’s the perfect deployment read.
Nonfiction: The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu
If you read or watch the news, you would think that the last year has been filled with nothing but stress, grief, and fear. The Book of Joy is a brilliant testimony about the nature and power of human connection, spiritual practice, and the humor which helps us find joy in the face of suffering.
Nonfiction: America: The Farewell Tour, by Chris Hedges
This book is a bummer, but Hedges does a brilliant job of articulating the root causes of the “diseases of despair” from which so many Americans suffer. From the opioid crisis to the rising power of hate groups, Chris Hedges get to the “why” of the matter every time, and he does it in such a compelling way that it’s difficult to put down.