Sarah Winman’s ‘Tin Man’ will break your heart

Ellis Judd’s heart is in a diary in a box in his father’s attic. It’s in a photograph taken by a wood merchant. It’s in line drawings he sketched as a child. By 1996, the subjects are mostly dead, lingering in these physical manifestations as well as in his memories.

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“Tin Man”
By Sarah Winman.
336 pp. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. $23.
May 15, 2018.

Cancer, a car accident and AIDS took them from him. But love and loss hasn’t taken Ellis Judd’s heart. Instead, he buries it in a thin “tin armor” of whisky and work. But occasionally, the ghosts of his friend, wife and mother still get through the barriers.

Written in three non-linear parts, Sarah Winman’s “Tin Man” feels like a series of short stories about the same handful of characters. You’ve met Ellis. But there’s also his friend Michael, Ellis’ wife Annie and mother Dora Judd, who were all happy and alive once.

Now Ellis is lost and alone, sorting through time and memories without them.

Winman’s “Tin Man” is a beautiful, breathtaking book that reads like poetry — her version of Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!”

Michael and Annie and Dora have all fallen cold and dead, but Ellis still calls.

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Why you need to read John Boyne’s ‘The Heart’s Invisible Furies’

John Boyne’s latest novel, “The Heart’s Invisible Furies,” is a tale of sin and shame, sexual repression, unrequited love and unspoken truths, full of the impossible and improbable, topped with a heavy helping of Catholic guilt.

This recipe makes for a highly entertaining and moving 580-page page turner, which will also fill you, the reader, with an immense longing.

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“The Heart’s Invisible Furies”
By John Boyne.
580 pp. Hogarth. $17.
March 6, 2018.

Take the book’s intro: “Long before we discovered that he fathered two children by two different women, one in Drimoleague and one in Clonakilty, Father James Monroe stood on the alter of the City of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, in the parish of Goleen, West Cork, and denounced my mother as a whore.”

Once you get past the fact that a baby in the womb of his mother seems to be narrating what’s going on, you want to know what happens next, right?

That’s how you fly through three countries and 70 years (1945 to 2015), the lifespan of an Irish lad named Cyril Avery (who isn’t really an Avery, as his adopted father constantly reminds him). Cyril (since he really isn’t an Avery) has secrets which killed a priest during confession: 1.) he likes boys, and 2.) he’s in love with his straight best friend and former roommate Julian Woodbead, who could never love him back the same way.

Since homosexuality doesn’t exist in Ireland or in the Catholic Church (no more than unmarried pregnant teenagers do), Cyril hides his existence through dark alleys, willing girlfriends (who don’t know that they’re this beard) and terrifying “doctor” visits to men who prescribe treatments from the pages of Anthony Burgess’ novel “The Clockwork Orange.” Meanwhile, Cyril’s constantly tortured by Julian (who talks a bit like Jay from the E4 TV series “The Inbetweeners,” but is better-looking, charming and more sexually active than Jay, based on Cyril’s descriptions).

You can probably guess how this relationship is likely to play out, but like Cyril, you torture yourself, devouring “The Heart’s Invisible Furies.”

It a hell of a read.

Disclaimer: I received a paperback version of “The Heart’s Invisible Furies” by John Boyne from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. 

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Clarissa Goenawan’s debut novel ‘Rainbirds’ feels like walking in the rain

Clarissa Goenawan’s literary debut “Rainbirds” is the book you read when you feel like walking in a rainstorm, knowing you’ll get wet, but not really caring. The coldness and soft pitter-patter is comforting in a way because it makes you feel beyond the numbness — drown without really drowning, and bleed without really bleeding.

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“Rainbirds”
By Clarissa Goenowan.
323 pp. Soho Press, Inc. $25.
March 6, 2018.

That’s what Goenawan’s hero 24-year-old Ren Ishida does — first after his older sister Keiko Ishida moves away from their home in Tokyo without warning and again after Keiko tragically dies years later. She was 33.

Ren loved his older sister, who basically raised him because their parents were both arguing and absent. She often cooked him his favorite dish, curry rice — always with a smile, even though she didn’t know how to cook rice and was also a kid. (Even when undercooked or watery, Keiko’s curry rice was the best curry rice Ren ever tasted.)

So when Keiko died — murdered in the quiet rural fictional Japanese town of Akakawa (which translates to “red river” in Japanese) — it was like the sky opened up and started downpouring.

It’s good that Ren always liked the rain (and its earthy smell).

Written in first person from Ren’s contemplative perspective, Goenawan’s book takes you through a journey. Ren follows his sister’s footsteps, pursuing an English and literature degree at a prestigious Japanese university; moving to Akakawa, where Keiko relocated after she turned 22; teaching English at the same college entrance exam prep school Keiko worked; and trying to live the life she lived.

But as Ren grieves, he learns that the sister he loves might have been grieving, too, when she mysteriously disappeared to Akakawa. She, too, might have also been walking through a rainstorm.

“Remember this, Ren. Sadness alone can’t harm anyone. It’s what you do when you’re sad that can hurt you and those around you,” she once said.

Packed with staccato’s sentences, “Rainbirds” is a contemporary classic you can easily disappear into — the type of book you read when you want to retreat into a whisper of quiet loneliness. You can’t make someone love you. You can’t choose who you love. And some relationships are just cut too short without reason. But you have to keep walking, even when it rains.

The sun will come back tomorrow.

But today smells like hope.

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