The thing that brightens a Galley Slave's day is the arrival of the mail, and those thick envelopes that come with it. What's a Galley Slave you ask? Well, I've been a bookseller in Berkeley for 16 years and have been at the Cody's Books on Fourth St. in Berkeley since it's opening 9 years ago. I write a lot of blurbs, for the Cody's newsletters and for the BookSense monthly newsletter. All this blurbing means that I now recieve a lots of advance copies, or galleys, from different publishers. I get a secret pleasure reading things that aren't technically in print yet, which is why I call myself a Galley Slave.
The combinations are interesting, both in what companies choose to send together and the random combinations the mail arranges. I had one of those interesting combinations a few months ago, a day where three novels about Vincent van Gogh or one of his paintings showed up in the same day's mail. One was a thriller, pretty entertaining, about war reparations and a forged painting. One, I admit, is still sitting low in the A-pile, as yet unread because three consecutive books on van Gogh was one too many. The third was excellent, and is now on the shelves.
Crows Over the Wheatfield is named for one of Vincent's last paintings. It was at the crossroads pictured in the painting that the artist killed himself. There's death in the book, but not the same kind. The book opens with art professor Claire Andrews grinding through yet another crowded commute home, frustrated and tired, flouting the unwritten rules that govern any serious commute. It wasn't her fault that she struck and killed a boy; he dashed out in front of her car. The rules she was gritting her teeth against wouldn't have saved him.
Andrews is cleared of blame by the police, but the family of the child has mounted a publicity campaign against her. Her recently separated husband returns home to help with lawyers, both relieving and adding to her stress. What she really needs to do is leave, so for the sake of her sanity she returns to France to continue her work on the last days of van Gogh. What she finds there is a place long familiar to her, but as changed as her internal landscape. She looks with fresh eyes at both her relationships and Vincent's.
That's what I liked about Crows Over the Wheatfield, the dissonance between what Andrews remembers of France and what she now sees, and the way her own trauma affects how she sees the pivotal people in Vincent's last days. I'm always happy with an epiphany and a real sense of place, both of which author Adam Braver provides in spades. Throw in science, forgery, manipulation and transition, and end it well, and the result is a very satisfactory read. There's always too much to read, tottering towers of galleys and finished books around my desk, all screaming for attention. Finishing a book is sometimes the exception; racing to the end is the reward.
Galley Watch: Climbing the Mango Trees, Madhur Jaffrey's memoir of growing up in transitional times in India, redolent of food and crowded with family, due in October, and yummy.