Good novels by Ana Menendez, A. Manette Ansay
We’re past the halfway point of 2009, and already any number of worthwhile novels have been published, including my pick for the best so far, China Meiville’s genre mash-up (police procedural/fantasy) The City and the City. (find my review here) . But new books by a couple of South Florida writers, Ana Menendez and A. Manette Ansay, deserve special notice, too.
Both books are inspired by events in the authors’ own lives, including divorce, yet neither is mere thinly disguised autobiography. Menendez’s The Last War and Ansay’s Good Things I Wish You each use fragments of personal experience as the raw material for fully imagined fictions of subtlety and substance. You rarely get subtlety and substance with autobiography, which is why most modern memoirs are actually
fictionalizations of the events they purport to recount.
In some ways, Menendez’s is the braver book, if only because details of her divorce are more widely known, as her ex-husband is the star New York Times foreign correspondent Dexter Filkins. Anyone approaching The Last War hoping for dirt will be disappointed, getting instead a supple rendering of a woman in an existential crisis almost entirely of her own making. For a fuller discussion of The Last War, you can find my review in last Sunday’s Sun Sentinel.
Ansay’s Good Things I Wish You, intercuts the story of a South Florida college professor, surprised, after the end of her marriage, to find herself in a relationship with a German businessman, with the enigmatic romance of 19th century musicians Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms.
The contemporary scenes are especially convincing, and while the events in Good Things I Wish You are not as dramatic as those in The Last War, Ansay is equally fearless in pursuing her fictional impulse wherever it may take her. I’ll have a full review in the Sun Sentinel on August 2nd.
The appearance of these two novels offers yet more evidence of the rich literary culture in South Florida. I recommend both for any serious reader.