Across the Page: Smart Summer Reading

This month, we bring you a list of smart summer reads to enjoy at the beach: a lighthearted love story, Landing, by Emma Donoghue; filmmaker Miranda July’s quirky collection of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You; and an experimental family drama, The Accidental, by Ali Smith.

Landing by Emma Donoghue (Harcourt)

Emma Donoghue‘s fifth novel, Landing, is the perfect summer read. Quick, light and sexy, it is a love story between two women who come from wholly different worlds.

Síle O’Shaughnessy is a sophisticated, 40-year-old Indian-Irish flight attendant. She is the ultimate urbanite who’s traveled the world and thrives off the energy of city living. Though she has a group of colorful friends and a supportive family, she is in a stagnant and sexless relationship with a woman named Kathleen. "The planets still turned," she thinks, "so what had become of the gravitational pull?"

In walks 25-year-old museum curator Jude Turner. Jude lives in Ireland, Ontario, an extremely small Canadian town where she was born, raised and has absolutely no interest in leaving. Despite a history of dating both men and women — and the occasional passionless fling with ex-boyfriend Rizla — she is mostly single.

When Jude is forced to travel to England (it’s her first time on a plane) to retrieve her ailing mother, she meets Síle and the two exchange contact information. The correspondence, slow to start, soon evolves into daily emails and phone calls that turn intimate. After months of long-distance flights, both women are forced to consider the depth of their blossoming relationship.

Landing raises interesting questions about the importance of geography over companionship, but distance is not the only challenge the two women face. They live disparate lives, originate from different backgrounds, and each has a collection of friends who may or may not have their best interests at heart.

At first, like many couples who are complete opposites, it is actually difficult to see the attraction. But as Síle and Jude persevere, it becomes more obvious why the two are together and what each has to offer the other. The real issue, then, is how they plan to reconcile their differences — and, most importantly, the thousands of miles that separate their two homes.

Donoghue’s scrutiny of the gentrification of Ireland is interesting from Síle’s perspective. "I remember that feeling of being the only ethnics in town," she says. "You couldn’t so much as pick your nose in case the neighbors jumped to the conclusion that all you people pick your noses."

As a bisexual butch, Jude offers her own unique insights into stereotypes and labels: "They always get that wrong in the movies, they make the girly-girl the one with all the guys in her past. Whereas in my experience it’s the tomboys who hang round pool halls and cars with the guys, and fool around with them, too."

With its modern themes, Landing is more akin to Donoghue’s recent short story collection, Touchy Subjects, than to her historical novels like Slammerkin. The ideal book to throw into your beach bag, it is a straightforward read — easy to pick up, easy to put down, and easy to pick up again.

No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories by Miranda July (Scribner)

The characters who inhabit bisexual performance artist and filmmaker Miranda July‘s No One Belongs Here More Than You — and their peculiar circumstances — are far from the norm. But it is not their strangeness that makes them so intriguing; it is July’s extraordinary ability to capture and bring out their humanity.

Though the themes are varied, all of the narrators in this collection exhibit a profound and vast loneliness. In "The Swim Team," a woman tries to win back her lover by telling him how she once taught a group of elderly students to swim in her kitchen. Somehow she believes that this part of her life, which she has kept hidden, will prove that she is in fact worthy: "If I had thought this would be at all interesting to you I would have told you earlier, and maybe we would still be going out."

A woman becomes obsessed with her downstairs neighbor, a married epileptic art director, in "The Shared Patio." Desperate to connect, her vulnerability quickly surpasses her quirkiness — "waiting, waiting, waiting, for someone to notice that I rise each morning, seemingly with nothing to live for, but I do rise."

In "It Was Romance," a group of women learn "how to be romantic." After an exercise where the narrator has to synchronize and then syncopate her breathing with her partner, who is a stranger, the two exchange a hug and start crying on each other’s shoulders. "We could smell each other’s shampoo and the laundry detergents we had chosen. … The snaps on our jeans pressed into each other and our breast exchanged their tiredness, tales of being over- and underutilized."

She later realizes: "It was romance. Not the falling-in-love kind but the sharing of air between our shoulders and chests and thighs."

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