Book Reviews: Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything, The Abundance
Nancy Martin's latest comic whodunit is a worthwhile summer vacation read.
If there is one thing we can all agree on in this contentious political season, it’s that summer vacation will help us endure the long lead-up to the general election. It’s awesome!
But before we can indulge in all that fun in the sun, first we must pack. And packing for vacation is fraught with many potential pitfalls. Just as you don’t want to find yourself knee-deep in the Hawaiian surf adorned in a chinchilla fur coat or striding around Burning Man in mukluks, you surely don’t want to have inadvertently packed the wrong book with which to laze away your languorous downtime. So here are suggestions that will help avert a total vacation disaster.
Highland Park’s grand dame of mystery Nancy Martin strikes black gold, that’s Texas tea, with her latest comic whodunit Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything. Sunny McKillip is the victim of academic downsizing. After arriving in Mule Stop, Texas, she loses her college gig only to land the position of personal assistant to Honeybelle Hensley, a bigger-than-life oil dynasty matriarch.
Most of Sunny’s duties entail looking after Honeybelle’s prized pooch, Miss Ruffles. That’s easier said than done, when the dog in question, “a Texas cattle cur — a small but powerful dog with the speed and temperament for driving cows over a cliff, if need be,” is as troublesome and rabble-rousing as Miss Ruffles.
When Honeybelle dies under mysterious circumstances, rather than provide an inheritance to her family, she leaves her fortune to her preferred pup — and she leaves the wealthy canine in Sunny’s care. Is there a killer on the loose? Is Miss Ruffles the next target? Did Honeybelle’s waspish daughter-in-law have a hand in her death? Will Sunny find true love with the roguish cowboy attorney? Will Miss Ruffles ever be house broken? Sunny will have to turn sleuth and learn the truth about her former employer’s demise all the while protecting her unruly charge.
Martin’s waggish tale of maybe-murder and mutt mayhem deep in the heart of Texas is an antic good time. A breezy read that will perfectly complement beachside margaritas.
Perhaps you’re of a more serious nature, though, and you’d like a book that will get your imagination humming and your brain flexing a few of those flabbier neurons. Look no further than Annie Dillard’s The Abundance, a selection of the East End native’s personal essays.
Dillard won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” a luminous meditation on life, nature and solitude. In 2015, she was awarded the National Medal of the Arts and Humanities. The present collection is an excellent entry point for the uninitiated and a handy compendium of some of her finest prose. Only the finest vacation companion observes, as Dillard does, “the world through the window, is an illuminated manuscript whose leaves the wind takes, one by one, whose painted illuminations and halting words draw me, one by one, and I am dazzled in day and lost.”
July 12/ Judy Blume’s novels “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing,” “Blubber” and “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” among many others, have been rites of passage for several generations. Blume’s stories about adolescent insecurity, puberty and angst have provided comfort to many boys and girls who felt terminally misunderstood. Her latest novel, “In the Unlikely Event” is written for adults and brings her to town for a rare appearance. (Carnegie Library Lecture Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland; 412/622-8866, pittsburghlectures.org)
July 5, 12, 19, 26/ Hemingway’s Summer Poetry Series wraps up its season this month with a monster line-up of local greats including Jason Mendez, Ann Curran, Celeste Gainey, Timons Esaias, Kelly Andrews, Jennifer Jackson Berry, Lori Jakiela, Bob Pajich and many more. Readings are in the back room and are followed by an open mic. (Hemingway’s Cafe, 3911 Forbes Ave., Oakland; littsburgh.com) —KC