every semester at Temple University. The five books assigned this semester were: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg, Rachel Cusk’s Outline, Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward and Claire Fuller’s Bitter Orange.
Of the five books, my favorite (and the favorite of most of my classmates) was Ward’s lyrical and haunting Sing Unburied Sing. It was a second reading for me, a story about a young African American woman named Leone who takes her two young children on a road trip across rural Mississippi to pick up their white father who has just been released from Parchman prison. There are ghosts in this story, one being Leone’s older brother who was killed in a hunting “accident.” The other is a teenage boy who is threatened with a death eerily similar to the death of a young Emmett Till, who was brutally and heinously murdered in 1955 in rural Mississippi.
My second favorite book was Water’s The Little Stranger. It is a story about a young Dr. Faraday who is called to attend to a resident at Hundreds Hall, a once impressive English mansion that is now in decline and crumbling. It is home to the Ayres, whose ancestors occupied the house for more than two hundred years. But, the house and its current residents, seem to be haunted now, not just by a dying way of life, but by something much more sinister. So upset was I at the end of this story, I wanted its villain (or was he its hero? - only you can decide), indicted, if not in a courtroom then at least in the classroom.
And, as for The Third Hotel, it is a story about a secret so onerous it can only be found by reading between the lines van den Berg wrote. Indeed, it is so hidden that it was entirely missed by myself and every other member of the class, except one.