Friday, November 26, 2010

Holiday Gift Guide: The Sugar Mother and Foxybaby both by Elizabeth Jolley

Here’s a gift suggestion for the reader who thinks they’ve devoured everything: Elizabeth Jolley.

Prior to her death in 2007, Jolley has risen to become one of Australia’s best known and most celebrated authors, known for her dark wit, biting characterizations and sophisticated view of relationships and the world. Jolley was unable to find a publisher for her work until she was in her early 50s, but she managed to publish 14 novels, four short story collections and three works of non-fiction before her death.

Though Jolley was read widely in Australia, she never gained much of a following in the United States, despite some critical acclaim and, until recently, she had been out of print in the US for many years. Early in 2010, however, Persea Books published Jolley’s much vaunted and awarded Vera Wright Trilogy, comprised of My Father’s Moon (1989), Cabin Fever (1991) and The Georges’ Wife (1993).

This month, Persea added to the list of Jolley titles available in North America with Foxybaby and The Sugar Mother, both originally published in the 1980s.

In Foxybaby, Alma Porch is hired to teach a summer college course helping overweight adults. Teaching the course, called “Better Body Through the Arts” Alma meets an understandably mixed group of students. Incorporating some of their stories infuses Foxybaby with a story-within-story complexity, very much like a 19th century comedy of manners with a modern sensibility. When it was first published, The Boston Globe said that the book was “hilarious, wry, disturbing and optimistic.” Which seems to me to just about cover it.

The Sugar Mother places an aging english professor in moral jeopardy when his wife does her fellowship abroad and new neighbors -- including a sexy 20 year old daughter -- take over his home and his life.

Both books are almost impossibly engaging and likely to hit a target for the reader who figures they’ve read everything. ◊

Monica Stark is a contributing editor to January Magazine. She currently makes her home on a liveaboard boat somewhere in the North Pacific.

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