Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage
By Dani Shapiro. (Alfred A. Knopf, 145 pages, $22.95.)

Dani Shapiro’s fourth memoir opens with her husband (whom she calls only “M.”) standing in the snow in his terry cloth bathrobe, firing a gun at a woodpecker that is pecking away at their house. It’s an unforgettable scene, and a significant one. M. is outside, protecting the house, the home, the family; Shapiro is inside, worrying.

Their marriage of nearly 20 years is the heart of this book — their steadfast relationship, M.’s willingness to give up a dangerous job as war correspondent (so she would worry less — ha!), the son they nearly lost, their recurring and serious financial pressures, and now the start, perhaps, of M.’s professional slide.

“Hourglass” looks at how a marriage endures over time, and at how time changes the marriage — changes the people, but also the relationship, with strengths and weaknesses toggling back and forth. M.’s assurance, “I’ll take care of it,” later becomes his wife’s assurance that she will.

The book moves around deftly in time, anchored by Shapiro’s clear writing and excerpts from her old journals. The young Shapiro, headed to France with M. on their honeymoon, seems ridiculously naive. (She had “all the self-knowledge of a Labrador retriever,” Shapiro writes.) She had no idea what lay in store, the problems they would face, the way that love and passion would turn into something else.

Shapiro quotes Grace Paley more than once: “The decades between fifty and eighty feel not like minutes, but seconds.” And given the smooth way that Shapiro plays with time in this book — compressing it, moving it, revisiting it — she makes you know that it’s true.

Dani Shapiro will be at Magers & Quinn at 7 p.m. on June 12.

LAURIE HERTZEL

 

 

The Night Bell
By Inger Ash Wolfe. (Pegasus Books, 400 pages, $25.95.)

In this Canadian cop mystery, the author continues a successful series following Detective Lt. Hazel Micallef through her latest conundrum. (The original, “The Calling,” was picked up for film and starred Susan Sarandon.)

Rough-and-tumble Hazel lives in the sleepy Ontario town of Port Dundas. The boring pace of life is thrown into panic when a country club resident finds a human bone in her yard. Excavations reveal more remains, and the Canadian Mounties swoop in and take the high-profile case from the local cops.

That doesn’t stop Hazel, an in-your-face rebel who likes shots of booze in her coffee and has a thing for pain pills.

As she pokes around in the background, she uncovers an unlikely link to her own family. The new homes sit on the former site of a foster home for boys, an evil place where her now-dead adopted brother once lived. He told Hazel tales of “the night bell,” which would ring only when most of the lads were fast asleep. The bell signaled the approach of a boogeyman known to spirit off young victims who would never be seen again. Dozens of boys disappeared through the years.

This fourth installment in the Detective Micallef story line stands alone nicely but only gets richer as you catch up to the characters’ quirks and nuances from the first three.

GINNY GREENE