By Charlie Quimby. (Torrey House Press, 320 pages, $16.95.)
Meg Morgin is a real estate agent with secrets. She's in-the-know about a major economic development project in her Colorado town but must keep the details quiet. She's helping advocates scout a new home for homeless people in town, but she can't reveal how those plans could be pinched by the potential employer. And Isaac Samson, one of the homeless residents who'd potentially benefit, apparently has stumbled on the defining secret of Meg's life — one that involves the death of her sister.
Minnesota writer Charlie Quimby weaves together these and other plot lines in a novel that spotlights the complex forces behind the spaces we call home. Along the way, he presents a long line of believable characters that is, perhaps, a little too long. There's the out-of-town CEO who might — or might not — be courting both the town and Meg. There's a homeless man with a vision for a tent city, and a scholarship winner who rejects Meg's money to run off with her boyfriend to North Dakota. In the mix are a newspaper reporter, a mayor, an influential nun and a developer who digs gravel pits and ruminating: "Greed is an ugly little thing," he tells Meg at one point. "It's about loving yourself too much, and money has very little to do with it."
The central tension, though, involves Meg's secret about her sister, and whether Isaac will expose it. The answer comes eventually, but only after Samson teaches about the origins of homelessness and how people navigate life on the streets.
Charlie Quimby has many Twin Cities area appearances coming up, including: 7 p.m. Oct. 11, Magers & Quinn, Mpls.; 7 p.m. Nov. 3, Common Good Books, St. Paul; 7 p.m. Nov. 10, Moon Palace Books, Mpls., and 4:30 p.m. Nov. 16, Valley Bookseller, Stillwater.
A House Without Windows
By Nadia Hashimi. (William Morrow, 432 pages, $26.99.)
One might expect a novel set largely in a women's prison in Afghanistan to focus on that country's recent history of warfare, with plenty of Taliban, American and Russian villains or heroes. Thankfully, Washington, D.C., pediatrician and author Nadia Hashimi's sprawling, vivid, excellent fourth novel features those events and people only as backdrop. Instead, it tells the story of one extraordinary Afghan woman and her fight to survive in a place that harshly punishes women for any real or perceived detour from rigid rules.
Zeba, a young mother of four, barely escapes execution by neighbors and relatives who find her covered in blood near the body of her abusive husband, who has a hatchet in the back of his head. Tossed into prison, shocked, silent, secretive Zeba inspires curiosity, then veneration, among her damaged but resilient fellow inmates. Hashimi, a fine writer, deftly moves us back and forth in time from Zeba's cell to her Afghan-American attorney's office to the encampment of a mysterious mullah, as well as to the scene of the crime and back into her childhood and early marriage.
Her children, parents, neighbors and friends all become layered characters, and the mystery of exactly what happened between husband and wife is not solved until the book's final pages. But this is no soap opera. Murder, child sexual abuse, misogyny and primal secrets are foremost, and whiffs of romance are quickly doused by rigid realities. This is a complex, beautiful and even hopeful story, and a tense, terrific read on every one of its more than 400 pages.
Hashimi will be at Opus and Olive, a fundraiser for Friends of the St. Paul Library, at 5 p.m. Oct. 16. Ticket prices begin at $150. thefriends.org/events/opus-and-olives