Short Takes

Short Takes: Book reviews, in brief

December 29, 2012 

"Invisible" by Carla Buckley.

Fiction

Invisible

Carla Buckley, Bantam, 400 pages

What secret would be horrible enough to cause two sisters who love each other deeply not to speak for 16 years? Dana regrets not patching up things with Julie, but now it’s too late. Julie’s daughter, Peyton, calls Dana with the news that Julie is dying of kidney failure. Dana rushes home to be with her sister, but Julie dies before she arrives.

The small town where the sisters grew up hasn’t changed much, except that everyone has gotten older – and they hold grudges. Dana decides to stay in town and make amends. Julie’s husband wants her to leave, and Peyton wants nothing to do with her. The secret that Dana holds is too painful to reveal, and a chance for redemption seems impossible. The vivid characters provide a spark of realism to this engrossing and sad tale. The secret is obvious from the first page of “Invisible,” but that doesn’t matter overall. Buckley writes beautiful prose, and fans of Jodi Picoult and Lisa Unger will enjoy this journey.

Associated Press

Nonfiction

City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age

P.D. Smith, Bloomsbury USA, 400 pages

Just 3 percent of us lived in cities 200 years ago. Now, more than half the world’s population does; that’s expected to rise to 75 percent by 2050. In “City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age,” P.D. Smith looks at how cities have evolved, how they work, what they mean and where they’re going. The book begins with the Aztecs’ Tenochtitlan – now Mexico City – at the moment it is first encountered by Spanish explorers in 1519. Smith deftly integrates the narratives of far-flung places across centuries.

In this continuum, he creates an uber-city, a grand portrait of what urbanity is and might become. Some tidbits from the book:

When the Spaniards arrived, Tenochtitlan had a population of 200,000 – larger than any city in Spain. Graffiti is nothing new. Pompeii, which was destroyed in 79 A.D., was covered with it: “I am amazed that you haven’t fallen down, O wall / Loaded as you are with all this scrawl,” reads a surviving note. It wasn’t all so clever, though; there was also: “Atimetus got me pregnant.”

Contemporary Mumbai (population 19 million) displays some of the most extreme income gaps of any city in the world; while rich areas boast luxurious real estate on par with midtown Manhattan, in the Dharavi slum, families of 12 or more often live together in less than 90 square feet, smaller than a parking space.

The conversion of Los Angeles’ downtown buildings to stylish apartments has served as a model for other cities; part of the draw for residents is avoiding the average 100 hours per year many Angelenos spend waiting in traffic.

Los Angeles Times

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