Saturday, April 6, 2013

Good and Cheap (Books)! Day 5

Sometimes we feel like saying "I told you so." Why don't you people take our word for it when we say books are good? What am I supposed to do? Random House doesn't approve of us taking people hostage. Aren't a combined thirty years in the book business and an amplified sense of worth enough for us to be declared experts? And what's worse than the cold dismissal of people ignoring us is when you get a message like the one I recently received from one of my booksellers. She complained that I hadn't forced her to read a book I'd raved about sooner.

Anyway, the book in question this time was In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes. I love Kim Barnes. She writes effortless, fluid prose that immerses readers in her books, and In the Kingdom of Men is one of those great reads. The main character is Gin Mitchell, a girl who grows up in a small town in Oklahoma, but sees an opportunity for escape into a larger world when she marries her high school sweetheart Mason. Mason signs on with an oil company and after a few years, the couple accepts a transfer to the Aramco compound in the middle of Saudi Arabia.

The Aramco Compound in Saudi Arabia
This is the 1960's, and the parties and excess that were sweeping across the United States were under a microscope within the Aramco compound. This place is a Stepford suburban village behind walls in the middle of a deeply conservative country. Here, Gin is expected to join the pool parties and social functions of the other Aramco wives, but she's not allowed outside the compound without proper escort and attire. She is a modern woman in a land where religious doctrine binds women to radically traditional beliefs. In the Kingdom of Men is a retelling of the Adam and Eve story of knowledge and self-discovery, and Kim Barnes is an incredibly skilled storyteller. This novel should be a top pick for reading groups, people who like Mad Men, and given the continued importance of oil and the US/Saudi relations, pretty much everyone else out there.

Don't make me hold a gun to your head.

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