All branches of Marin County Free Library will be closed on Monday, July 4 for Independence Day.

Neshama's Choices for 2nd week in November

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This installment: three novels.  The first, 144 reasons not to commit suicide.  The second, a very challenging sea voyage.  The third, Southern Gothic.


   Contents May Have Shifted by Pam Houston

I have mixed feeling about Houston; she can be brilliant and incredibly self-referential, sometimes simultaneously. This latest has similar qualities. It's one of those "fictions" that feature the peripatetic adventures of Pam, in search of  "144 reasons not to commit suicide." We ricochet from location to location, some as close as Bolinas, others as far flung as New Zealand. That Pam gets around, partly for work, partly for solace, partly for adventure. Heartbreak is a driving force, and there's another relationship that's troubled but possible and eventually seems to work out. I read it at a bit of a remove but interested enough in the vivid descriptions and lively anecdotes to keep going. The chapters are often just a few pages, which makes it easy to pick up and put down.

   The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

Your essential moral dilemma: too many folks for survival. It's 1914 and plucky, realistic Grace finds herself in such a grisly situation. The cruise ship's gone down, along with her new husband, and rescue doesn't seem imminent. Supplies have run out, heavy seas threaten to swamp the craft, and not enough of those on board have been lost through attrition. There's a power struggle between a skilled but shadowed seaman and a strong-minded woman who's ready to take charge. We know from the start that Grace and two others have indeed survived, because they're in prison on murder charges. The tone of the book is "old-fashioned," at least to me, which is appropriate but a little off-putting and some excursions into philosophical or theological inquiries bogged me down a bit. Also, Grace's very qualities that enable her to last also make her less of a sympathetic character. Despite these cavils, I found it gripping.

   A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

Small-town Southern life can be difficult, especially if your brother, "Stump,'" is mute, your father can get violent, and your mother's taken up with a preacher who handles serpents. That's the tension young Jess faces daily and everything plays out to its inevitable tragic end when Stump dies in an attempt at healing at that very church. We hear from the local sheriff and the local witchy woman in alternate chapters as well. As the grim action unfolds we learn of other small-town secrets and how it's all related. Atmospheric and haunting.

Back next Monday


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Posted by: Neshama

Neshama works at the Fairfax Library.

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