First this alert: I'll be telling Animal Tales at the Fairfax Library on Thurs. 7/24 at 7 p.m.--some folktales, some personal stories of critters who've entered my life. For all ages, and it's free. I'd love to see you there. And now for:
This installment: North Dakota in the ‘50s; 19th century women’s plight; a memoir of Somalian abduction; a snarky British lark; and short stories featuring human/animal interaction; and lesbian witches in medieval England.
Let Him Go by Larry Watson
Bleak North Dakota in the early ‘50s. Margaret and George lost their son Jimmy in a riding accident. His wife goes off with a new husband, along with their grandson, little Jimmy. Margaret misses Jimmy something fierce and gets bad news about his life with them. She’s determined to reclaim the boy but the clan he’s now part of is vicious and powerful. She and George set out and it’s a fraught journey with a shocking outcome. Stripped down, powerful writing and a gripping story.
My Notorious Life by Kate Manning
Based on the life of a 19th century woman who treated all manner of female complaints, including unwanted pregnancy. Axie and siblings are sent on an orphan train when their mother can no longer care for them in New York City. She’s fiercely independent and intelligent if unschooled, and ends up back in the city as a scullery maid for a “female physician.” When her employer dies, she ends up continuing her work. With the help of her husband George, another orphan, they become very successful. Now known as Ann, she’s constantly driven to reunite with her siblings. Enter Anthony Comstock, a horrid “reformer” who hounds her mercilessly. A surprise ending, hinted at in the prologue, and a vivid glimpse into the plight of women long before Roe vs. Wade.
A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett
Amanda, a Canadian, had wanderlust early on. She traveled widely, financed by stretches of bar work, and became a freelance journalist. That’s how she ended up in Somalia, kidnapped for 15 months, along with a quasi-friend, Nigel. They were moved to various locations, enduring hunger, beatings, attempts at indoctrination, and in Amanda’s case, repeated rapes. They studied the Koran and when they “converted” they were separated. The kidnappers didn’t have a political agenda; they just wanted money, but neither family had wealth and governments don’t pony up. The title refers to the place of imagination into which Amanda retreated, an example of her coping skills. In between incidents of terror was incredible tedium which they combatted with extended reminiscences and games whenever they could communicate. At last they were freed (otherwise we wouldn’t be reading this) but so much held breath along the way, and a terrifying escape attempt. Gripping.
Who’s Sorry Now by Howard Jacobson
A snarky lark of a British domestic drama. Marvin sells leather goods and can’t keep his hands off other women, despite wife Hazel and two kids. Two Charlies, one male, one female, are deeply monogamous and create kids’ books together. Marvin and the male Charlie have regular lunches. At one they come up with a crazy scheme: a swap. At first it’s delightfully heady, burnished with novelty and discovery. Then havoc ensues as the new partnerships are eroded by fractious children, old habits, and ill-fitting domestic rhythms. A cautionary tale: watch what you wish for.
The Last Animal by Abby Geni
Short stories, many with human/animal interaction. One takes place in an ostrich farm; they’re terrifying avians, we learn. In the next a teenage girl saddled with a needy, scary boyfriend desperately finds a way to disengage via her faithful dog. There’s a woman with a pet octopus, an intense drama at camp, and encounters with a manatee. Intriguing and haunting.
The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson
Here’s familiar territory (at least to me): persecution of witches in the early 1600’s in England. All tangled up in the complex skirmishing of politics and religion of the times. Short book, short chapters, packed with gross sensory details (oh those fetid dungeons) and gilded with Winterson’s slant, the love of women. Desperation, betrayals, sacrifices—dark and dramatic. One detail, for example: a great depiction of the power of the “poppet” pierced with pins and its effect on its intended target, a magistrate determined to wipe out a coven.
Back next Monday.