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A mixed bag this round: a cockamamie film, a cockamamie marriage, a mystery set in the wilds of Arizona, and (after all that), a book that takes a thoughtful look at the nature of faith when the center will not hold.

Please Give (DVD)

This one came up as a trailer and called to me. (A bonus of not going straight the feature...) Funny and sad, my favorite mix. Kate feels guilty about her comfortable Manhattan lifestyle and tries to compensate by all manner of charitable impulses, often cockamamie. Her 15 year old daughter is disgusted by these displays. Why can't she get those coveted $200 jeans? Next door is a mean, decrepit old lady (the magnificent Ann Guilbert). One of her daughters is a self effacing mammography technician, the other is an esthetician and a total bitch..Kate and her husband run a vintage furniture store, stocked primarily with dead people's stuff. Family histories emerge that explain a lot about why such misery abounds. Very charming.

First You Try Everything by Jane McCafferty

At first the marriage seems like magic: Fey Evvie, entranced and faithful Ben, both drawn together by marred childhoods.  But Evvie's increasingly needy and eccentric and Ben feels trapped. His extrication is ragged and painful.  Pittsburgh setting (shades of Ann Tyler in both geography and wistful characters). A fine dog, Ruth. A slacker brother in the attic, Cedric.  Evvie's schemes for reconciliation grow more outrageous and desperate. Eventually they find their own destinies, apart.  But what a long strange trip it's been. Touching.
 

The Rope by Nevada Barr

I like to plunge into books (and plays and movies) without advance preparation. In this case I kept getting confused, initially, because I thought I knew Anna Pigeon, park ranger, from previous mysteries. So who was this seasonal worker fleeing from the New York theater scene? Finally I got it: her back story, revealed at last. What I like about Barr's world is the rich depiction of the stark southwest back country and the behind the scenes look from a ranger's perspective. What I'm not so fond of is her plot machinations which have me muttering, "no, Anna, don't go there." This one is set in and around Lake Powell in all its environmental splendor and depredation. Anna helps strapping Jenny, roommate and coworker, clean up lots of camp side waste. But oh that treacherous landscape--such a place for mayhem, as she ends up naked in the bottom of a very deep hole. But I enjoyed it as escape reading, so glad it wasn't me down there without a rope.

Still by Lauren F. Winner

Subtitled Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, Winner takes us through three stages of her painful yet fruitful process. In the first her marriage has fallen apart, her mother has died, and her faith no longer sustains her just when she needs it most. Complications: she teaches divinity and she's a Christian convert and should have married for life. She refers to this time as the Wall. In the second section she wrestles with God and in the third she finally connects with Presence. She warns the reader not to expect a memoir, and of course I would have liked more juicy details on domestic difficulties, but there's other rich material as compensation. She draws on a broad theological and literary background, especially Emily Dickinson (!), but the quality is often playful rather than weighted, and full of candor. Very short chapters help. The book gave me an opportunity to hang out with someone smart and honest intimately, as it were--a friend within covers.

 

....and who knows what will surface on my bedside reading table when two more weeks go by.

 

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Posted by: Neshama

Neshama works at the Fairfax Library.

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