I'm back from a 10 day vacation in which I managed to read 10 books (you'll hear about them down the line) but here is a novel about contemporary Berkeley, a book of photos of folks way down on their luck, and the first novel by the author of "Wild."
The Edge of Maybe by Erika Lutz
Very familiar stamping ground--yuppie Oakland, and very recognizable characters as well. Both Kira and her husband Adam live relatively tranquil, prosperous PC lives. But right under the surface there are also very familiar tensions. Adam, freelance filmmaker and occasional rock musician, isn't taking hold financially and finds solace in his basement stash of drugs. Kira, who works for a nonprofit, finds herself fixating on her yoga teacher Ravi. Then Amber appears with little Joey in tow, and the leaky domestic craft is scuttled fast. She's (perhaps) Adam’s daughter from an old brief fling, and he's been sporadically involved when she's in crisis. Adam and Kira’s 13 year old, Polly, knew nothing of this and feels betrayed. Also the culture clash is huge---Amber eats junk food, and watches dumb TV. Joey is really damaged, as well. What a spectacular mess! So things fall apart in all directions but in the end, everyone gets a lot more real. Lutz can be quite funny--great riffs on Cafe Gratitude, for instance--and though a few characters are totally skewered, others have dimension beyond caricature, even seemingly repellant Amber. Good read.
Hard Ground by Michael O'Brien
One of the joys of working at the library is having an amazing book fall into my hands, one I'd never think to look for. The life size face on the cover staring out at me seized my attention: dark eyes under furrowed brow, luxuriant beard stippled with gray, hint of sad lips beneath it.. These photographs by Michael O'Brien of people really down on their luck have an incredible intensity-- sometimes grotesque, sometimes beautiful, often both. Usually when we encounter folks like these in real life we avert our eyes and wish they'd go away. Here we can stare to our heart's content and recognize their humanity, their hopes, their hopelessness. A surprising bonus: poems by Tom Waits, stripped down to the bone as well. Heart-wrenching and artful.
Torch by Cheryl Strayed
I read this a while ago but was so taken by her book, "Wild," that I decided to revisit it. (And since I have what I call "porous memory" these days, it's often like reading it for the first time.) Theresa dies early on, of rampant cancer. She's much loved as a radio personality in this small Minnesota town, as well as by her college aged daughter Claire, son Joshua in high school, and long term partner, Bruce. He death destabilizes everyone radically. Nothing seems to make sense. Claire drops out and breaks up with her boyfriend. Joshua drops out and sells drugs. Bruce turns for consolation to a neighbor and ends up making a swift marriage. He's been a good stepfather all along but this seems like the ultimate betrayal. Yes, they find their way back to functional lives, but the grief and confusion that accompany their journey are very well depicted here. I loved the homey descriptions of Theresa's radio show themes, too, like one about the names of local flora.
back next week...