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This installment: audio version of a stunning book about a hard-scrabble family; fresh and quirky short stories; an entertaining (if you can believe it) memoir about anxiety; and a fine psychological mystery/

 

   We The Animals by Justin Torres

 

I read the book 9/11 and this is what I wrote about it then: Short book, short chapters like linked stories, but packed with life and perfect pitch. Told from the youngest of three brother’s point of view, the "pretty one." It's a family story bursting with brutality, (husband towards wife, Paps towards kids, kids towards each other or anything else they can try to destroy). A mix of despair, wildness, and moments of grace. The Puerto Rican father comes and goes, the white mother works in a brewery, drinks, falls into deep depression, climbs out. Food is often sparse. Indelible scenes like Paps dancing in the kitchen, showing the boys their heritage. Brilliant! A year later I listened to the audio version, and it was even better. The actor has a young voice and uses touches of an accent well. I remember being disappointed the book was over so soon (the problem with being a fast reader), but hearing it enabled me to savor the scenes and I could also experience the arc of the story better, from the early feral coziness of the brothers together to the luminous yet shocking end when the narrator's truth comes home.

 

   I Knew You'd Be Lovely by Alethea Black

 

Sometimes a book and a mood will come together perfectly. I was in a reflective, melancholy state on the anniversary of my husband's death 19 years ago. I picked up these short stories and they spoke to me like a good friend, offering a combination of freshness, quirkiness, and tenderness that soothed my soul and gave me hope. (It was like the first time I read Laurie Colwin.) So many short story collections I read these days are post-modern, populated with dissolute and disaffected folks, and that can be wearing. In these pieces, folks don't necessarily get it right but they're trying and they care. A nightmare camping trip with desperate father and furious, out-of-reach son doesn't sound uplifting but we know down the line things will get better. A title, "The Only Way Out is Through," sums up the quality and intent of the work. Highly recommended.

 

   Monkey Mind, A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith

 

This guy writes with insight and humor about an affliction that's funny as a crutch. He starts with a dreadful primal scene when he was 16, goes back to a near drowning at 3, describes nightmare college years and then a job as a fact checker--about the worst for someone with this condition. His mother, a therapist (no less) does what she can, but not until he encounters the remarkable Brian and engages in cognitive therapy does he get better. There's a lot of well researched background material here too (have to admit I skimmed it but if you have a scientific or philosophical bent you'll eat it up).

 

   When She Was Good by Laura Lippman

 

I'm hooked on her psychological mysteries. This one has a tricky protagonist, Helen/Heloise, who climbs out of grim childhood and appears to have arrived at a prosperous, functional life near DC with a sweet 11 year old son. But she's actually a madam with ties to her pimp, now in jail but with long arms, and she's always covering up and looking over her shoulder. She tries to run her business “ethically” but there's no way to sidestep some sad and scary side effects. I was rooting for her throughout, as she struggled with moral dilemmas versus survival. Suspenseful.

 

Back next Monday

 

 

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Posted by: Neshama

Neshama works at the Fairfax Library.

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