This installment: a nonfiction account of being stalked; a touching French-Canadian DVD; the latest film by Wes Anderson; Bollywood Apocalypse; short stories by a physician—inside dope; and funny stuff in small doses.
Give Me Everything You Have by James Lasdun
Subtitled On Being Stalked, and what a chilling, nightmarish situation is has been for this well-established writer who also teaches. Into a workshop came “Nasreen.” She had talent and they kept in touch afterwards. True, this was more contact than he usually had with former students but it started harmlessly enough. He met her once to accept her manuscript, then suggested other contacts who might help her. She became obsessed with him, and showered him with emails that soon became full of accusations, falsehoods and hate. Through the contagious ease of the internet, she spread her poison and he had to do constant damage control by taking down entries and alerting employers. The law couldn’t do much; she was now in another state and the threats weren’t felonious. Lasdun brings literary, political, and historical material into play as well. A cautionary, sobering tale about the complexities of contemporary life.
In Montreal a teacher hangs herself in the classroom. Bashir Lazhar shows up to take her place; no one else wants the job. He’s an Algerian refugee with a tragic history, we gradually learn. What a loaded situation, but he has a combination of reserve, warmth, respect, and clarity that manages to reach most of the children. The school administration paints the walls a different color and brings in the psychologist but doesn’t want further discussion. Bashir knows it must be acknowledged one way or another. Very affecting and many gentle touches of humor and light that come with the presence of children, no matter what their situation.
I’ve just discovered Wes Anderson, the director, via DVDs since I seldom go to the movies, and now I want to see everything. Here’s the latest, very popular. I certainly enjoyed it but didn’t exactly trust it. The premise: two outsider kids on the verge of adolescence run away together and manage a brief but idyllic tryst al fresco. The nerdy, adorable boy is a Khaki Scout; the girl, who smolders with rage, is a member of a very eccentric and isolated family. Set in coastal New England circa 1965. Lots of action, what with a climactic tornado, and there is justice at last. Good acting, that great cinematic eye, and stirring despite my resistance to this the large dose of magical realism.
The City of Devi by Manil Suri
His previous books were subtle and low key. This one’s a screamer: Bollywood Apocalypse. Conflicts have really heated up world-wide, with an atomic strike threatening to hit Mumbai. But the goddess Devi in her most recent 4-armed incarnation supposedly protects those Hindus who haven’t already fled. Sarita’s searching for her missing husband, Karun, a physicist. So is Jaz, his former lover, who manages to connect with Sarita incognito. (That’s why sexual relations between the couple have been so fraught, but she’s ignorant of Karun’s proclivities.) It’s a crazy, dangerous enterprise, not helped by the fact that Jaz is Muslim. Narrated by alternate characters, full of action, humor, and politics, it’s very entertaining (and would make an amazing movie).
A History of the Present Illness by Louise Aronson
Short stories about doctors, from the horse’s mouth. (Aronson is a physician as well as a fine writer.) So much drama, so much inside dope—like excellent, well-wrought gossip. The Bay Area setting brings it even closer to home. Lots goes wrong (it’s life, after all): frustrations from families, institutions, economics and stress. A few satisfactions as well, but difficulties make for better stories. Hospitals, prisons, nursing homes, squalid apartments ; Aronson takes us behind the scenes and shows us the real thing which I prize in a book.
The Last Girlfriend on Earth and Other Love Stories by Simon Rich
These are very short stories, more like comedy sketches (and indeed I’ve heard some on NPR). They’re cute, ridiculous, outrageous, and sometimes sophomoric, best taken in small doses. Try the ex-girlfriend dating Hitler, or what really happens when a guy gets 50 wishes from a genie (world peace isn’t one of them). Snarky but I don’t come across a lot of humor on the page, so had fun with this.
Back next Tuesday (Monday's a holiday!)