This installment: Jewish magical realism; a tasty memoir; NYC in the ‘20s; Southern high society and its seamy underside; a weird, compelling British mystery; and charming personal essays by a fiction/mystery writer.
Jacob’s Folly by Rebecca Miller
Magical realism with a Jewish twist, careening back and forth between the 1700s in Europe and current day Long Island. Who can span such a distance? Jacob, who’s turned into a fly. He starts as a peddler in Paris, married to the miserable, unattractive Hodel , but through a series of baroque, melodramatic events finds himself being groomed as a Frenchman (part of a bet) and climbs the ladder of prosperity until he’s snuffed and returns as said insect. Now he’s following the fate of orthodox Masha, whose life is equally fraught. I couldn’t always follow the convolutions of plot but enjoyed the lively depiction of two very different worlds, stitched together by Jacob’s fly-on-the-wall commentary, with philosophy, theology, wry humor, and lots of lore.
Relish, My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
A graphic memoir focused on food. Knisley was raised by foodies and learned to cook—and eat with relish—from the get go. Vignettes from her family, her travels, her travails, and her culinary adventures are studded with illustrated recipes. She’s unflaggingly upbeat and engaging. One odd note: the charming drawings are in full color but somehow don’t make the dishes look as tasty as they sound. (Must be something to do with all those browns and greens…). Despite, it’s a sweet excursion into a tasty milieu.
The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
Rose, the narrator, works in a police station in NYC in the early ‘20s. I was suspicious of her from the start. Her tone is an odd mix of chilly detail and hot obsession, first with the mustachioed sergeant, and then with the eponymous Odalie, a glamorous flapper who charms everyone at work and seems to get away with murder. Rose is a plain, hard working orphan, ripe for falling under Odalie’s considerable spell. They end up as roommates and Rose is drawn into lots of shady business. The ending is quite a surprise, kind of. (Interesting how intimations can make themselves subtly known early on.) The characters aren’t exactly sympathetic, but I enjoyed a plunge into such at colorful era.
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani
Thea, 16, is delivered to this peculiar institution after a hinted-at tragedy. She’s abruptly removed from her family home in steamy Florida and her beloved twin brother, Sam. Despite the Depression, the camp remains a bastion of prosperous Southern high society, grooming girls to be debutantes. Thea’s an excellent rider and gradually seems to adjust to this very different world in North Carolina. But she sorely misses her pony and her sibling and is haunted by what sent her there. Sexual acting out is her downfall. Intense tale full of local color.
Poppett by Mo Hayder
Another weird, compelling mystery by this British author. There’s a through line of characters from book to book, including Detective Cafferey who’s been protecting police diver Flea Marley all this time. The setting: a loony bin with some criminal inmates, and lots of creepy happenings, including two suspicious deaths. Is Isaac, who creates the horrifying effigies of the title, the perpetrator? Even though some of the happenings stretched my credulity a bit, I enjoyed the dip into this incredibly twisted world for a spell.
I Can’t Complain by Elinor Lipman
Subtitled (All Too) Personal Essays, many of which appeared in magazines and newspapers. They’re short, sweet and often funny so it’s like having a good, literate friend confiding in you. All the stuff of life is here: what she eats, what she reads, her adventures in the book trade, her good marriage which ended with the death of her husband, her fine son. A quick, cozy read.
Back next Monday