This round some Jewish “humor,” my take on a widely read book, and a wild take on living with autism.
Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander
I got to know the author first on This American Life with his outrageous reports of growing up in a Hassidic community. (His name must be a nom de plume: hello stranger.) Liked his previous short story collection a lot , a mix of wry, ridiculous, and sad. This novel is very broad and almost exhausted me though I admired his smarts and daring. The premise: hope gets us into trouble. So Solomon Kugel discovers when he tries to make a better life for wife and child in an old farmhouse. To pay the mortgage, he first gets a most unpleasant tenant. Then his dying mother, the queen of kvetches. arrives And where do those weird tapping noises and horrid smells come from? The attic, in which he finds a shocking fugitive. Things get out- of- control awful and there's no redemption at the end. But if you like very dark humor, it's worth the schlep through such ongoing misery.
The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas
Not being a history buff, the complexities of political skirmishing in the late 1800s didn't attract me initially (and I admit I kind of skipped through them). But I certainly got caught up in fable-like story of Eleonora whose mother died in childbirth. She has a remarkable mind, it turns out, and ends up surreptitiously following her father, a rug merchant, to Stamboul to escape her repressive stepmother. All this at age 8. A flock of hoopoes gather at her birth and follow her abroad, just one of the signposts of her extraordinary destiny. (I made the acquaintance of these birds in Peter Sis's "Conference of the Birds" and therefore knew what they symbolized.) Her father dies but their host, with a large library, provides shelter. A Yale scholar, now a reverend, provides tutoring. The sultan, faced with difficult decisions, learns of Eleonora's amazing gifts and calls upon her to counsel him. When the future seems dicey, she makes another daring escape to--who knows where? Quite a journey for the reader, as well as the young oracle, full of local color and texture.
I Wish I Were Engulfed in Flames by Jenn Decker
Subtitled "my insane life raising two boys with autism." The choice: to be a crack-up rather than to crack up. Decker goes the former route sometimes a bit too broadly and crudely for my taste, but still candid, funny, and amazing. Jake is higher-functioning; some of his fine offerings appear here in print. Jaxson, the younger boy, is, ahem, more challenging. For instance he takes videos of himself pooping and plays them during Thanksgiving dinner. Decker's marriage is problematic but with good-humored accommodation they stay together. It's a circus--a laugh, a scream, a weep a minute--but Decker comes through with humor foremost, and that's inspirational indeed.
A mixed bag, but why not (it takes all kinds). Be back in two weeks, good lord willing and the creek don't rise...