[note: I’m returning to posting just once a week. Things have slowed down a bit in my reading life or perhaps I’m getting even pickier about what to share with you.]
This installment: a crowd-pleasing Oscar contender (DVD); an epidemic of dreaming (f); a witty Canadian novel (f); an older Quindlan with a shocking theme (f); more short stories from brilliant, now dead Berlin (f); and a slim book with hidden punch.
Green Book (DVD)
Well this is a crowdpleaser but I admit it also pleased this crowd of one because of its good heart and good message. Back in the ‘60s, said book steered “colored” travelers to places where they’d feel comfortable. Don Shirley, black jazz musician extraordinaire, goes on tour down south and needs a driver/bodyguard. Enter Tony, tough Italian guy from the Bronx, and it’s very uneasy duo until they arrive at mutual understanding through tense times. Based on a true story, screenplay written by Tony’s son. And Ali (who plays Shirley) has the sweetest smile when it breaks through his pained, reserved countenance.
The Dreamers by Karen Walker
In a small college town in California, a peculiar epidemic emerges. Students, one by one, start to fall asleep; some die, others seem afflicted by intense dreams. We track two girls whose survivalist father succumbs, a couple whose baby goes under, and more. Dire times (oh these dystopias) until, ultimately, the virus runs its course. A taste of multi-universes –are they dreaming the future? Intriguing.
Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald
Mary Rose’s mother appears to be losing it (hence the title) but she’s old. However the protagonist herself, aka Mister, a childhood nickname that presages her lesbian identity, also feels as if she’s coming undone. She’s stuck in two ways. Domestic tedium with two little kids, one of whom doesn’t even seem to like her. And writer’s block brings the young adult series she’s created to a halt. Her partner is a theater director, mostly elsewhere. Canadian setting, very witty, a dark underlay (she was named after a dead baby), and ultimately moving.
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
For a while it seems like familiar middle-class domestic doings: three teenage kids, one quite depressed. The girl has a spurned suitor she’s grown up with who proves initially bothersome, but then it turns into something totally shocking. So Mary Beth, the mother, has to face the very worst a parent can experience and somehow fashion a life after. (I’m obscuring the actual plot deliberately.) Again one of those “why read about such difficult material” books but I found it utterly fascinating. And there’s a certain superstitious application: if I experience it on the page, it won’t happen in real life. It’s worked so far…
Evening in Paradise by Lucia Berlin
Posthumously published short stories that reflect Berlin’s trajectory from childhood in Chile to New York and San Francisco bohemian days to Paris to Mexico—in her foreshortened life, she certainly got around. The title story especially grabbed me, with its references to Yelapa where I’ve actually been. (And finally figured out that the little marker on the trail to town commemorates one of her husbands, the jazz musician Buddy Berlin.) Some stories have repeating characters. Bracing, original, full of life!
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
A slim book with a hidden punch. What are these folks doing in the woods in rustic, itchy tunics? It’s an anthropological “experiment” to recreate the Iron Age and poor Silvie (named Suleva by her dad who’s fixated by long-past history) puts up with considerable discomfort because she’s a dutiful daughter. Mum, passive, tends the hearth in the heatwave and cooks whatever they can hunt and gather. But things get grotesquely ramped up when dad and the professor want to simulate a sacrifice. Luckily a neighbor—it’s not exactly the wilderness—steps in. Dad’s a monster in the guise of enthusiastic inquiry. Deliciously creepy.
Back next week.