This installment: entertaining essays on CD (nf); grim circumstances amid natural beauty (f); creepy doings on an English estate (f); WWI with a “doctor” in the field (f); Hiaasen’s advice to graduates (nf); and leading up to Custer’s last stand (f).
Possible Side Effects by Augusten Burroughs
A bunch of entertaining essays which accompanied me on my commute, narrated by the author. I love hanging out with misfits—my people—and Burroughs tells (almost) all. Growing up with a crazy mother, getting a job in advertising at 19, long spells of drunkenness, stuff with pets and more—funny as a crutch.
Ways to Hide in Winter by Sarah St. Vincent
Kathleen leads a pinched existence in a beautiful place, working in a state park. Something awful happened to her but we only piece the circumstances together gradually. A mysterious guy appears from some other country and holes up in the park’s hostel. He’s running from something (again we find out gradually) but he and Kathleen recognize fellow-sensibilities as well as fears and create an alliance. PTSD and war crimes are woven through. Not much redemption here but gripping and atmospheric.
The Witch Elm by Tana French
Toby is a charming fellow who’s skated by, well-fixed. His luck appears to hold when a prospective scandal at the art gallery where he works seems reparable but that night he wakes up to a brutal burglary and ends up brain-damaged and with a limp. His beloved bachelor uncle Hugo is dying of a brain tumor and needs help so that’s where Toby ends up with his lovely, solicitous girlfriend. The big house was always magic when he was growing up and it might be mutual solace. But then a human skull is discovered on the grounds and suspicions emerge that implicate childhood friends and cousins. Tension galore and dark happenings—I loved it!
The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason
Lucius, son of a prominent Austrian family, is determined to train as a doctor. WWI erupts and he’s eager to do hands-on work with patients and gets much more than he bargained for when he ends up posted as the only “doctor” in a mountain outpost. Luckily Sister Margaret seems to know what she’s doing, including amputations, and under her fierce tutelage he learns on the job. The most intriguing and heartbreaking case: the eponymous fellow who is suffering from some mysterious neurological condition. He can’t keep Josef from being carted off and after the war is haunted by his failed attempt. Also he and Margaret get very close, she flees, and he sets off after her to no avail. Years intervene and there’s a breathtaking, surprising denouement. Mason is a physician and professor of psychiatry; all his knowledge comes into play here and boy, can he tell a story!
Assume the Worst by Carl Hiaasen
Subtitled The Graduation Speech You’ll Never Hear and the plummeting anvil on the cover, courtesy Roz Chast, says it all. A skinny little book, side-splitting and profound. “The odds are stacked,” declares Hiaasen, and all those nostrums handed out to make us feel better won’t work. But if you pay attention and never stop worrying—well when it comes down to it, none of us will get out of this world alive– chances are you’ll get a healing dose of wary optimism.
The Removes by Tajana Soli
Oh the history of our “fair land”—abysmal when you look at how we got here. The title refers to many episodes of Indian displacement, tracking Custer’s rise and fall, his wife Libbie, and two white women taken captive. Some archival material, grisly scenes of battle, and the despoliation of lives and land in the name of progress. When the captives are finally “liberated,” the results are tragic. History brought alive in bold relief; hard to take but it’s important to remember from whence we sprang.
Back in three days.