This installment: a cuckoo in the nest destroys domestic tranquility (f); an iconic photograph with tragic underpinnings (f); a Korean-Swedish gay boy soprano (f); stories of folks gone astray (f); and a bracing memoir
Girl Unknown by Karen Perry
She dies in the prologue and then we scroll back. David’s a professor. His wife Caroline has just gone back to work when their kids Hollie and Robbie get too old to need her. Some insecurities, but basically a sweet life until Zoe shows up. “I think you’re my father.” She’s 19 and seems fragile. Doesn’t take long for the underlying fault lines in the relationship to crack. Turns out Zoe is a master manipulator and a liar. Dread, suspense, and a grim ending but fascinating to view the carnage if you’re up for it. Set in Ireland.
Self-Portrait With Boy by Rachel Lyons
Lu, an impecunious photographer, lives in a funky loft in DUMBO (Brooklyn before it got so hip). Her neighbors Kate and Steve have a lively, difficult 9 year old son who plummets off the roof. Lu inadvertently captures the accident while taking the 400th shot of her self-portrait project. Thus starts a long spell of confusion, grief, and unrequited love. Lu’s career is launched by this stunning, controversial photo. Explorations of ambition, morality, and the nature and function of art play out. Sad, but gets you thinking…
Edinburgh by Alexander Chee
Zhe, aka Fee, is so “other” from the start: Korean father, Swedish mother, gay, and a boy soprano. He’s haunted by legends of fox demons from Japanese lore. His choir teacher molests him and others and there are a few suicides. Zhe ends up teaching singing and art at a prep school in New England and has a sweet, loyal boyfriend. But one of his students turns out to be the molester’s son who reminds him uncannily of his first love, now dead. A tragic set up with a glimpse of redemption at the very end, thank god. Haunting, elegiac, and very thoughtful, especially in the roles music and art can play in life.
The Dinner Party by Joshua Ferris
Folks who go astray—always a juicy subject. Like in the title story where a couple awaits their regular guests, chafing with anticipated tedium, only to discover said couple despises them as well. Many set in NYC which Ferris knows intimately. Except for the one in Prague in which an American who really needs coffee is dragged along by a tour guide intent on showing him sites of recent and historical horrors. Ferris’s style is deceptively simple, turning complicated situations into seamless tales almost like dinner-table anecdotes but with surprising punches of insight that really got my attention.
Mean by Myriam Gurba
What a wonderful paradox: to turn that loaded word into something sometimes positively positive. It can be a source of energy, and a defense, as with the constellating incident in her life: a rape. But first we experience her childhood in Southern California with a Mexican mother, a Polish father, and confused sexual stirrings which lead to acting out. Finally to UC Berkeley where she delves into history, women’s studies, art, and finally comes out. Short chapters, many playful in tone, but a deep structure emerges that circles back to the trauma that shaped her. Very refreshing, like the way a “mean” slap that can result in mini-satori.
Back next week.