Neshama’s Choices for April 11th

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Survivor's Guilt  

Lawyer Erin’s client Ann says she did it, so there’s not much to work with. A recording on a telephone line seems to prove she did indeed shoot her daddy, a very rich man. However, this Charles Parsons has a dark history and there is confusing evidence.  How could Ann be transgender when a picture shows Charles’s daughter, 5, as a little girl? Erin is transgender herself. When the truth finally comes out, it’s a complex, devastating story and more blood is shed along the way. The author is an attorney as well (trans herself?) and intriguing legalese peppers the fast-moving plot.

Cinderella Liberator

I love fairy tales reimagined and here Solnit does our heroine proud. She’s hard-working, of course, but finds joy as well as toil in the day-to-day grind.  After the ball and the shoes (turns out her slippers are too large for the stepdaughters’ feet) she discovers Prince Nevermind really needs a friend, which she becomes. She ends up in her own cake shop, he embraces real life on a farm, and even those stepdaughters get engaged in work that reflects their passions. Illustrated with the classic Rackham drawings and great fun to read.

Cost of Living

The author gets it from both ends, as a worker in the health care industry and as a patient, dreadfully misdiagnosed for years and deep in debt for the treatments that didn’t work. She’s been an ER technician (mostly on the job training), and also worked for Big Pharma to pay down those enormous bills. Turns out many of her symptoms were mitigated when a neurologist recognized her primary condition but she still suffers from fibromyalgia and autoimmune diseases. One jaw-dropping chapter notes the 26 drugs that various physicians prescribed over the years, most with deleterious effects. These essays are direct, punchy, vivid, smart (wow!) and show how the human spirit can prevail despite.  Now to do something about the broken system—if only… 

Notes on An Execution  

Ansel is a serial killer.  How did he get that way? From the perspectives of three women in his life, we find out: his mother who birthed him when she was 17; his wife’s twin sister who witnesses the weird connubial relationship up close; and the detective, Saffy, who has a long-ago link with Ansel when they were both in foster care.  We also check in with Ansel as the hours towards his execution count down. The setting:  a small town in the Adirondacks. The subtlety of this psychological thriller is the humanizing of Ansel. Not excusing him from his heinous acts but understanding the societal and interpersonal forces that led him down that path of compulsive destruction.  Fascinating.

Present Tense Machine  

I love books that play with the multiverse concept and this one from Norway does it subtly and intriguingly.  Laura, a pregnant writer, has sensations of doubleness. Turns out she’s living in a parallel universe and slips into another time because she misread a word—that’s all it took. We shift back and forth into a number of variations. Domestic details become kaleidoscopic in effect. Literary references are slipped in as well, lightly. One fascinating detail: Satie’s Vexations, a peculiar, maddening, repetitive, ongoing composition both Anna and Laura perform. Who is Anna, you may wonder. She’s Laura’s mother. But she also has 3 different children in another life.  Sounds confusing, I know, but each story feels so solid that it makes for delightful reading.