Neshama’s Choices for April 12th

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The Doll Factory

London in the late 1800s where poor Iris and her smallpox-marred sister Rose toil in said factory. Iris wants to paint, falls in with a group of Pre-Raphaelite painters, ends up modeling for one and making her own art as well. But Silas, a creepy taxidermist, falls in love with her, stalks her relentlessly, and things get very fraught. Albie, a street urchin who supplies Silas with dead animals, is an unwitting go-between until he meets a bad end. The sights and smells of London of yore and  the art scene of the time are conveyed vividly. Sometimes a bit melodramatic, but certainly diverting.

Just Like You

Lucy meets Joseph over the butcher counter where he works. He’s 22 and black; she’s in her early 40s and separated from her alcoholic husband Paul. There’s attraction but come on…However, when he babysits her two sons who love his company, the inevitable occurs and it really is a match except for what happens in the outside world. Gradually he moves in but there are cultural gaps, family resistances, race and age, different interests and pastimes.  Many awkward experiences, some quite funny.  Can this love affair be saved? Read it and find out.

The Once and Future Witches

The three Eastwood sisters, estranged and in bad straits, reconnect in a square in New Salem in the late 1800s.  They’re witches—the maiden, the mother, the crone—and must pull together to save themselves and their heritage. Spells and lore come in many forms, hidden in nursery rhymes, old stories, and in some books though most have been destroyed. Bella the librarian and dark-skinned Cleo fall in love, Agnes has a baby on her own, and young Juniper takes wild risks and makes the ultimate sacrifice. Lots of action, lot of magic, fierce feminism;  they initially find community among suffragettes. One fascinating wrinkle: significant figures bear women’s names, starting with the Sisters Grimm.  More than 500 hundred pages; I fell under its spell and didn’t want it to end.

The Price of Salt

Published in ’52 and recently made into a movie (Carol) this story of a shadowed lesbian love affair highlights how far we’ve come. Therese, lonely despite her relationship with Richard, finds herself mysteriously drawn to Carol, a customer in the department store where she works. Carol is in the process of divorcing Harge; their young daughter, Rindy, is staying with him for the present. The women go off on a car trip, which often feels heady but sometimes fraught when they encounter prejudice or get a sense they’re being followed. Indeed that’s the case and custody of Rindy is at stake. Is Carol a player? Is Therese a victim? Elements of both, but on last page…ahh!

Shutter Island

An early book by this blockbuster author whom I had  bypassed (full disclosure: I can be a snob) but when I finally encountered one of his books, I realized why he’s bestselling. This is the ultimate tricksy atmospheric plot: a mental institution doing experimental work on violent patients on an island. Two U.S Marshals, Teddy and Chuck, are sent to find an escaped patient (though there’s no way off the island)—or so we think. Rumors of government plots—it’s the ‘50s—and seeming staff obfuscation frustrate Teddy at every turn. We learn the crazy guy who set the fire that killed his wife is incarcerated here. Action, suspense, and a denouement that took the breath out of me.


Back next week.

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