Neshama’s Choices for August 23rd

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Morningside Heights

Pru has a prize of a husband. Spence is the darling of Columbia University’s literature department; she has a lackluster administrative job. Both were brought up Jewish but have moved far from their roots.  They have a daughter, Sarah. He has a son Arlo from a brief early marriage; this came as shock to Pru when he revealed it but Arlo ends up cycling in and out of their lives. Then Spence starts to lose it—early Alzheimer’s—and the book traces his decline in vivid, heartbreaking detail. Henkin delves into the nuances of relationships under stress with great sensitivity and it makes for a very satisfying read.

 The New Wilderness

Cities have become untenable in this dystopian time. As an experiment, a small cohort of folks is allowed to colonize the eponymous region under a strict regimen: stay nomadic, leave no trace. But their very human desires and foibles subvert this ideal constantly.  Bea, with boyfriend Glen (a researcher), are bringing up Agnes in this challenging— to say the least —milieu.  When Bea learns her beloved mother back in the city has died, she leaves and everything gets even worse.  A band of newcomers needs training, consensus makes way for strong-arm “leadership,” and Agnes grows up very fast. Vivid, scary, thought-provoking.

Rest and Be Thankful

A stripped-down book about the workings of a nurse’s life, from the inside out. In very short chapters, Laura narrates her intense, stressful days and nights.  Very little sleep, tensions among coworkers, sick children—she works in a pediatric ward, freaked-out parents, love troubles. Sometimes it almost sounds hallucinatory but real life can be like that. Would that Laura could experience the promise of the book’s title.  Set in England. Evocative.

The State of Grace

Grace, 16, always feels good in the company of horses. Not so good everywhere else, especially at school. She’s smart but autistic, with a very supportive mother, a mostly absent father, and a younger sister who can be a pain but is basically a good kid. Enter Eve, her mother’s new friend, and everything shifts with great discomfort; Grace hates change.  A wild scheme to appear “normal,” impress some boys, and best the mean girls, goes terribly awry, but the home truths that result are worth the fallout. The author is English. Both she and her daughter were diagnosed with autism when Verity turned 13—it explained so much; you could call this Own Voices squared. A teen book for anyone who wants to find out what the condition feels like via a charming, articulate narrator.

With Teeth

Sammie (for Samandra) has primary child caring duties at home and Samson is a handful.  Her wife Monika is seldom around; she travels to support the family but seems to be the lucky one. Samson is handsome but opaque.  He’s a talented swimmer but hopeless at relationships.  When he flies into one of his many rages, he bites! Sammie never got over the trauma of their second, stillborn child. It’s an ongoing slog to do damage control or for that matter, get through the day with such an unrewarding kid.  The marriage splinters—no surprise. Set in Florida. Sounds grim, for sure, but I enjoyed reading it. (By now faithful readers should be alerted to my dark tastes.)

Back next week.