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I was very ready for a warm, funny, charming book with a dark undercurrent and this one delivered in spades. Patrick, a TV star in retreat in staid Palm Springs, takes on his brother Greg’s kids while said brother is doing 90 days in rehab; when Greg’s wife Sara was dying of cancer, he got hooked on opioids. Maisie and Grant are a confused mess, as you can imagine, and Patrick feels at sea and burdened by their presence although he loves them dearly. It turns out that this sojourn is medicine for all three as Patrick also needs to come to terms with the death of his lover. His interface with the kids is unusual, for sure; he talks to them as if they were adults. Grant (aka Grantalope) lisps which I thought would be a deal-breaker, but here it works. There’s a dog in the mix, as well as Sara’s suspicious sister who tries to wrest the kids away from beloved GUP (gay Uncle Patrick). A lovely book.
Cathy falls for Lee. Who wouldn’t—those blue eyes, that intense personality, that sexiness. But Lee, whose profession is mysterious—turns out to be pathologically jealous, expressed with violence. He’s finally locked up and Cathy rebuilds her life, though scarred literally and figuratively. When Lee gets out, she feels at risk again though the authorities try to reassure her that he’s elsewhere. She’s right, as the scary denouement reveals. The author does a good job of anatomizing the lure and trap of attractive, dangerous men.
Queer couple Ray and Bron have fun in the park with Ray's six-year-old niece, Nessie. Their imaginations get a workout. But Bron, depressed, breaks up with Ray and heads home to her conservative parents. Nessie’s mother Amanda (Ray’s sister) calls off the playdates and both Ray and Bron go into separate spirals of despair. Ray and Amanda are of Korean ancestry; Bron is White. The graphic form expresses the tangles of queer love, sibling relationships, societal pressures, and occasional sheer joy. (I love it when they morph into fantastic creatures.) Bron and Nessie eventually reconnect (whew), redefining their relationship in terms of what they’ve discovered apart. As eloquent on the wordless pages as on the ones with sparse, well-chosen dialogue. Moving.
This book is a marvel, difficult to encapsulate with a plot description. The themes: birds, Syrians in America, trans people, and the power of art. A missing drawing of a rare bird fuels the action. Present day Nadir (the name he finally claimed—he’s trans) comes upon Leila’s notebook in an about-to-be demolished Brooklyn building. Her story takes place in the past. Lots of relatives, sometimes a bit hard to sort out, and customs: spiritual and gustatory. Richly atmospheric, dreamlike in parts and gritty in others, utterly haunting.
The narrator, somewhere in Italy, brings us into her environs and her life via very short chapters. She’s a careful observer, at a remove and weighted by her husband’s death. Swimming brings her solace, as does visits to a stationary store where she buys the little journals in which she writes about what she experiences. Gradually the town and her daily activities come into focus and by the end of this short book, we know a great deal about each. The writing seems almost effortless, which seems a bit ironic because Lahiri wrote it in Italian and translated it into English. A very satisfying read.
Back next week.