Neshama’s Choices for December 13th

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Bewilderment

I was shocked when this book got roundly panned in The New York Times but decided to see for myself and I liked it just fine. (So there!) Theo is an astrobiologist looking for signs of life (any sort of life) out there. His wife died, his son, Robin, is unusual and highly sensitive, and they play an ongoing game in which Theo riffs on the nature of imaginary planets' qualities and potential. The school wants to drug Robin, but a colleague proposes a highly experimental “treatment” that relaxes him —until it stops working. Being in nature also works, somewhat. Robin is anguished over endangered species and comes up with plans to raise money for the cause. A sad ending but Power’s passion and love of the natural world buoyed me up despite.

 

The Chief of Rally Tree

Roal, a professor, has what he thinks of as a solid relationship with Dina, his quiet wife of 20 years. Turns out she has a life he’s unaware of. She joins a controversial figure, Winter Patent (what a name) who’s trying to revive dying woods through mysterious practices that involve melding consciousness.  Roal ultimately tracks her down but it’s a painful trip and doesn’t deliver what he’d hoped for. However, it’s time to shed his pretenses and false beliefs, so some good comes despite. Sly wit here as well-- academia’s such a great target.

 

Night Music

Isobel, a violinist, gets a rude shock when her husband dies in a crash. Her well-padded life in London is stripped because of unforeseen debts and she has to sell the flat and go where? Well, a behest from an unknown relative delivers her and her two shocked and resentful kids to the boonies.  The house is a wreck, the village is less than welcoming, and she has very few practical life skills. This makes for a delicious plot, Moyes-style, and I settled in happily with this cozy, intelligent read. 

 

Oh William! 

Back to that observant, acerbic, insecure novelist Lucy Barton of previous books. This time she joins her ex (of the title) who’s just discovered he has a sister he never knew about and is deeply shook. His 3rd wife has just decamped, her husband David has been dead a year, so she’s willing to help him learn more. An uncomfortable trip of discovery, both literal and figurative. I love Strout’s deceptively simple, conversational style; very few adjectives or even descriptions but I always know what’s happening and how the characters feel. I think the book works on its own but knowing the backstory from her other novels fleshed it out nicely. NYC and Maine setting. 

 

The Strange Birds of Flannery O'Connor

A joy of working in the library is encountering surprises that just fall into my hands as I’m checking in books.  This stunning and insightful children’s biography blew me away. O'Connor is a complicated figure and the author handles dark material with restraint and candor. As in “Death wakes a person up,” she thought, “like a wound in the side.” She also gives us the playful, rebellious, observant nature of O’Connor as a child. Fabulous illustrations, too. 


Back next week.

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