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A slim, profound book featuring a very ordinary man with a burgeoning conscience. Bill delivers coal all over town. He finds a desperate young woman hiding in the coal shed at the convent and he can’t get her out of his mind. In Ireland in the late 1980’s, you don’t challenge the nuns but he ends up performing an act of mercy despite, and his interior process is revealed as the story unfolds. (The story is informed by the dreadful history of pregnant girls being woefully mistreated at the hands of their “protectors”—the Catholic Church.) Subtle and powerful.
I was entranced by the eccentric Ethan, a nerd who makes a surprising love match with Barb. They both work at an answering service that offers solace over the phone to lonely folks. They take a glorious bike tour in Italy. She wants children. He not so much, but when they discover his sperm is nonviable, she brings home those boys and he turns into a fiercely protective and oversolicitous father to the detriment of their relationship. During COVID, no less. He decides to take the boys on that same bike trip, and that’s when the book’s startling twist is revealed. It left me positively hornswoggled! Very original and delightfully written.
We tune into Carlotta’s story when she’s finally released from jail and is plunged right back into the chaotic life that got her there. Nothing works because the environment violates all the “stips” (stipulations) that her parole officer demands. You should know, first off, that Carlotta started as Dustin but is doing her best to support her gender identity. A crazy, bacchanalian wake at the family brownstone in Brooklyn, an absurd attempt to get gainful employment, and a series of lurching missteps that land her back in jail—no surprise—to finish out the rest of her sentence. She reemerges with that same irrepressible spirit that makes her such a lovable character. Laced with profanity and very lively vernacular, the book is almost operatic in its excesses—and that gave me great joy.
Alex is fleeing from a brutal husband with her teenage son, Ollie, and baby daughter, Kara. The Pine Ridge eco village seems like a haven but very disturbing events increase her anxiety as she wrestles with the burden of single motherhood. A boy had disappeared into thin air from the original farmhouse on the extensive property—still unsolved— and fears build that might happen again. Is there really a witch in the forest? Other denizens of Pine Ridge talk a good game of enlightenment and welcome, but Alex picks up unpleasant, suspicious undercurrents. Familiar, scary tropes, but I like enjoy suspense (on the page) and it made for an engaging read. Australian setting.