Neshama’s Choices for December 4th

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No Exit by Taylor Adams

I like thrillers and this was recommended through Book Riot, a rich source.  I started to read it and realized I’d read it a while ago (2017) but was sucked in again despite recalling the plot: a highway rest stop in a blizzard, a little girl in a cage in a van in the parking lot, and Darby, who just stumbled into this disturbing scene and needs to take action against all odds. It’s over the top—things are definitely not what they seem—but I hung onto every word. Sometimes it’s fun to be scared —on the page.  


Cotton Candy by Ted Kooser  

Subtitled Poems Dipped Out of the Air. Kooser, US Poet Laureate a while back, has always been a favorite of mine. This new collection blew me away and re-calibrated my awareness of the miracles in everyday life. For instance, the beauty (!) of a plastic bag flying across the road. Or a leaf dangling from a strand of spider web. Wind and weather animate these poems and move from very specific—at times surprisingly anthropomorphic—to deliver spacious yet grounded insights.   


The Vaster Wilds by Lauren Groff  

The protagonist, known as the girl, is very small which helps her escape from a nightmarish situation: a famine-ridden settlement where she’s just stabbed her master to death. “Rescued” from an orphanage at 4, servant to a rich family, but when her vain widowed mistress marries a honey-tongued, handsome minister, he takes them across the sea, and it all turns sour. The girl must keep hidden during the day and find rest and food wherever possible as she makes her way north. Wild animals, inimical terrain, and thoughts of her sins present enormous challenges. Groff uses bits of archaic language very naturally and the book has immediacy— visceral, painful, and sometimes even exultant. Magnificent! 


Wellness by Nathan Hill  

Elizabeth works on a project that tests placebo effects.  Guess what? Often the results are as positive for those taking placebos as compared with actual remedies.  It’s a matter of belief. Meanwhile, her marriage to Jack, which started out romantically in Chicago’s art world, is now stuck in conventional middle-aged megrims, not helped by their fussy little son Toby. Hill traces the couples’ family histories through the ages, and it turns out they were part of the source of the many ills we’re dealing with today, like greed, exploitation, and environmental despoilment. This is a brilliant book that kind of exhausted me but worth it for the trenchant insights.