Neshama’s Choices for February 19th

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The Women by Sommer Schafer  

Astonishing short stories, many with glittering facades and very dark underbellies. The women in them seem to be living good lives until something gets in the way. And when it does, all manner of revenge springs up. In one, an adorable pet puts its very sharp teeth to good use on its owner; she accepts this without reservation-- what we do for love… In another, a gigantic snake, once treasured, gets to be too much and meets its fate via its owner’s knife. Ghosts appear trees become malevolent, women try to gain control of escalating chaos, and very often succeed, but at what cost? I loved the familiar settings in which fantastical events kept erupting. You never know. (Full disclosure: Sommer is my colleague at the Fairfax Library and edits this blog.) 

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby  

What are Frankie and her younger sister Toni doing in this orphanage in Chicago when they still have a father? Well, their mother has died, and his nasty new wife, Ada, and her children now take precedence. The two siblings suffer under the Catholic nuns’ repressive regime, and WWII is on the horizon. A ghost from time gone by haunts the environs and provides a fascinating perspective and backstory. When the girls are kicked out of the orphanage, their father takes them back, but their lives are still miserable under his tight control. Frankie is brilliant, has considerable gumption, and eventually manages to extricate herself and Toni. The action ranges from ’41 to ’45, plus journeys into the past via commentary from the articulate, poignant ghost. It is categorized as a teen book but is for anyone who treasures a thoughtful, atmospheric, historical story.  


America Fantastica by Tim O’Brien  

There’s a new COVID-type infection sweeping the country called mythomania. Everyone’s lying, and the more outrageous, the better. In such a crazy climate, a mild-mannered fellow named Boyd robs a bank in his hometown of Fulda, CA, and sets out on a wild road trip with Angie, the bank clerk who was on duty.  How do they get away with it? Because the bank’s operations are so crooked, the institution’s president and his dragon lady wife can’t afford scrutiny. Besides, Boyd’s current account pretty much equals the amount he lifted. The pair (she’s supposedly his hostage but seems to be having fun) range from Mexico to Minnesota; greedy villains and mean folks abound. This is a hilarious book; it is heady and right on target.  


Holding the Note by David Remnick  

Subtitled Profiles in Popular Music. These pieces appeared in the New Yorker and covered many artists, from Leonard Cohen to Bruce Springsteen to Pavarotti. They combine deeply personal material (Remnick hung out extensively with his subjects) with historical perspectives and the business of being a performer. Most of the musicians are now old (or dead), and the essays explore what it’s like to keep going or retreat, depending on inclination or capacity, throughout, no matter what genre, the joys of making music shine.