Neshama’s Choices for February 5th

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The Memory of Animals by Claire Fuller  

Neffy, part Greek, part English, is writing letters to H, mainly about the nature of octopuses.  She’s sequestered, more like trapped, in a medical facility as part of a paid clinical trial to test a vaccine against the dreadful, fatal Dropsy. Among the five subjects still alive, she’s the only one who got both the disease and the vaccine and survived. Everyone else, staff included, has either deserted or succumbed. Yahiko hoards supplies. Piper inventories and rations them out. Biracial Leon has created a device that allows users to revisit memories viscerally. Neffy gets hooked on it and “visits” her father in Greece, her mom in London, and her lover, who’s also her stepbrother, stranded in Dorset. The five run out of food, flee, and all die except for Neffy and her newborn, part of the plan to “save the human race.” Who’s H? She released the octopus back into the ocean and got fired from her job at the aquarium.  The pandemic and octopuses—juicy material.  


Pete and Alice in Maine by Caitlin Shetterly  

Another pandemic novel.  The family retreats from NYC to their summer cottage. Pete, a slick charmer who works in finance, is resistant to the plan, as are their daughters— Sophie, 12, and Iris, 5. But Alice is determined. Left back in the city is “Her,” Pete’s intermittent mistress; Alice discovered Her via Pete’s phone and is seething. What a petri dish for emotional intensity to erupt, and indeed it does. An additional source of tension comes from the locals, who are hostile to the interlopers. Family members ricochet between squabbles, fights, and times of pleasure and function.  The back story: Alice was an aspiring writer when she met Pete but got sucked into domesticity and had to give it up.  Iris’s premature birth didn’t help. Shetterly gets to the heart of family dysfunction with well-delineated descriptions of betrayal, compromise, and what remains.  


Nervous by Jen Soriano  

Subtitled Essays on Heritage and Healing. Part memoir, part manifesto, this book masterfully interweaves personal testimony with history and science. Jen experiences chronic pain, which has led her to explore the connection between generational trauma and clogged systems in the body, in society, and the environment. She grew up in Chicago. Her father was a neurosurgeon who was fiercely ambitious and subsumed by work; her mother a pharmacist who is germ-phobic, withholding, and immensely guarded. Jen’s diagnoses: a form of PTSD plus other conditions. She’s pursued many therapies. Music, love, and activism all get her through. She was in a Bay Area rock band with a social justice focus for ten years. She then moved to Seattle, had a child, and visited her homeland in the Philippines often to ferret her personal and societal history.  Eye-opening and stirring.  


North Woods by Daniel Mason  

Setting: Western Massachusetts through history. The book starts in a little hut during the Puritan settlers' time. That primitive dwelling morphs through decades into a much-renovated home with many owners and ghosts until it crumbles to ruin in our time.  The surrounding forest also goes through radical changes with clearing, planting, infestations, and man-made destruction. We meet many memorable characters, including a man obsessed with apples, a poet and a painter who have a clandestine relationship in the woods (both male, both married), and a schizophrenic who becomes the voice of the land and its residents as he roams through the forest incessantly. Interspersed are lyrics of ballads that relate to the stories, historical memorabilia, and even a hilarious description of the sex life of bugs.  All these elements interrelate with intensity, bringing me deep into the woods on many levels. A wonder!