This installment: a delicious Kinsella (f); a mystifying Japanese relationship (f); fabulous accessible poetry (nf); a weird relationship in Big Sur (f); and a magnificent memoir by a Disability artist (nf).
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Whenever I need a break, I turn to this delightful, prolific author and am never disappointed. Here we have Fixie, true to her nickname, who’s trying to keep the Farr family store functioning despite her brother’s overblown plans and her dreamy sister’s shifting interests. (Mom is taking a break on the Continent after a health scare.) In a cafe, the ceiling collapses and she rescues Sebastian’s laptop; hence their ongoing exchange. There’s a Bad Boyfriend, Ryan, and series of misunderstandings and calamities that almost scuttle the relationship we know is waiting in the wings. That’s the rom-com formula, but Kinsella writes with such brio—details like Sebastian’s “frondy” hair—that I’m absolutely fine with it.
At 38, Tsukiko keeps running into her old high school Japanese teacher, whom she still refers to as Sensei. She was a mediocre student but there’s something that keeps bringing them together repeatedly. He’s a testy widower and she’s a detached introvert but they both start to look forward to their drinks and meals, and excursions: Mushroom hunting, cherry blossom viewing, a bizarre festival on school grounds, and a visit to an island where his wife is buried. They spar over baseball teams, he quotes Basho—it’s a very strange pairing but ultimately—well, you’ll find out…Surrealistic, elegiac, haunting.
One of my favorite poets, now 80, deeply lodged in the Great Plains, and incredibly observant. A man shuffling down the street, a woman watering her petunias, someone lighting a pipe—so ordinary yet so freighted with meaning. Many are shadowed with the passing of time, a few are quite funny, and all are extremely accessible.
I almost gave up on this: young people drifting hither and yon, self-indulgent and deeply neurotic. But they got to me and I’m glad I persevered. Leif and Oola end up in a cabin in Big Sur. She’s very tall, mysterious, and quixotic. Is he in love with her or does he want to be her? Is she his muse? (He’s supposedly writing about her but mostly trying to meet her radically shifting needs and moods.) S & M creeps in; Leif often wears Kona’s clothes. As you can imagine, it doesn’t end well. Kinky, for sure, and haunting.
The author was born in Cincinnati to an upper-class Jewish couple already beset by tragedy. spina bifida, many operations (often botched) and a fierce mother who overprotected her but loved her deeply. Art saved her; a series of relationships with men and women helped as well. She is now much exhibited, a professor, and a Disability activist. Many of her fascinating portraits appear in the book. Bracing intelligence, huge talent, and great candor. A celebration of the beauty in difference.
Back next week.