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In Southern California there are folk throughout its history who tend to get overlooked: Native Americans, South of the Border settlers, and immigrants who work in the fields and on the ranches. Straight first introduces us to Johnny, who’s a mix of these; he’s a highway patrol officer that sometimes pits him against his homies. There’s a devastating secret buried in his past, and elements of that long-ago event resurface to stir things up. Santa Ana winds, racial tensions, and COVID all contribute to mounting tension. Straight captures the beauty of the landscape, the complexity of cultural and economic crosscurrents, and delivers us at last to said Mecca, the date-growing town in which many aspects of this complex community can come together to celebrate, at least for a day.
Subtitled A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in Climate Change (whew). When I started this slim book, it seemed so packed with history and science that I decided I’d just skim it for information. But soon became entranced by the magic and richness of these regions that get very little appreciation. They’re thought of as messy and in the path of “progress,” but are actually sources of essential, healthy habitat on a large and small scale. So the reading experience was like wading through a swamp—sometimes arduous but very rewarding if you pay attention. And attention must be paid!
What if we actually knew the measure of our days, i.e. how long we would live? Well that’s the bold precept of this novel. One day mysterious small boxes arrive for everyone on earth over the age of 22. (First challenge of suspending disbelief but I had to find out more.) They contain pieces of string. Of course you have a choice, and some people choose not to find out their fates, but the bulk do and this throws many lives into disarray. Now new prejudices arise: short-stringers vs long ones. The story is played out with a variety of characters-- some noble, some scurrilous—and I sometimes found touches of sentimentality besmirching my enjoyment but perhaps (true confessions) that’s because I’m a bit of a snob. Fascinating regardless.
Baba Yaga’s hut on chicken legs and her two grandchildren appear in modern times—what a concept! It arrives on a cargo ship from Europe, a puzzling legacy for Bellatine and Isaac. She’s led a quiet life in the sticks; he’s an itinerant trickster. Why not turn it into a traveling puppet theater for a year and make some bucks? But there’s a villain, Longfellow, who wants to destroy the hut with dire implications for society, so the book contains much suspense as well as delicious mythology. By the way, the hut itself has a voice and fills us in on history as well as the big picture.