Neshama’s Choices for January 31st

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A Carnival Of Snackery

In these brilliantly curated diary entries spanning 2003 to 2020, we get inside Sedaris’s very wiggy head and see how he mines so much of his life for material.  (As a compulsive journal-keeper, I’m in awe.) He’s infinitely curious and often uses book-signing to chat with each acolyte. He’s also often outrageous, politically incorrect, and can be downright mean. When he writes about his large family, some tenderness and melancholy creep in; they are as eccentric as he is. I both read it and listened to it.  His inflections are priceless. 

The Unseen World

Ada has a very unusual growing up.  Her father David used a surrogate and wanted to give her the childhood he wished he’d had, so he homeschools her and brings her to the university lab where he’s developing a prototype of an interactive computer program. She’s as gifted as he is but it all starts to crumble when he is stricken with early Alzheimer’s. Now a teenager, she tries to cope but when he’s institutionalized, she ends up living with a colleague’s family. Then a dark secret emerges and David ’s very identity is up for question.  It takes decades to unravel the mystery; the key is a code he concocted long ago. Absolutely fascinating. 

The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven

In the early 1900s the eponymous adventurer travels from the big city to the far reaches of the Arctic. He’s penniless, works in a mine, gets seriously injured, and ends up carving out a fraught, solitary existence. Help comes from a trapper’s tutelage, a connection with a benevolent Scottish geologist, and the essential company of a dog. Then a rebellious niece shows up and leaves him with her baby! The girl shows the grit and skill needed to survive out there and Sven does amazingly well by her—a big surprise. I love books like these—people making a life in the most challenging of circumstances—and this fills the bill very well. 

The Natural Way of Things

Young women are abducted and end up back of beyond in the Australian outback. They’ve all transgressed, supposedly, and this setup is designed to break them and bring them into submissive compliance. But the scheme is terribly flawed. Two men and a woman are their jailers, brutal and dense. The mastermind takes so long time coming that food runs out and everyone turns feral. Shades of The Handmaid’s Tale, including being chained up and wearing beak-like headgear. I had to suspend disbelief (the girls could have overpowered them) but I was held in thrall by the vivid writing and overall weirdness.

The Living Sea of Waking Dreams

Surrealism from the get go, as various parts of Anna start to disappear, starting with a finger. No one seems to notice. Meanwhile her old mother is dying in Tasmania. Anna know she’s ready to go but a forceful brother convinces his two siblings that she must be given every chance. Thus commences an unremitting grotesquery of interventions that lead from bad to worse. Anna has a life in Sydney but keeps flying back for the postponed deathwatch. Yes, this sounds extremely weird, but it made intrinsic sense to me, especially in these equally weird times. Doesn’t help that smoke and fires are everywhere. Powerful.