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Short stories, told almost effortlessly. Often with weird coincidences (the surrealism of everyday life) that have philosophical overtones. Music often plays in (from Schumann to Charlie Parker), and there’s a piece on baseball. (Not my thing by he’s so engaging that I took myself out to the ballgame.). The first-person narration creates an easy intimacy—the person you want next to you on a bar stool or in a bus. And oh that talking monkey…This new collection is a delight.
Subtitled A Memoir of Autism and Hope. Emily’s well-educated well-fixed parent did everything at their disposal to help their difficult, non-verbal daughter. Gilpin, mother and lawyer, enlisted and battled every educational and medical establishment she could find but there was no headway until they went for Facilitated Communication in which a helper enabled Emily to express herself via computer. They’d always known something powerful and profound lived inside Emily but what came out was breathtaking— extremely articulate, often poetic. Emily had always been quite the observer and most often bored by schoolwork. The challenge of working with autism remains and it gave me pause to think of what families without such resources face.
Edie, a would-be artist, has a modest publishing job going nowhere and many sexual encounters that don’t amount to much. She’s laid off, then gets involved with Eric, an archivist with an open (uh-oh) marriage. She ends up weirdly entangled with Eric’s household. Their unhappy adopted daughter, Akila, is Black like Edie and a tentative relationship grows between them. (Finally someone who knows how to treat Akila’s hair.) Edie gets pregnant, has an abortion, and finally removes herself from that toxic family stew. At first I was disturbed by what seemed like constant abasement through sexual acting-out, but by the end recognized how many aspects of the Black experience were reflected in Edie’s story.
It’s 1968 and an unfortunate film production is in the works. The script is lame, a pop star gets dragged in, and egos are rampant. Partners screw each other, the leading lady disappears—catastrophe abounds. Lots of opportunities for satire and Boyd milks them very effectively. All this against the background of those tumultuous times in England. Fun!
Subtitled The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. May felt squeezed by the pressures of her job as a college instructor, various somatic difficulties, her kid, and general malaise. The frantic activity of her life had to stop when she took a leave and took stock. She learns to appreciate and eventually embrace the cold, the bleak, the slow, the subtle beauty, and other aspects of this season which many of us just want to get through. Personal narrative plus fascinating takes on rituals, holidays, literature, and how people in very cold climates manage. Like polar plunges, which for one woman serve as a very effective remedy for her bipolar condition. May takes us month by month and makes a strong case for acknowledging the riches this season can offer, literally and figuratively.
Back next week.