Neshama’s Choices for July 24th

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White Cat, Black Dog by Kelly Link   

These short stories are fairy tale variations by an ingenious, witty fantasist. She braids the timeless sense of wonder which imbues such tales with anachronistic settings that bring them scarily alive in the present time. Like the guy who gets a weird house-sitting gig in which he intends to finish his dissertation. There are strict, simple house rules and though he manages to comply despite many distractions and confusions, fate comes for him at the end. Not all stories worked for me, but the majority held me in thrall. 


Small World by Laura Zigman    

Small World is the name of a neighborhood posting site in Cambridge, MA.  But it also describes the daily challenges that Joyce faces.  She’s divorced and was doing fine until her sister Lydia moved in. They’ve been out of touch. Here’s why:  Lydia is a world-class shit-disturber. Joyce’s comforts— her job archiving family histories and making poems out of poignant Small World listings— start to erode as Lydia rearranges her furniture and alienates Joyce’s few friends.It doesn’t help that new upstairs neighbors have constant mysterious noisy gatherings. At the heart of the sisters’ mutual pain and dysfunction is their disabled sister Eleanor whose care and early death skewed family dynamics radically. But things aren’t what they seem and folks who present as inimical initially reveal more positive dimensions. Wicked humor and redeeming tenderness make for a tasty mix.   


Third Girl From the Left by Christine Barker   

This is an intense memoir that follows the author from her early days as a would-be dancer to Chorus Line, the smash-hit musical where she occupies the title’s role, to the heartbreak of AIDS in the mid-'80s, which decimates her world. Among the victims were the musical’s creator, director, and her own brother who was the closeted partner of designer Perry Ellis. The rigors of training, the toll a performing life takes on relationships, and the agony of her parents (and much of society’s) denial of the reality of AIDS take a tremendous toll. Vivid writing, riveting.  


The Boy in the Field by Margot Livesey    

Was he just sleeping in the grass? No, as these three siblings Matt, Zoe, and Duncan discovered on their way home from school. They called for help, saved the mysterious young man’s life, and that watershed moment changed them all significantly.  Matthew at 18 searches for whomever stabbed the young man. Zoe, 16, develops a serious crush on a college student from abroad. Young Duncan, skilled in the art, now wants to contact his birth mother. (He knew he’d been adopted but hadn’t given it much thought). Their parents are supportive but tensions have started to fray their long relationship. Chapters present the narrative from each kid’s perspective. Beautiful characterizations enrich a subtle, multifaceted tale.