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Bell and Sigh recognize each other’s reclusive natures early on and follow through by moving to a very obscure cottage in Ireland. They have their dogs for company but keep their distance from the tiny village except for sporadic, essential forays. It’s a study in entropy as the house gets progressively funkier and their lives become increasingly bound by ritual. Every year they consider climbing the adjacent mountain. By the eighth they finally achieve the gentle summit with its view of said steeples. Mysterious, lyrical, deeply planted in the natural world. At times I wasn’t sure what I was reading—a novel? a poem? a meditation?— but got so caught up in its spell, I didn’t care.
I knew about the horrors of the Tuskegee syphilis experiments on Black men, but this novel brings another outrage into shocking focus: the forced sterilization of Black women as “family planning” in the ‘70s. Civil, a young nurse, discovers this practice at her first job in Montgomery, AL. Many victims signed consent forms unaware; some were illiterate, some (as in the case of two sisters, 12 and 14) were very young. Civil tries to help this benighted family with very mixed results and eventually enlists a lawyer to change legislation. It’s a rocky, dangerous, discouraging path. Based on a true case, and yes, they finally “won,”, but what an arduous process with so much heartbreak along the way. History brought to life.
The Dunnes rent out many houses in this New Jersey town and the business is holding together until Brian is stricken with a brain tumor. His behavior becomes erratic and bizarre and it’s all Margot can do to keep things going with sporadic, reluctant help from their teenage daughters, Eve and Liz. Both girls have jobs on the boardwalk and typical adolescent angst. When Brian turns terminal there’s the weight of waiting as well. Margot is determined to make a new life for them elsewhere when he dies, and the kids are fiercely resistant. Evy even creates an false identity on her mom’s support group site to keep abreast of plans and throw in her two cents. This is the kind of domestic drama I love—engaging, realistic, no sugar-coating.
Those old fairy tales have legs, as it were, which Adelmann demonstrates vividly by bringing familiar protagonists like Little Red Riding Hood and Gretel into a present-day trauma support group run by a smooth, creepy fellow with ulterior motives. Reality TV plays an essential role—is that the contemporary version of fantasy made manifest? Witty, insightful, and full of fascinating details. Like Little Red who won’t take off her funky fur coat made of that wolf’s skin no matter how hot it gets.