Neshama’s Choices for July 31st

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The Dog of the North by Elizabeth McKenzie   

Poor Penny. Her life has fallen apart—job and marriage kaput. So she might as well head to Santa Barbara where Dr. Pincher, her very eccentric grandmother, is in legal and practical trouble. Grandma is obdurate and won’t leave her tip of a house. Her accountant, Burt, tries to help but he’s a mess himself.  However, his derelict van, aka Dog of the North, ends up providing shelter and eventually transportation for Penny as she sets out cross-country to solve a mystery related to the literal skeletons in grandma’s closet. A picaresque tale in which I often had to suspend disbelief but was so delighted by the wacky action that I didn’t care. Who needs reality when there’s so much imaginative reading pleasure?   


Trust by Hernan Diaz   

Economics—is not a subject that usually speaks to me. But I got sucked into this four-part story of Andrew Bezel, a multi-millionaire, and his wife Mildred who prospered during the Great Depression by employing brilliant mathematical stratagems. Each section tells it from a different vantage point.  The first is a novel that casts the husband as a heartless manipulator and his wife as mentally ill. The second is an attempt by Bezel to set the record straight or at least what he wants the public to believe.  The third was by his secretary who was tasked with doing the actual writing and witnessed all the contradictions and obfuscations involved.  And in the last, we finally hear from Mildred herself. The ultimate revelations are breathtaking. (I won’t give them away). A tour de force!  


I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai   

Bodie attended Granby, a prestigious New England school after a series of tragic events beset her Midwestern family. She never fit in there though she did well enough academically, but the shocking, mysterious death of her roommate Thalia shadowed her entire time there. Omar, the school’s Black PE trainer, was convicted but police work was shoddy, and the school administration did their best to make it all go away rapidly. Years later she’s invited to teach a mini-course back at Granby and now she’s determined to find out what really happened. She finds many holes in the narrative, revelations about bad doings from a number of corners, and a raft of other potential suspects. Makkai doesn’t tie the ending up neatly, for which I was grateful. She fingers privilege and me-too action throughout. (I was fascinated to learn that she attended a similar school and has lived on campus for 21 years because that’s where her husband teaches.)   


Rosewater by Liv Little   

We meet Elsie when she’s kicked out of her apartment because the rent is in arrears. As a Brown poet without a degree, her economic prospects are grim. Julie, her best friend from childhood, takes her in but it’s tricky.  They’re attracted to each other but Julie’s unpleasant boyfriend Andrew is always around. Elsie beds various women but none develops into a relationship. She’s always late for her job at a bar which eventually folds. Her parents from Guyana don’t accept her lesbian life. Elsie wins a literary prize so things look up but heartbreak still haunts her. It takes a horrific accident to bring Elsie and Julie together. Intense emotions, sexy scenes, and vernacular language all contribute to an engaging read.