Neshama’s Choices for July 3rd

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Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro   

In ’85 a fatal car crash on Division Street upends the lives of teenage siblings Sarah and Theo. (Sarah took the rap though Theo was driving.)  Neighbor Ben, a doctor on the scene, has a profound connection to this family that is unacknowledged. Theo moves back to the neighborhood with wife and son Waldo, a strange, star-obsessed kid who is then befriended by Ben. Chapters toggle between eras and the puzzle of what drives the characters gradually fills in as their long-held secrets emerge. The setting: suburban “Avalon” in Northern California. Haunting.   


Real Easy by Marie Rutkowski   

A thriller featuring dancers in a very sleazy strip club run by a dictatorial boss who says he only has his girls’ “best interests” at heart but actually exploits them to a fare-thee-well. Girls start to disappear, and a few of the dancers try to help Holly, the detective working on the case, but Holly has problems of her own. Short chapters from various characters’ points of view provide insight into a disturbing underworld. The title’s ironic, for sure.   


A History of Present Illness by Anna Deforest   

The first chapter plunks us into the lab with the cadavers, an essential part of training and a frame for what follows.  We then move through this young neurologist’s hospital practice, getting to know her patients. Among them is Ada, who’s becoming “erased” by her illness. The chapter headings, like the book’s title, all come from charting terminology. We also learn about her private life and strong feelings about societal ills, all subtly interwoven in this mosaic of her experiences. Intriguing. Note: the author’s a neurologist herself. I always wonder how much is autofiction.   


Trailed by Kathryn Miles    

Subtitled One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders. Journalist Mills first learned about the tragedy as a student at Unity College in Maine which has a freewheeling program with a strong outdoor education component.  Lolly, one of the victims, went there in ’96. She and her lover Julie were found not far off the Appalachian Trail, brutally slain. Mills, shadowed by her own trauma, has pursued the baffling, frustrating case up to the present day. The shoddy investigation, cover-ups by the National Park Service which didn’t want to alarm visitors, and prosecuting a man who was eventually exonerated by the Innocence Project. No real closure but she did eventually identify a possible perpetrator, now dead. An intense mix of obsession, dogged research, and social commentary.  Fascinating.