Neshama’s Choices for July 5th

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Black Widows

Oh those renegade polygamists in Utah—endlessly fascinating to me. Blake has 3 wives on his isolated property and fetches up murdered. Each has motivation—they don’t exactly get along—but the tale is much more tangled than expected. First wife Rachel seems rigidly traditional, Emily is young and naive, Tina from Las Vegas has a checkered past. Between them, in fits and starts, they manage to corner the perpetrator in a scary denouement. All the characters gain depth as the story progresses. (But one detail made me crazy: Tina steals a car but how does she start it?)

Broken (in the Best Possible Way)

I’ve enjoyed her comic essays hugely and somehow didn’t realize the extent of the physical and mental challenges she faces.  Here we learn about them smack in the kisser, as it were, and it’s sometimes painful but leavened with her incredible humor, a big dose of perspective, and even hope.  A celebration of imperfection including shares from readers about their bloopers that had me cringing and gasping with snorts of laughter. Some of the material went bit over the top for me, but you can pick and choose.

Early Morning Riser

In a small town in Michigan, Duncan has cut quite a swath through the ladies.  Young June falls hard and they live together but she really wants Commitment which won’t happen. They break up, time goes by, and then an unfortunate accident orphans Duncan’s simple-minded coworker, Jimmy, who’s incapable of living on his own. The three reconstitute as a family—marriage at last—but of course it’s not the romantic scene she’d been hoping for. Duncan has managed to keep in good graces with his previous lovers, especially ex-wife Aggie who turns out to be very helpful, if crazy-making. A bitter-sweet celebration of the imperfections of life and a very satisfying read.

The Elephant of Belfast

What’s said pachyderm doing on the streets of Belfast in 1940? Following zookeeper Hettie from the docks to the zoo. The two form a special bond which becomes essential when orders come down to kill all the big animals as bombing increases and they might get loose and threaten the populace. Hettie and Violet find shelter in a convent and in her back yard until the officials get too preoccupied by other pressing crises to notice her return. A quietly charming read.

Painting Time

When Paula decides to study what some consider mere decorative art—trompe l’œil—her parents are dismissive. It turns out to be an incredibly exacting discipline and the yearlong course in Brussels is exhausting, demanding, often discouraging. After completion, she has a rough start but keeps at it doggedly and finally finds her feet. A nomadic, pressured existence, starting with small jobs and advancing to stage and movie sets. We discover the profound aspects of recreating surfaces that “fool the eye “which include deep dives into history and natural science. Kerangel writes with lapidary intensity. I got caught up in the story and learned a lot along the way.

Back next week.