Neshama’s Choices for June 10

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Memory Piece by Lisa Ko

In this novel which ranges from the 1980s to 2040, three teenage Asian-American girls connect through their rebellious natures and artistic urges. Giselle becomes a performance artist, developing rigorous year-long works, including the eponymous offering in which she writes everything down, and then burns the journals. Jackie falls into the tech world; Ellen ends up in a large squat in Brooklyn. Each enterprise gets distorted, and then destroyed by money and power. Now in 2040, in a police state characterized by scarcity and fear, they come together in a remote New Mexico location to create a possible future. Ko makes each of their spheres come alive, often uncomfortably so, but shows how the skills that they developed disparately could be harnessed into hope for the future.

Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane

Another ironic title because mercy is in short shrift in Boston circa ’74. Integrating their schools is in the works, and the poor, primarily Irish neighborhoods that are targeted are up in arms. Mary Pat has already lost her husband, who left because of the hate she exuded vis-a-vis this subject. Her son died of an OD. Her daughter’s gone missing. She’s always been a fierce fighter, so when she learns of her daughter’s murder, she has nothing left to lose and wields her considerable strength and street smarts to bring down members of the cabal who were responsible. Along the way, she starts to recognize the universality of mothers’ grief through her Black nursing home coworker whose son was killed in the incident that involved her daughter. A brutal environment in which loyalty, hypocrisy, and rampant prejudice play out grimly. A powerful read.

Wandering Stars by Tommy Orange

From the mid-1800s to present-day Oakland, the far-flung members of the Star family share their intense, mostly tragic stories. Denied their culture, snared by alcohol and drugs, and deeply confused about their identities, especially for those of mixed race. The story starts with a massacre in Colorado which we learn about via Charles whose writings keep surfacing piecemeal as subsequent relatives discover them. We also hear from whites who thought they were uplifting the “savages” by ripping them away from their families and schooling them brutally in institutions. Some Stars turn to surreptitious, outlawed rituals for succor and clarity; others get sober, but it’s always a struggle. Orange tells it like it is—a coruscating tale.

Fruit of the Dead by Rachel Lyons

A retelling of that Greek myth in which Persephone descends into the underworld. Our present-day version features Cory, 17, who’s at loose ends. A counselor at summer camp, she’s spotted by Rolo, a pharmaceutical magnate, who witnesses her rapport with his troubled young son Spenser. She’s spirited off to a fabled island to be Spenser’s nanny for the rest of the summer with a strict NDA in place. Cory’s single mother Emer is frantic and determined to find and rescue her. Rolo’s product, a drug nicknamed Granny, is very seductive and of course, Cory can’t resist. The idyllic island scene turns dark by degrees, as Rolo reveals his true nature: a manipulative monster hidden under a suave, genial carapace. In a clever parallel thread, Emer, who’s CEO of an NGO, discovers that the “magic rice” she’s promised the Chinese won’t grow. From ancient times to our times, the themes keep repeating. Well-done.