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In Montreal, our protagonist is in hot water. A graphic arts student with a terrible gambling addiction, he’s blown all his money and time on game machines. He’s supposed to be creating a cover for a death metal album and the advance is gone. So by necessity he’s plunged into the seamy, steamy world of dish pits and bus pans and choleric chefs in the kitchen as contrasted with the relaxed luxury of the front of the house. Drugs and alcohol mess things up even further. A little challenging to take in all those local place names and lots of pop music references that were outside my ken, but worth it for experiencing the intensity of a hidden world on the page.
Our protagonist has a stressful job in Sydney: patching through distress calls; Australia is huge and place names are challenging. Drinking, drugs, and random hookups don’t diminish her daily grind of misery. Pining over an ex makes it worse. Swimming provides some relief. What does the title refer to? The hope that in the middle of this arid land, rivers met to create said body of water that would make the desert bloom. An ancestor of hers, an explorer, was the source of what turned out to be a myth. Sometimes dreamlike and mystifying yet grounded in evocative scenes and metaphors about the human condition.
A semi-autobiographical novel that introduces us to his family through episodes that eventually link up. It starts with the Mehmed’s heart attack, shifts to a Southwestern road trip with his grown son, a photographer, makes periodic detours to Sarajevo and beyond, and ends with his wife’s stroke. What initially seems like a series of anecdotes weaves into a deeply felt narrative of love and human frailty. Some fine drawings as well.
Smith is sui generis. I don’t know how she does it. In this fourth of her “season” books, she introduces us to Sasha, 16, a fierce idealist; her brilliant brother Robert, 13, who channels Einstein and plays diabolical pranks; and their dreamy mother Charlotte, a poet who is less than attentive to her offspring. Then they encounter another family by chance and these lives become intertwined. An old man’s memories of WWII play in. Smith takes us into the free-floating perceptions of each character that feel like direct transmission. So many themes like global warming (summer, indeed), immigration, and Covid-19 are explored in collage-like form. Even though the book is far from linear, it makes extraordinary “sense.” My head was spinning when I finished reading, and I felt as if I had been invited into a very special theater of the absurd which happens to be present-day reality.
I listened to this psychological thriller in the car and was on tenterhooks between trips. A classic setup worthy of Agatha Christie: the isolated country inn, the ice storm, a small group of guests dropping like flies. Suspicion ricochets around, paranoia builds, and of course it’s the one you’d least suspect—spoiler alert but predictable. The author left out one reveal, though (what was Gwen’s heinous act in the past?) so if anyone who reads the book can tell me if I missed it, let me know.
Back next week.