Neshama’s Choices for June 17

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The Parliament by Aimee Pokhara

What if you were trapped in a library by a murmuration of tiny, carnivorous owls?  That’s the setup of this mesmerizing, terrifying story.  Mad (for Madigan) gets roped into doing an after-school science activity (making bath bombs—remember those?) with a mixed bag of teenagers. She’s a disaffected scientist unhappy with her life and has very little experience with kids. Boy. does she face a steep learning curve? Twenty-eight folks are stuck in there with diminishing supplies and increasing threats for a very fraught week or so. One ongoing distraction: reading a peculiar book aloud; The Silent Queen becomes uncannily resonant with what they’re undergoing. A fascinating wrinkle: the library building used to be a bank so there’s a vault and a pneumatic tube for messages. Magnificent—in my book!

Black Widows by Cate Quinn

These three sister-wives couldn’t be more different.  Rachel, the first wife, is a devout LDS follower but has a traumatic, hidden past. Emily is very young, skittish, and similarly scarred.  Tina was an addict in Vegas and met Blake, husband of them all when she got sober. Then Blake ends up murdered. It had not been a peaceful household, isolated way out in the desert. Each wife in turn is accused, and then released when evidence shows otherwise. They form unlikely alliances to get to the truth of the matter. A juicy mystery.  Note: the English author has the characters speaking in vernacular, dropping g’s, for instance.

American Spirits by Russell Banks

These three novellas all take place in a town called Sam Bent in upstate New York. In the first, there’s an ongoing conflict between a down-at-the-heels fellow who sold off much of his family’s acreage to a sinister newcomer who still wants hunting rights.  In the second, newcomers move next door to a lesbian couple and their four adopted Black children.  That tale, which ends in nearby Ausable Chasm, has its roots in a true story of murder/suicide. The third features an old couple who are settling into retirement until their strange grandson gets mixed up with very bad actors. The original Sam Bent, the town founder, is a well-drawn example of everything wrong with our colonial history. Note: two of the three protagonists are Trump supporters. Heavy-duty material is drawn with a very deft hand.

Somehow by Anne Lamont

Subtitled Some Thoughts on Love. Big subject—huh? But if you live as Annie does, keeping an eye out for whatever manifests in “ordinary” life that reflects these “beams of love,” you too can be reassured that love surrounds us, no matter how funkily it shows up. I’ve had the half-century privilege of being Annie’s close friend, so I’ve seen how these pieces develop from the smallest hint to the most devastating setbacks. She brings you into her personal life, no holds barred, so you can have an intimate experience with her as well. Candor, beauty, humor—my recipe for nourishing food for the soul. Her fans already know this, but if you’re new to her work, welcome to the feast.