Neshama’s Choices for June 24

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Brooklyn by Tracy Brown


This novel starts with Brooklyn’s murder—whew—and then lays out what brought her to this predictably bad ending. Brooklyn’s church-based family looked perfect but was steeped in greed and grift. She flees and ends up hustling drugs with the dream of opening a legit hair salon, but we know the Life will drag her down and indeed it does, way down. Another tragedy: her brother is gay and when she blurts it out to the family in a fit of rage, he commits suicide. This is Brown’s last book—she died much too early—which adds poignancy to the sad, familiar tale.


You Are Here by Karin Lin-Greenberg


Lin-Greenberg drops us into a mall in upstate NY that is on its last legs. Tina, who cuts hair there, knows it, as does Kevin, manager of a failing bookstore. An old lady, Ro, gets her hair styled by Tina on a regular basis. Tina’s son Jackson wants to learn magic. Kevin’s wife Gwen is a poet and adjunct professor. They and two kids are squashed into a tiny house in Gwen’s mother’s yard—another one of Kevin’s enthusiasms gone awry. These and other deftly drawn characters have lots of big dreams and thwarted lives that take a shocking turn when violence erupts. Diverse ethnicities provide lively interplay, as evinced by racist Ro who comes to appreciate the Black and Asian folks who intersect her lonely life. It was a delightful read despite the embedded tragedy.


So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan


Subtitled Stories of Women and Men, these three tales reflect relationships gone asunder. In the title tale, a dense Irishman misses his chance with the woman of his dreams through a few ill-chosen phrases that reveal his limitations. In the second, a writer hoping for solitude at a retreat in a famous dead writer’s cottager is bedeviled by a visitor who insists she shows him around and then turns vicious when she’s had enough of his overbearing presence. In the third, a wife on a solo holiday falls in with a seductive fellow with very dire consequences. It’s a slim volume that packs a punch—Keegan writes with restraint and clarity that delivers up home truths.


The Enemy Beside Me by Naomi Ragen


Milia from Tel Aviv agrees to be a keynote speaker at a conference in Lithuania. Her work: Nazi hunting, no matter how old the perpetrators. Her family was wiped out there during the Holocaust, but that country’s stance whitewashes history and declares that some of the worst actors were partisan heroes who protected the Jews. Her host Darius, a professor, hopes that the event will start to reverse this outrageous perspective. Milia’s long marriage to a surgeon has been under stress. When her first talk at a high school stirs up threatening backlash, their planned itinerary must be scuttled. In retreat, Darius and Milia are challenged by their chemistry. Will she /won’t she break her marriage vows, and will the keynote actually take place? Ragen uses archival material to great effect and has created an eye-opening look at yet another historical atrocity with contemporary ramifications.