Neshama’s Choices for June 27th

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Very Cold People

In this small New England town, Ruthie doesn’t fit in. She’s poor, her parents are Italian, Jewish, and weird (mother paranoid and overprotective, father alcoholic and punitive). Manguso conveys this from Ruthie’s point of view, and it all sounds pretty awful. The horrid weather, the snootiness of rich folks, and family secrets that explain so much dysfunction. The wealth of details—toys, schoolyard games, getting her period—plunged me into the rigors and confusions of childhood with great immediacy. 

Volume Control

Subtitled Hearing in a Deafening World but there’s so much more here. Owen, a New Yorker writer, has tinnitus. He started looking at ways to mitigate the condition which unearthed a number of options, very few of which were even moderately effective. He covers it all: science, technology, history, stigma, Deaf culture, and even offers suggestions beyond conventional hearing aids in a very entertaining, cogent manner. (On a personal note, I love my hearing aids which I didn’t even realized I needed until my family pointed out how much I seemed to be missing.)  

Good Intentions

Well, the title telegraphs the ending, but I still wanted to follow Nur’s romantic, ill-starred journey. He falls for Yasmina.  Yes, she’s Muslim but she’s also Black and during their five- year relationship he never lets his family back in Pakistan know she exists. He keeps telling Yasmina he’s waiting for the “right time” and when she finally forces the issue, the meeting is a muffled, polite disaster and that’s that. At heart is Nur’s impossible attempt to please both parties and underneath, an existential hollow that pervades his psyche. English setting. Many uncomfortable truths played out with candor.  

Blacktop Wasteland

His new book was so spectacular that I immediately wanted to delve into his first novel. Here Bug is living the straight life but his reputation as a brilliant wheelman (the guy who drives the getaway car) catches up with him. He’s facing financial collapse: auto repair shop in arrears, daughter’s college tuition coming up. So he reluctantly, desperately takes on a heist that becomes a nightmare. The jewelry store was a front for bad business and competing crooks make conflicting demands on Bug that threaten his family. A bizarre and poignant detail: the Duster which is all that’s left of his dad who disappeared early on. Dad’s ghost rides shotgun and if Bug were to sell that classic car, he’d lose the connection. Lots of outrageous action which I loved, including amazing, improbable car chases. This would make an amazing movie.