Neshama’s Choices for June 28th

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Monogamy

Annie, a reserved photographer, is married to Graham, a warm, larger than life bookstore owner. His former marriage broke up because of his philandering but he’s still friends with former wife Frieda. Graham’s vowed to change his ways but temptation arises and Annie senses a distance.  Then he dies unexpectedly and we follow Annie into her baffled widowhood where she learns what went awry in their marriage and tries to make sense of a life without him. Relationships are multilayered and Miller explores the loyalties and lapses within them deftly.  Boston setting.

The Music of Bees

Alice, a young widow, is not happy with her dull job; her only solace comes from the bees she keeps. Two unlikely young men come into her life: Jake who’s in a wheelchair and Harry whose cantankerous uncle has just died, leaving him out in the street. Alice needs help with the bees. Turns out Jake, who has musical talent, tunes into creatures with great attention and affinity. He’s also a fine cook. And Harry does the grunt work and gets into kite surfing which provides considerable healing. Beekeepers and orchardists band together to resist a big pesticide company’s blitz—their product is especially deadly for bee life. The author, from Hood River, Oregon, knows whereof she speaks and conveys the pleasures and tensions of her community vividly.

My Year Abroad

Nineteen-year-old Tiller (what a name!) runs into Pong, an entrepreneur, who plucks him from his dish washing job to accompany him throughout Asia. From tasting flavors at various eateries like WTFYo! in New Jersey to Honolulu to China, staying in elegant accommodations, and getting involved with increasingly strange enterprises. After a series of wild adventures, Pong disappears and Tiller finds himself holed up with Val and her son Victor Jr back in Stagno, NJ, supported by Pong’s apparently bottomless credit card. We also learn how Pong rose from his miserable roots in Communist China. This is all positively picaresque, amazingly imaginative, quite improbable, and it left me gasping with delight.

Passing Strange

In San Francisco in the ‘40s, lesbian life can be dangerous, especially if you’re Chinese. Helen Young takes her friend Haskell, an artist, to Mona’s Club. The singer, a boyish-looking Spike, captivates Haskell and they become a couple until Haskell’s husband -at- large, a sailor, returns and threatens them. How to escape? Well there’s a fascinating Sci-Fi twist with an origami portal and a hermetically-sealed painting, hidden for decades until…Full of local color and a glimpse into the complexities of the gay scene back then.

The Survivors

In this Tasmanian beach town, a barmaid ends up dead.  Twelve years ago a big storm claimed three lives. Was Kieran the cause of his brother’s death? What happened to Gabby—her backpack washed up but her body was never found. Tensions and suspicions still fester. Caves, dangerous at high tides, hold the final clue. Harper’s work is deep and subtle. It took me awhile to sort out the characters but when I figured out the relationships, I was spellbound.


Back next week.

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