Neshama’s Choices for March 28th

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Anthem

I like this author and was really looking forward to his latest.  But when I got into it, I reacted with a combination of fury and disappointment. Dystopian to the max: kids offing themselves epidemically since the future is so dire. An odd bunch of young people emerges; among them, the Prophet who seems literally and figuratively bulletproof (he designates 15 year old Simon, son of very rich parents, as savior- to- be); Bathsheba and Sampson, offspring of a survivalist, who change names and identities when they flee the woods. There’s an uber-wealthy Wizard who preys on young girls. The plot thickens, sickens, and the world goes to hell in a handbasket (with a glimmer of hope). All Too Much—I decided not to review it. But here we are because the images wouldn’t leave me, I listened to it on CD, and now embrace it. The narrator is female, but Hawley provides the brief segments of embedded commentary—politics, history, grim statistics. So much truth here amidst the sometimes seemingly improbable wild action. A workout for this reader (listener) and ultimately very worth it.  

This Is Happiness  

A well-read patron who often shares recommendations with me stopped me in my tracks.  “Let me tell you about the book that ruined reading for me.” Oh!? “The language is just too perfect—everything else pales by comparison.” (I agree, though I— and I bet he— will keep on reading.) Noe, 17, a seminary dropout, ends up back in his grandparents’ house in very rural Ireland. It’s the late ‘50s and The Electricity is finally coming to this tiny backwards village. Along with its Representative, spirited, enigmatic Christie who shows Noe a template for living an authentic, unconventional life. Deflected romance is present for both. Christie has a very old wrong to right and Noe falls hopelessly in love with each of the doctor’s three daughters. Music, story, and hilariously sodden nights in the pub are celebrated throughout. As Noe discovers, happiness dwells in the moment and often is mixed with a complex emotional palate. Right after I read it, I fired up the downloadable audio to get the music of the language straight to my ear and my heart.   

Small Pleasures  

Joan is joylessly stuck in a London suburb, burdened with a mother who Can’t Cope, and the tedium of grinding out articles for the local rag. But when the paper learns of a prospective story from Gretchen about the “miraculous” birth of her daughter Margaret 6 years ago, Joan finally gets an assignment she can run with. Since it’s 1957, scientific proof of possible parthenogenesis is a drawn-out affair and Joan becomes very close to the family, including shy Howard, a jeweler, who married Gretchen after the fact. Joan uncovers lead after lead, there are twists and turns, and a denouement that…well, you’ll find out. A very satisfying read.  

Festival Days  

These brilliant essays read like fiction, which I love. Mostly about loss: a dog, domestic ducks, a marriage, two gravely ill friends. The title piece is an amazing weave of past and present, like riding on a stream of consciousness that somehow makes perfect sense. Beard gives us direct access to her feelings, memories, and perceptions, almost like music.  Of course, I with my love of gossip want to know the identities of M (her ex) and PR, the seductress, once her friend. Even Dr. Kevorkian makes an appearance in one story. Wonderful stuff.  

No Land to Light on  

Hadi had to go back to Syria when his father died suddenly. Ready to fly back to Boston where his very pregnant wife Sara awaits, he runs afoul of a newly enacted travel ban and is stopped. It’s an utter nightmare for both. He makes many desperate forays to the American embassy with no luck.  She gives birth prematurely.  What to do? She has a hard-won fellowship at Harvard but needs and wants to be with her husband. Where can they go? War-torn Syria is no longer an option. Ultimately, she’ll join him somewhere, but without any sense of home like the constantly migrating birds that are subjects of her academic study. Poignant and atmospheric.

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