Neshama’s Choices for May 13

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Village in the Dark by Iris Yamashita 

Cara’s husband and son have disappeared on a hike in the Alaska wilderness and are presumed dead. She’s a policewoman presently on leave due to PTSD. When the remains of a man and a boy are finally found, she’s suspicious. Sure enough, the DNA doesn’t match. Aaron was involved with an upcoming pharmaceutical firm, and there might be something about their new drug’s protocols that raises suspicion. Much action takes place in Yamashita’s City Under One Roof, her previous mystery, as well as on a Native reservation and in a remote sanctuary for battered women. This is yeasty material and though the writing is often a bit predictable and sprinkled with cliches, the story was compelling enough for me to share it here. 

My Side of the Riverby Elizabeth Camarillo Gutierrez 

Yet another bio on immigration—they’re starting to blend. But this one grabbed me because the author had to make her way in the US totally on her own.  She was born in the States which provided her with an American passport. She was taken in by a do-gooder family that turned out to be toxic, left them to return to the squalid but familiar shed where her family lived before they were deported, and managed to graduate from college and bring her brother over. Tucson setting, intense depiction of otherness, considerable guts and smarts. Inspiring. 

River East, River West by Aube Rey Lescure 

Alva, 14, lives with Sloan, her American mother, in Shanghai. Her Chinese father is a cipher. She’s bullied at the local school for her mixed identity and yearns to go to the American School instead.  Her mother marries Lu Fang, their landlord. Alva dreads this but it’s her ticket to the school in the prosperous neighborhood across the river. Alva falls in with a wild, rich girl and starts to act out. We find out more about Lu Fang’s previous life in a village where he’s been married to a simple woman who’s well-connected to the Communist Party.  They have a son.  But Lu Fang yearns for prosperity, and finds it in the shipping trade, and that’s how he ends up with Sloan. When Lu Fang’s economic situation tanks, the three wind up in America and that’s where they become a real family instead of unhappy individuals. An engaging mix of historical and domestic drama. 

Last Acts by Alexander Sammartino 

Initially, I was wondering why I was hanging out with such absurd losers in Phoenix AZ, and put the book aside.  But it had a siren song and I picked it up again and was rewarded with large doses of paradoxical wit. Frank Rizzo owns a gun store that’s failing.  His son is back from rehab, having been resurrected from an overdose.  Frank has great faith in TV ads and hopes this “miracle” can be monetized. Many Bad Things Happen, Frank ends up in jail, but Hope Springs is Eternal. The Rizzos’ schemes had me gasping and snickering, like PHX Home Hospice: we all deserve the death of our dreams and donations from gun sales to the Mass Survival Foundation. (A school shooter bought his weapon from Frank but only succeeded in damaging property, not children.) Nimble writing that feels like a high-wire act, with shadows of philosophy peeking out under the bleak glare of desert skies.