Neshama’s Choices for May 16th

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By Way of Sorrow

I’m fascinated by this transgender author (recently reviewed) and immediately scooped up her debut novel. Erin, a lawyer, gets a challenging case: Sharise— poor, Black, transgender—is charged with killing the son of a very powerful politician in New Jersey. Erin recognizes that publicity will flag her own identity which she’s kept pretty quiet so far, and that stirs up lots of controversy and unpleasantness.  The politician uses his influential strategies to thwart her at every turn, but justice emerges after terrifying skirmishes. A note: Erin’s partner, nicknamed Swish for his basketball prowess, is Black, with a family.  Gigl covers many bases and reveals embedded prejudice deftly. A good story, with insights.  

History of the Rain  

Back in Faha, County Clare, home base for this luminous Irish author. Young Ruth has a debilitating condition and spends most of her time in the attic, reading through a huge collection of books. She’s also trying to find out more about her absent father Virgil, a poet. It’s a generational saga, dominated by an impossible, familial demand for perfection. Ruth’s twin brother Aeney is another absent but indelible character. Williams weaves nature, literature, daily happenings, and dreamlike explorations into a very satisfying read.  

The Family

Once you’re in it, you can’t get out. That’s the powerful message of this historical novel which traces the lives of two women married to the mob, as it were.  Close as sisters, Sofia and Antonia grow up in an atmosphere of comfort and warmth until Antonia’s father disappears. (The Family had gotten wind of his plans to defect.) Neither intend to marry men connected with the Family but proximity and attraction work their magic and both their husbands are firmly embedded. Children arrive, Antonia falls into postpartum depression, and Sofia is at her side for the duration. Then Sofia, restless, joins the business end; unusual for a woman but she’s a considerable force. Another complex layer is her husband Saul, Jewish, who fled Europe in ’37; his calligraphic skills have been put to good use creating fake passports. Set in Red Hook, Brooklyn from 1928 to 1948. Fascinating.  

The Deep Places  

Subtitled A Memoir of Illness and Discovery. The author, a columnist for The New York Times, makes a leap to the countryside with his family. Their big old house is charming but problematic, the acreage is beautiful but challenging.  However Ross starts to feel increasingly sick, which casts a deep shadow over their bucolic dreams. Tests galore, vague diagnoses, more misery, and finally Lyme disease which launches him into extremely complex territory. At last, some relief, but a tortuous process along the way, trying almost every possible remedy-- some very bizarre. Candor, humor (yes!), and deft writing make this a reading pleasure even though the material is so painful.