Neshama’s Choices for May 20

The titles and links below will direct you to print copies when available. Click on the title to see all available formats, including recorded versions and eBooks.

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Dixon, Descending by Karen Outen

Dixon’s older brother Nate wants to climb Everest and become the first Black man to summit. Dixon’s life is settled. He’s a school counselor, has partial custody of his young daughter, and is always looking out for his students, especially sweet Marcus who’s constantly threatened by inimical Shiloh. But Dixon loves his brother and agrees to go along.  The mountain is both beautiful and dangerous and from the title, we are alerted that there will be tragedy. Dixon returns crippled and traumatized. He struggles to get his life back but can’t protect Marcus from the inevitable. Ultimately he reaches out to Shiloh, now locked up for a long time. Heart-stopping action, lots of pain, incredibly absorbing. I thought the book was nonfiction until I checked the spine label.

Kids Run the Show by Delphine de Vigan

The world of influencers is grotesque, seductive, and ultimately deeply damaging as we learn from Happy Recess, the ongoing post that features mother Melanie shepherding her children Sammy and Kimmy through their days on camera. Their activities are focused around consumption with brand-name sponsors and the tone is relentlessly upbeat. Kimmy disappears for eight days and when she’s returned, apparently unharmed, there’s a marked change in her attitude and affect. Sammy now carries the show but both he and his sister get away as soon as they can.  Clara, a detective, works on the case.  She’s a fascinating character—tiny in stature, fiercely analytical, with her own traumatic growing up. For me a mix of horror fascination and admiration for the reflective aspects of the writing behind the glitzy and grim events. Another perk: the book is very French.

What Small Sound by Francesca Bell

When I recently came upon a review of this wonderful book of poems, I was shocked to realize I hadn’t shared it here yet.  Bell is the Marin County Poet Laureate; I interviewed her for Marin Poets Live! back in the day and had a great evening with her at the Fairfax Library last  October.  So here goes: The cover itself is arresting:  flame leaping from one palm, a white dove with outstretched wings perched on the other hand, feet of the seated figure bare. Transparency, pain, and passion are all grounded in everyday life. A woman’s body: birthing, menopause, even a rape kit. Worries about her daughter’s struggles with mental health. And joys, like that of a late-blooming amaryllis. Very direct, very accessible, the small sounds of life that resound deeply.

Your Utopia by Bora Chung

At first, I found these short stories too weird—even for me.  But when the images and concepts worked their way into my dreams, I decided to share it here. In one, a widespread pandemic takes hold as follows: all of the sudden people develop an appetite for human flesh.  Calmly they start, say, chomping on the ear of the person standing next to them, and it goes on from there. In another, an elevator has a mind of its own and delivers folks to the floors it deems appropriate. One more: a hybrid of plant and human develops to battle the developers who are mowing down forests relentlessly. What makes these stories even creepier is that they’re told in a matter-of-fact tone. Very original.