Neshama’s Choices for May 24th

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Bad Habits

Mac and Gwen were best friends, an odd pairing since Gwen was very rich and Mac’s family was needy and messed-up. Mac manages to escape to college—very determined, you might say ruthless.  Then the two meet again in graduate school, both vying for the same prestigious and lucrative fellowship. What a nest of snakes—sexual favors, betrayals, and coursework that sounded like gobbledygook to me. Chapters toggle from those days to present day when Mac, now known as Claire, and Gwen reconnect at a conference. We learn what transpired that ripped them apart back then and also what Mac will do to come out on top. None of the characters appealed to me but I always love a good send-up of academe, so I found it diverting enough to recommend.


Leonard insists his wife be present for this last interview.  Before his imminent death, he is driven to confess that his identity is based on lies.  He didn’t flee to Canada as a pacifist draft-dodger but to extricate himself from a second marriage even more messed up than his first. In fragments we learn about his previous lives and dip into scenes from the decades he documented on film which include figures from real life.  Melancholy, evocative.

The Gunners

Kids often make friends by happenstance. Lonely Mikey, son of a single, shut-down dad, falls in with next-door neighbor age-mate Sally. They form the nucleus of a small, tight group whose clubhouse is a derelict house once owned by the Gunners—hence the name. Pranks, scares, crushes when they hit adolescence—the stuff of life. But when Sally inexplicably withdraws, thing unravel.  Now the group returns for Sally’s funeral, a suicide, and we learn what was behind all those tensions and how each has morphed into adulthood. Melancholy, fascinating, and a surprising denouement.

The Last Place You Look

I wanted to “relax“ with a mystery so returned to this writer whose protagonist, Roxane Weary, is nuanced and driven.  She’s the daughter of a tough cop, now dead, but he kind of mentors her from beyond. A Black man sits on death row; his sister hires her to find the person who can exonerate him. So far no luck, but similar slayings amplify Roxane’s suspicions.  However, the local suburban police put very little effort into taking it further and lots of effort interfering with Roxane’s pursuit of the case. An interesting aspect: Roxane is bisexual, with complex ongoing relationship challenges. Good stuff.

Winter Pasture

Subtitled One Woman’s Journey with China’s Kazakh Herders.  The author, with two books under her belt, sets out to immerse herself in what will be the last migration. She’s Chinese, her mother runs the “local” market, and that’s how she knows the territory which is 250 miles away. What an existence: freezing, dirty, and exhausting in an unforgiving, almost featureless landscape.  Yet the human spirit is remarkable and Juan shows it off: joys, foibles, quirks, absurdities, et al. Charmingly written as well. A surprising treasure.

Back next week.