Neshama’s Choices for May 30th

Judith Scott

This fell into my hands while checking books in and I was immediately riveted by the cover photo: an exuberant snarl of yarn, plastic piping, lace—you name it. Then I recalled bits of Scott’s extraordinary story and reacquainted myself with this outsider artist. Scott, a twin with Down syndrome, was institutionalized until she was 36. No one realized she was deaf which is why her IQ score was 30.  Then her sister rescued her and when Judith discovered art at the Oakland Creative Growth Center, she was launched. Fierce, wordless, magnificently eccentric, she produced an amazing output of sculptures, many of which now live in museum collections. What a tribute to the human spirit and what a gift to all of us.  

Drowning Practice

Yet another apocalyptic story.  A dream is delivered to everyone on the same night: the world will end in November—on Halloween, no less—by drowning. Lyd and her middle school daughter Mott grope through their allotted six months with a variety of strategies.  Her ex, David, doesn’t help; he wants them back. He’s charming, controlling, and abusive. They go on the road to evade him, as Mott churns out the novel she’s determined to finish; the plot: mother and daughter trade bodies.  Meredith, a tough, sly survivor, joins them. All in all, an exercise in absurdity as indeed the pool awaits, right on schedule. A very peculiar book with a somewhat flat affect and a need to suspend disbelief, but it haunts me so (if you want to be haunted too) here it is. 

Our Country Friends

A beloved coworker was shocked that I would review this.  “It’s so gross!’  Well yes, but I guess have an appetite for gross, as well as for wild humor and smarty-pants literary and cultural allusions.  A reworking of Chekhov in which old friends gather during COVID on a compound.  What a cast of characters, including the hosts from Russia, and their daughter, Nat, adopted from Harbin. She’s enamored of all things Korean, including their friend Karen who has developed an app that creates instant love (shades of Midsummer’s Night Dream). So much more— ridiculous, tragic, farcical—and over the top entertaining.  

Circus of Wonders

I have a weakness for anomalies and this historical novel delivers. Nell, covered with birthmarks, seeks solace and release swimming in the ocean. Her father sells her to the titular circus as it passed through their small village.  At first, she’s miserable, but then she gets the thrill of performing and becomes a huge hit. Jasper Juniper, who created the circus, has a huge ego and conflicts arise in many directions. A tragic denouement for the circus itself but Nell gets a second, well-deserved lease on life. Atmospheric and intense.