Neshama’s Choices for May 31st

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Bird Box

How’s this for a dystopian scenario: if you have the misfortune to lay eyes on one of these mysterious creatures, you’ll instantly go mad and erupt into violence or self-harm. Most of the population has been decimated but in one suburban house, six survivors including two pregnant women eke out a desperate existence. Blindfolds protect them until a new person sets off the already hair-trigger tensions. Malorie and two babies survive on her own for four years until she and the very well trained kids have to set out down river, rowing blindfolded, to find safe haven. I listened to this in the car and it gave me the (delicious) creeps.

How Beautiful We Were

An intense, expansive, tragic story of—well—almost everything that assails us these days, through the lens of a small African village. Once proud and tranquil, Kosowo is despoiled by an American oil company; its river poisoned, its fields withered, its children dying. Futile uprisings over the decades but the unnamed country’s leader and the company always prevail. Amazing characters like visionary Thula, twins with magical powers, the village madman who foments the first revolt. Incantatory, vivid writing. A workout and well worth it.

The Smash-up

In a little New England town, things go very awry for Ethan and family. He’s been depending on a generous stipend from a company he started but unbeknownst to him, it’s on the skids. His wife Zo has become fiercely politicized and is stirring things up; it’s 2018, and there’s a lot to protest. Their preteen daughter is a handful. Maddy joins them to “help” but wreaks further havoc. She’s young, unmoored, and deep into the drug culture. Considerable self-delusion on many fronts (I kept wanting to yell out “don’t do it”) and the eponymous denouement is inevitable but after the dust clears, they end up sadder but wiser.  (That seems to be the contemporary version of happily ever after these days.) Sly wit here as well.

Solutions and Other Problems

Lots has happened in Brosh’s life since her marvelous graphic novel Hyperbole and a Half came out in 2013.  In these 500+ plus pages she bares (almost) all: her marriage failed; she came down with a terrible, mysterious condition; her younger sister committed suicide, and more. We don’t get this chronologically but through chapters that illustrate (literally and figuratively) the many ways in which she conveys the material; sometimes just a series of incredibly eloquent pictures. Somehow she plumbs the weirdness and existential angst that I bet lives inside many of us. I found myself actually laughing out loud periodically —a rare experience— and also vibrating with recognition: she really gets me!  I want to be her best friend! Marvelous.

The Upstairs House

Megan’s thesis is derailed when her baby is born. She’s undone, hurting and frightened. Her husband’s supportive but often working out of town. Very strange things start to happen, including the appearance of children’s author Margaret Wise Brown, one subject of her thesis, who Megan is convinced has moved in upstairs. We know this is impossible but it seems very real to Megan and events get progressively more bizarre. Postpartum psychosis, it turns out. We get bits of the thesis and glimpses into Brown’s tortured relationship with Michael Strange, a woman who lives up to her name. Fascinating, haunting, and scary

Back next week.