Neshama’s Choices for May 6th

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American Girls by Jessica Roy 

I read this with horror and fascination. Samantha (Sam) and Lori grew up in a repressive family of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The siblings rebelled, moved away, and fell in with two Muslim brothers whom they married. Sam’s husband Moussa was lured by promises of riches and “paradise” by extremists in Syria and that’s where they ended up.  It became a nightmare of privation and isolation for Sam and her children—by now she had four—especially when Moussa went off to war. She and Lori, now divorced, had been estranged for years but Lori realized that she was the only one who could extricate Sam and bring her back. A fraught homecoming to say the least, with Sam convicted of aiding the enemy and jailed, and her three children by Moussa, who was killed in battle, now adopted by and living with her parents back in Arkansas. Religious fanaticism coming and going, and the trauma that resulted. Chilling. 

Prophet Song by Paul Lynch 

Eilish’s husband, a union organizer, is just trying to support his fellow teachers’ rights. He goes off to a demonstration and that’s the last she ever sees of him. The newly-formed secret police is tightening the screws everywhere. Her sister in Canada says to leave now, but she won’t abandon her missing husband. Then it becomes dire for her sons and finally, with only her teenage daughter and her baby left, she manages, perhaps, to get across the border. The story is told with deceptive simplicity, showing how insidiously a fascistic regime can infiltrate and destroy citizens’ lives. The author’s language is so direct that I never noticed his artistry but was just plunged into a compelling, devastating story. Magnificent! 

My Darling Girl by Jennifer McMahon 

Alison lives in small-town Vermont with her nice husband Mark, her sweet, dorky 6-year-old daughter Olivia, and her edgy teenager Izzie. It’s Christmas time, a holiday Mark revels in. Alison’s been estranged from her difficult mother Mavis, an artist who was often drunk and frighteningly abusive. But now Mavis is going to die and asks to stay with them. Alison says yes; perhaps reconciliation can occur. But Mavis is a bundle of contradictions, sometimes charming and ingratiating, but at other times almost demonic. And there lies the rub. Is she possessed by a demon named Azha? Mavis seems to know things, past and future, that seem impossible. As Alison tries to find out what’s going on and protect her family, she starts to appear crazy herself. Very creepy, especially with the contrast of the holiday out there— Olivia’s dancing in the Nutcracker, Mark loves Hallmark movies—with the horror embedded in their home. 

Starling House by Alix E. Harrow 

Eden, KY, does not reflect its name. The town is toxic from mining activity and haunted by that eponymous crumbling domicile. Opal is just trying to survive and support her brother Jasper, but she’s weirdly drawn to the mysteries of the house. Its previous inhabitant was a reclusive author who wrote and illustrated just one children’s book which riveted Opal when she was growing up. Now a strange man lives there. He offers Opal a job as a house cleaner, much more lucrative than her subsistence, patchwork employment. It turns out that Opal’s connection with the house and the powerful family that built it is more than fascination. Lots of familiar fantasy/horror tropes here, but it worked its way into my psyche in the form of weird dreams, which is why I’m sharing it with you if you like that sort of thing (which I obviously do).