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Objects talk to Benny Oh, 13, and burden him with their sad stories. Grownups become alarmed by his behavior and he’s schlepped to all manner of educators and clinicians. Is he mentally ill or just preternaturally sensitive? He finds refuge in the local library, where he connects with two homeless folks: an amazing punk girl, Aleph (after a Borges character), and a one-legged Slovenian poet. His mother Belle is a hoarder; his father Kenji met a recent, ignominious death. Stints in the psych ward, attempts to run away, and a grim future awaits until his rag-tag community of supporters rallies. Such great material here, where actual books perform eloquent, active roles, flipping around, speaking to Benny directly. For instance a Kondo-like treatise on tidying up appears just when he's faced with a big mess. Magical realism for sure, with a dose of Zen. I was in heaven!
That was Nell and Aaron’s special song, ironically prophetic when Aaron starts exhibiting bizarre symptoms and their wedding vows are put to the test. But Nell hangs in there through his addictions and intense spells of suffering and dysfunction. His maladies evade ultimate diagnosis though Aaron finally arrives at some relief. And they manage to raise two great kids. (In a homework exercise one son pinpoints a source of his anxiety as “sick house family. “) In the acknowledgements Nell dedicates the book to her husband, “the bravest boy ever.” What an extraordinary love story.
Skye runs trips for Black women all over the globe. In between she stays at a friend’s B and B in Philadelphia where she grew up. Twelve- year- old Vicky finds her in a cafe and informs Skye that she came from Skye’s egg (she sold her eggs to a friend way back when). That friend is now dead, Vicky lives with Aunt Faye primarily but also has to put up with her father’s new wife who’s white and clueless. It gets quite tricky when Skye becomes interested in Faye but things are prickly between them. Skye also has an alcoholic mother she’s estranged from but mom is dying so it’s time to connect. Lots of push and pull. Entertaining, enlightening, and ultimately—well, read it and find out.
Asha is a skilled coder. She reconnects with Cyrus whom she yearned for in high school and Jules, who’s gay, and together they create an algorithm that designs all sorts of rituals tailored to individuals. Turns out people are hungry for this service and it becomes a wild success. Cyrus is the magnetic spokesperson and Asha is fine providing essential support until a greedy investor pushes the envelope with a plan that might have tragic consequences. The three share a house, she and Cyrus are a couple—you can see disaster in the wings. Asha must step out from her supporting role, very uncomfortable but ultimately necessary. Clever and thought-provoking, with the added complication of race (Asha’s family is from India).
Midlife hits Sam hard. Her independent mother gets sick but doesn’t ask for help. Her sulky (what else?) daughter also turns her back on Sam. Her husband’s also pretty remote. What could use help and provide distraction and solace? A charming mess of a cottage in hometown Syracuse. She leaves the family back in suburbia, rolls up her sleeves, and discovers the mixed bag of her new adventure in this dubious neighborhood. She also has a part time job as the docent at a historic house where a controversial figure from the 1800s put forth her theories on feminism, eugenics, and the cult-like Oneida Community. So many juicy topics in Sam’s life, deftly explored without rhetoric. I loved it.
Back next week.