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Linked short stories, often set in the Midwest in academia. Many feature Lionel, Black and gay like the author, who’s had a breakdown. No longer in his high-powered program, he proctors exams and feels lost and miserable. He gets involved with a dancer at a party which leads to complicated relationships that yield more pain than pleasure. The amazing thing about Taylor is how he conveys his characters’ lives so seamlessly. I was especially interested in his take on ballet; it’s a mean, competitive scene. Masterful!
Alison is bound for the cutthroat world of the theater. Kyle is bound for a selfless medical practice. A doomed, star-crossed affair from the get-go. Both were brought up Catholic but she turns her back on it while he remains fettered by its precepts. That’s why their high octane sexual connection isn’t consummated. Alison makes it big in NYC. Kyle settles for a “perfect” life in Cincinnati—a prosperous practice, a beautiful wife and kids—but hates pediatrics. The moment of truth years later shows how far both have veered from their essential selves. The title? That’s what Navajos say instead of “I love you”—they don’t believe in possessive relationships. Very smart, well-written, and compassionate. I’m completely glad about it!
An unusual Rom Com with an extra dimension. August, awkward and friendless, finds a room in Brooklyn whose lively, unusual roommates tease her out of her corner. On the Q subway line she encounters Jane (a collision—familiar rom-com device) and it’s instant infatuation. Jane keeps showing up on August’s commute—this is weird in itself—and they get to know each other very well. The wrinkle: who is this mysterious, captivating figure? Not a ghost, we discover, but trapped in a time-fold. August’s mother is a PI back in New Orleans and Jane helped with her cases. She applies these skills, attempting to free Jane. But if it works, which era will Jane end up in? No pat ending here which makes it all the more intriguing.
The narrator of this astonishing novel is not yet born. Named Ishraaq, which means radiance, he takes us deep into the back story: his mother Seema, a lesbian political activist in San Francisco, meets Bill, a Black professor, at a tumultuous demonstration Their subsequent marriage doesn’t last, but Ishraaq is conceived despite. Seema has been estranged from her parents back in India and from her orthodox Muslim sister in Irvine, but with the immanent birth, mother and sister arrive. What I especially loved was the mix of historical, political, and personal material. The scenes in SF, vividly portrayed, plunged me right back into those heady times.
I almost abandoned this because the characters seemed so snotty and superficial but gave it another try and got snared. Catherine desperately awaits Mr. Right and when William comes along, she’s sure she’s found him. So handsome, so courtly-- if a little guarded. We know something's out of whack, though, and so does her nasty mother who badmouths him in rare moments of lucidity (she has Alzheimer’s). William is the son of old family friends. When the Big Secret comes out, Catherine’s padded life is shredded but she arrives at a place of more authenticity. The precious worlds of art and boutiques in NYC provide fine fodder for satire. Fun with schadenfreude.
Back next week.