Neshama’s Choices for October 3rd

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The Poet's House

Carla’s fumbling through life, working for a landscape gardener which doesn’t match her “potential,” She encounters Viridian on the job, a self-named poet, and gets exposed to many other poets. Something clicks and they turn to her for feedback; her unschooled responses are fresh and on target. She’s even offered a gig doing infrastructure at a writer’s retreat and gets a good look at the absurdities of the participants.  There’s a mystery involving a manuscript, and the fate of Viridian’s house hinges on it; she’s running out of money. A delightful, surprising denouement.  Speaking of local, the setting is Fairfax!  

Saint Sebastian's Abyss

A slim book in very short chapters. Said painting is only one of the three extant by an old Dutch painter; the rest were destroyed in a fire. It’s a masterpiece, according to two art historians; the other two are dreadful hacks but all three are displayed as a tryptic in a museum in Spain. The unnamed narrator, who is American, and Schmidt, his English rival, have made their careers writing about this painting and were friends until “that terrible thing” occurred; a statement on the nature of art which ripped them asunder.  This is a very funny book cloaked in pedantic seriousness, sly and original.  

The Mermaid of Black Conch

In the Caribbean, David, a quiet fisherman, plays his guitar near a rock in the sea and a lonely mermaid is drawn to him. She’s huge, wild, and wordless. Unfortunately, this diminishes her fear of boats which is how two very unpleasant white tourists can catch her. It’s a fierce struggle and they have venal plans for her. David rescues and hides her. A transformation takes place; her tail and scales drop off. Underneath is the Taino Indian woman she was ages ago before she was cursed. David’s landlady up on the hill has a deaf son and his signs speak to her. Of course, David wants to marry her, but she must return to the sea. I know it sounds totally improbable but somehow the story works. Dialect adds rich color and issues of racism and colonialism come into play. 

Any Other Family

Here’s what happens when Tabitha, a well-intentioned but fiercely controlling woman, adopts twins but decides that their two other siblings should stay in close touch.  Which means all the adoptive parents form a coalition that meets regularly, like a tribe of cousins.  Sounds sweet but in practice strains each parent to the max. On vacation, the covert tensions ramp up spectacularly. When the birth mother, Brianna, gets pregnant again, who will get this baby? A tricky choice, since it will have to be someone who joins the unwieldy bunch from the outside. A fascinating look at the folly of trying to apply a construct to “real life.”