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Subtitled How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons. The author is biracial, very gay, very funny and very compassionate. All you could wish for in an advice columnist. He shares his childhood in rural Oklahoma where he felt like a “Mexican in isolation,” tagged as such but far from those cultural roots. Forays into hookups. Fumbling through jobs and relationships. I loved making his acquaintance and think you will too.
This is one weird book but since it wouldn’t let me go, I want to share it. The protagonist is a mother who’s convinced she’s turning into a dog: hair growth, a tail, sharper canines. She’d had a fulfilling job but gave it up for the baby and now finds her days with him unbearably tedious. “Being” a dog connects her with her primitive nature which feels liberating. Turns out her toddler loves it too; he sleeps happily in a crate, wears a leash outside, savors raw meat. Where’s her kind husband? Mostly on the road for work. The denouement: her actions are recognized as art and a following grows. Turns out this kind of expression offers a safe channel for the often murderous rages that afflict mothers. It’s amazing how such a wild premise could manifest so solidly on the page. Creepy and exhilarating.
Growing up gay in Ohio with an alcoholic, unemployed father and devout mother was rough. Pressure to “be a man” was constant. An escape to college that ended badly, an escape into drugs, alcohol, and random hookups that underscored his constant sense of failure. But finally success as a writer, reconciliation with his father, and claiming his identity fully. Chapters toggle between his story and “the initiation of Tuan,” a very young boy he observes on a bus ride who’s getting very similar lessons about expectations for Black men in our society. I listened to this on CDs and loved the author’s voice, rich and expressive.
Rosaline, single mother of Amelie, is a good baker but her day job is clerking at a stationery store. She could use the money—and some recognition—so she signs up for Bake Expectations, a reality TV show. Among the other contestants are smooth, handsome Alain (her parents think he’d be perfect for her), and Harry, an electrician by trade, and a good if rough-around-the-edges bloke. Both vie for her and it’s easy to guess who gets her (rom-com formula) but there’s lots of entertainment on the page before that comes about. Rosaline’s ex Lauren and her wife are very helpful babysitting Amelie during contest weekends; the kid is funny and precocious. I ended up loving the book and also should remark that the few sex scenes (an area in the genre that often makes me cringe) are written with fresh finesse. Charming.
Short stories, some featuring Jack who used to be Lenny in his old life. His girlfriend Sadie gets very confused when she hears him addressed by the “wrong” name. In the first story they’ve flown to Ireland for a family wedding and she’s about to meet the whole mob. It’s utterly bizarre. In the final story it’s 20 years later and they get married at last. On their honeymoon in Amsterdam, more weirdness, more sense of dislocation (a McCracken special). In the title story, Joanna brings her strange son Leo to Denmark for three days of shuffling through stultifying museums and tourist attractions where she tracks down an old lover—again, strange happenings. Wry wit, precise language, the peculiarities of “everyday” life. Ahh!
Back next week.