Neshama’s Choices for September 11th

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Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano  

When Julia meets William in college, he finally gets the family he’s yearned for.  An only child with cold parents, he’s now happily enfolded in her lively brood. Julia has three sisters, very close but very different in character. But William has a shadow that haunts him which results in a breakdown. Other rifts occur within the family. Turns out it’s another sister who should be his destiny, but it’s a very rocky road before that union can occur. Note: William’s passion is basketball.  I am not particularly interested in sports, but here that pursuit is portrayed so vibrantly that I followed it with interest.  What a satisfying novel!  


The Critic's Daughter by Priscilla Gilman   

Her father Richard, a Yale professor, was loved and feared for his trenchant theater reviews. He was the delight of his daughters Priscilla and Claire and became their primary caregiver. But his wife Lynn (their mother), a high-powered literary agent, had never been in love with him. When Priscilla was 10, Lynn called it quits. Thus started a painful, jumbled trajectory for the author who wanted more time with her father and watched as he struggled with reduced circumstances and personal setbacks including acrimonious battles with Lynn over custody and money. Gilman is a beautiful writer (her father would be proud) and manages to express much love and joy amidst the considerable pain and hard-won self-awareness.  She deftly weaves lines from plays and songs into her narrative—a neat trick. A luminous book.  


Stolen by Ann-Helen Laestadius   

9-year-old Elsa comes upon a terrifying sight: a man butchering her special reindeer. He threatens to kill her if she tells. This secret weighs on her heavily throughout the years as the killer, Robert, keeps slaughtering. Police don’t take it seriously; they’re “ just animals” and other crimes take precedence.  But the state of their herds is at the heart of the Sami people’s economic and cultural center, already compromised by mining, climate change, and racism.  The book gets somewhat melodramatic towards the end, but I found it riveting, and sad. Note: For the life of me I couldn’t figure out those Sami words at the top of each chapter (such a strange language). Finally, I looked it up: they are the chapter numbers. (Let’s hear it for Google.) But Njealljelogigolb for 47?—Give me a break.   The author, from Sweden, has Sami roots.  


The Deceptions by Jill Bialosky   

The protagonist is a NYC poet who teaches at an upscale boys’ academy. She’s working on her own book of poems featuring Leda and the Swan, i.e. male dominance, and this theme pervades her life.  Her husband of 20 years is a reserved research physician, and their marriage is strained.  He sleeps in their son’s room while the boy is away at college. For inspiration and solace, the poet spends many hours at the Metropolitan Museum. Stories of gods and myths, depicted in photos of the sculptures in the book, are deftly braided into the present-day narrative. A seductive visiting poet at the school captures her attention and more. A plot twist spotlights the imbalance between the way men’s and women’s literary offerings are received. Bialosky, a prolific poet, does a beautiful job of portraying injustice.