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Daniel returns to his hometown in Florida after his best friend from high school, Aubrey, is killed in a car crash. They’d lost touch after he moved away, she was on the skids, and it was an odd pairing from the start. His mother is Jamaican, he’s biracial and gay, Aubrey was a white wild child; as outsiders, they supported each other. With old friends, he revisits the places of memory, the intra-coastal waterways that also echo his split existence metaphorically. Vernacular dialogue and atmospheric descriptions mix and braid like the waters themselves.
Jay, a personal injury lawyer, and his adopted Asian son Ruben, take on what seems like a slam-dunk of a case. Surgery has turned Wesley, 18, into a robotic being. But it turns out evidence can’t prove that the procedure caused the mysterious condition. Theresa, a neuroscientist, has a theory but she doesn’t hold up on the witness stand. Then there’s a shocking shootout and Wesley’s father pleads guilty. We get to witness how “justice” is manipulated and are introduced to a very weird cult. Might Wesley be the portal to ultimate human happiness or is he a potential danger to life as we know it? This is a very strange book. I suspended disbelief because I loved the voices—especially wise-guy Jay’s—and the vivid descriptions of LA and the desert where Wesley ends up sequestered. Haunting.
Hiram has the power of “conduction,” discovered after he survived a plunge into the dangerous Goose River. He’s the bastard son of the plantation owner and is “tasked” (Coates’s term for slave labor) with keeping his brother, the owner’s legitimate son, from ruin. After the son drowns, Hiram connects with the Underground Railroad where he learns to use said powers to lead others to freedom. It’s a long hard road with heartbreak, betrayals, and enormous challenges along the way. Magical realism through African rituals is woven through the narrative. I chose to access the book in CD form because Coates’s words are so rich and sonorous.
Two moms and two kids constituted a happy family until the Pilot came into their lives. It’s a brain implant that enables prodigious multitasking. Julie, who works for a politician, gets one, as does their son David. But Val, a teacher, is suspicious and their adopted daughter Sophie who has epilepsy is ineligible. Guided by his device, David drops college plans and joins the army; his parents are deeply distressed. Sophie becomes an activist, confusing and sinister information emerges about the Pilot’s effects, and finally the truth will out. A fascinating note: Pinsker reveals David’s scrambled thought processes via a flurry of sensory overload. Thought-provoking for sure.
In a little village in Germany, the appearance of an okapi (a most improbable animal) in a dream is a portent of death. Everyone’s on edge and the uncertainty spurs some to take actions they’ve been deferring for years. The characters in this fable-like book are very eccentric, like the optician who’s been covertly in love with Selma for decades, and Marlies, a very grumpy spinster, who bitches about everything, including the selections at the local library. And a very protracted attraction between Luisa and Frederick who keeps returning to his monastery in Japan. Charming, shot through with sly wit.
Back next week.