Neshama’s Choices for September 20th

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The Better Sister

Chloe is an ambitious magazine editor married to a lawyer whose stepson, Ethan, is accused of murdering his dad. But wait—Ethan’s mother is Nicky, Chloe’s sister who screwed up. And Chloe thinks of Ethan as hers. Chloe, desperate to save Ethan, reconnects with Nicky. And they team up and work out past hurts. Lots of twists and turns, fascinating legal maneuvers, and an ending I didn’t see coming. I got this on CD and was initially ready to reject it— “white people’s problems.” But as Chloe’s character became more sympathetic, I really got caught up and was glad I kept listening.

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead

A truism, for sure, but that thought dominates poor Gilda’s worldview.  She’s so beset by anxiety that she gets fired from the bookstore and ends up by chance as a Catholic church’s secretary. A bizarre fit—she’s a lesbian atheist—but at least she knows how to do email which is a mystery to her boss, a doddering priest. She tries to cover up her identity but her path lurches from one screw-up to another. There’s even a mystery: was her aged predecessor bumped off by the nurse who mercy-killed many geriatric patients? I love dark humor and there are many examples here but sometimes I felt as overwhelmed as our protagonist. Still—let’s hear it for a celebration of the fun to be mined from dysfunction.

The Five Wounds

An obscure, tiny town in New Mexico still practices a Good Friday ritual and this time Amadeo, 33, will play Christ.  He’s an unemployed, alcoholic mess; his 16-year-old daughter Angel has showed up pregnant, and he hopes for redemption. He asks for “the nails” but passes out when they’re driven through his hands and it’s all downhill from there. Matriarch Yolanda has been keeping things together but when she gets a terminal diagnosis (which she conceals from the family), the center cannot hold. I loved this family with all its flaws and suffered all through their shattered dreams and tribulations until the (whew) redemptive ending. I think this is the very best book of 2021 so far!

Lorna Mott Comes Home

When art historian Lorna finally gets sick of her French husband’s philandering, she flees back to her hometown, San Francisco, ready to step into her old life.  But it’s been 20 years, the city and the art world have changed radically, and a pinched reality slaps her in the face.  Also the grown children and grandchildren she hasn’t seen except for sporadic visits to their chateau are in various binds and need serious attention. I found Lorna quite self-absorbed and the tone of the book a bit chilly, but Johnson’s sly wit and evocations of SF and France made for lively reading.

The Performance

A favorite play of mine is Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days (ironic title) in which Winnie is buried up to her waist, going through the contents of her handbag—and her life. Here three women are watching the play which certainly speaks to them. Ivy is a philanthropist, Margot is a professor, and young Summer, an usher, is concerned about her girlfriend who may be stuck near a fire. I loved the interweaving of the play’s lines and the characters’ musings about the situations they’re facing. Melbourne setting.


Back next week.

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