Neshama’s Choices for September 27th

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At the Edge of the Haight

Maddy manages a tenuous life around Golden Gate Park —homeless but doable. It helps to have the company of her dog and some friends. She stumbles upon a murder in the bushes and the guy she witnessed standing over the victim becomes an ongoing threat. The police lean on her, the parents of the victim want more information and also want to “save” her.  She had a miserable childhood but has compensated with fiercely independent survival skills. I’d often seen groups of ragged young people at this location and wondered what their life was like. Seligman tells it like it is. Powerful!


Ranger Anna Pigeon is on leave after a traumatic experience at her last post. She’s on vacation—a raft trip in Big Bend National Park along the Mexican border. They encounter a very pregnant woman entangled in branches in the river. She dies but Anna pulls off an emergency C-section on the spot and the baby lives.  Someone wants that baby dead, though, and it’s a wild ride from there on out. A complication: Judith, a very aggressive politician, the mayor of Tucson, is also in the park. Her stance: tighter border controls. She’s a piece of work with a rocky marriage and a complex relationship to her head of security. I listened to this on my commute and especially enjoyed the gravel-voiced narrator.

The Inevitable

Subtitled Dispatches on the Right to Die, a subject very close to my heart. I’d always hoped that by the time I got really old there would be a “simple pill” available because I wouldn’t want to be kept alive in a very diminished state. But despite the new legislation in some states and countries, it’s still extremely complicated and frustrating to take the step that we do so easily with our pets. The author is brilliant, weaving stories of those seeking surcease, those who want to provide it, and the infrastructure that seems to obstruct them at every turn. No simple answers here, but such a vivid, clear-eyed look at a very complex subject.

 Palace of the Drowned

Venice off-season can be challenging but Frankie, a novelist, really needs to get away. Her friend Jack (also female) offers the family’s palazzo and it’s huge, run-down, and pretty creepy. Frankie is in rough shape. Her most recent novel got panned, she made a scene at the Savoy, and her work is blocked. Enter red-headed young Gilly, seemingly out of nowhere, who recognizes Frankie and ingratiates herself as number-one fan. A peculiar relationship ensues, hot and cold, and things get weirder when Gilly presses her manuscript on Frankie for feedback. Twists, turns, and tragedy ensue; poor Gilly, and ultimately, poor Frankie.  A dark tale.

The Undocumented Americans

The author, an undocumented Harvard graduate, tells her own story and travels in search of others’ experiences.  On her own turf: Staten Island, and Ground Zero where many immigrant workers contracted dreadful health conditions because of their exposure to toxins during the cleanup.  To benighted neighborhoods in Flint, Cleveland, and New Haven.  It was hard to gain her subjects’ trust even with her similar background, but what she learns is a mix of courage, resignation, and heartbreak.  She’s not a journalist at a remove but gets involved and offers help when she can. Her voice is direct, intimate, and sometimes in-your-face. Vivid, intimate, eye-opening.

Back next week.