Neshama’s Choices for September 6th

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10 Things I Can See From Here

Anxiety runs through my family so when I came across this teen book about gay Maeve who’s been struggling with the condition for her whole short life, I just had to make her acquaintance. Her mother’s off to do good works in Haiti with Raymond, the new boyfriend. So Maeve must leave her cozy, quiet cottage—and two disastrous relationships—and move in with her father in a sketchy Vancouver BC neighborhood. With his wife Claire, very pregnant, and twin half-brothers. Dad has had addiction issues and falls off the wagon. Maeve meets Salix who plays her violin at the ferry station and it’s touch and go since Maeve is so fearful of almost everything and filled with shame over what happened at home. Despite this weighty material, the book is a delight.

The Nature of Fragile Things

Through a newspaper ad, Sophie from Ireland enters into a very odd marriage to Martin in 1905. She travels from New York to San Francisco, warms to Martin’s 5-year-old daughter Kat who’s been traumatized by her mother’s death, but is baffled by her spouse’s chilliness and his mysterious business doings. Comes the earthquake and all kinds of secrets spill out. Sophie’s a survivor with her own secret and manages to get to safety and steer others through the chaos. A bit formulaic but so well-researched that I felt transported to those familiar city streets way back when.

No Other World

Kiran’s a furtive observer. He can’t stop spying on the Bells and catches his mother, Shanti, in a clinch with the man of the house. Her marriage, arranged long ago, has lost its savor but she’s a good Indian wife and won’t take it further. Kiran, 12, is beset by his own confusion and shameful attraction to boys and men. A grown cousin from India is sent to shape up in America and instead goes limp; that branch of the family was beset by tragedy and Kiran, now in college, offers no help. Towards the end of the book Kiran is sent back to India to “shape up,” and meets a hijra (a “third gender”) with whom he feels a distinct affinity.  The title plays with exploring what would have happened if indeed there were other simultaneous worlds and different choices. Multi-layered and atmospheric.

Presto and Zesto in Limboland

I’m a huge Sendak fan and thought I’d read all his books. Imagine my surprise when I discovered (via Book Riot, a great source of many offbeat recommendations) that some drawings Sendak had done for a musical performance which had been stuck in a drawer, came to light. The authors, great friends, created this wacky tale and then the project got shelved. Fifteen years later the manuscript, which had been misfiled, resurfaced and this is what emerged. Classic illustrations, charming dialog sprinkled with Yiddish (words and inflections). What’s not to like?

Vernon Subutex 2

A follow-up to her first bizarre and captivating book, so if you’ve read that on my recommendation, get this.  At first a dizzying cast who swirl through the mysterious goings on that revolve around Vernon, now homeless in a Parisian park.  He ran a beloved record store but fell on hard times. His backpack contained the last interviews with Alex Bleach, a rock star who OD’d. Many want to get their hands on it—some to expunge Bleach’s damning revelations. We get inside each deeply flawed participant and it creates an intimacy—so that’s why they’re like that! Violence, meanness, sexual exploitation, and rants erupt but there’s an amazing denouement that made it all (kind of) okay. Very original, and so French.

Back next week.