This installment: the grisliest Scandinavian mystery so far (f); immigration, imaginative and heartbreaking (f); from Kiev to the USA with naughty Oksana (f); guideposts for dying with grace (nf); dystopia yet again (f); and an eye-opening kids’ graphic novel (f).
Stalker by Lars Kepler
I am drawn to dark Scandinavian mysteries (as regular readers will know) and this one, I must admit, is the grisliest I’ve encountered and that says a lot! Nothing as creepy as being observed doing private things at home. The victims have a sense something’s out there, and down the line they meet their horrid ends. The lead detective on the case is very pregnant. An older policeman who disappeared (dead?) returns, crippled but surprisingly strong and savvy. A psychologist with a guilty conscience hypnotizes traumatized figures to jog their memories. And more. Guess I just love to be scared when it isn’t “real.”
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
Man and wife are sound journalists on a journey across the country with their blended family, his son, 10, her daughter, 5. They have different objectives. She’s obsessed with the children of immigrants on their treacherous journeys; he wants to document the last days of Geronimo. In banker’s boxes are their source materials, much of which we are privy to—bibliographies, notes, and the “elegies for lost children” which tracks their harrowing, tragic migration on the bestias (tops of trains). The book starts grounded in familiar material like the kids’ endless “are we there yet?” but gets more hallucinatory and poetic towards the end. (In the notes on sources I was blown away by depth of literary allusions.) Very powerful!
Oksana, Behave! by Maria Kuznetsova
This novel starts out charming and madcap as our protagonist, age 6, brings us in on life in Kiev and then to Florida. As Oksana grows up she gets wilder and darker, acting out sexually but somehow managing college and graduate school. Each chapter takes us to a new place so we catch up with events obliquely, which makes for some surprises and cuts through an expected chronological march (a lively device). Baba, the red-haired grandmother, is a striking figure, as is Oksana’s sad father. Another neat trick: the ending in Kiev where it all began. Lots of humor but lots of shadings as well—a great mix.
The Art of Dying Well by Katy Butler
Subtitled A Practical Guide for a Good End of Life, and it certainly delivers. Yes, this is a hot topic these days and I’ve read just about every book on the subject. This one offers very useful suggestions and guidelines, interspersed with touching anecdotes and a smattering of poetry and trenchant quotes. The set up: a chapter on each stage, from middle age to deathbed, with a list of phrases for each that might resonate, like “you wonder why they make the numbers on credit cards so small and fuzzy.” No white-wash here; death is difficult. But applying the knowledge on these pages might very well soften the blow.
Severance by Ling Ma
Dystopia again. Shen fever, from the province where Candace’s family emigrated, is now paralyzing New York City. Almost everyone flees but Candace hangs in there with her blog documenting ghostly images. But it’s unsustainable so she joins a group en route to the Midwest where their leader, Bob, promises a “facility.” Supplies come from abandoned stores and homes where they “stalk,” sometimes having to dispatch Shen sufferers caught in zombie like states. When they finally arrive–it’s a mall—she realizes she’s a prisoner because she’s pregnant, which represents hope. But not for Candace, though I won’t give away the denouement. The ghost of her mother provides some guidance. I can’t get enough of these stories (again with the illusion that if I read them I might not have to experience them in real life). Well-done.
New Kid by Jerry Craft
A kids’ graphic novel that gets inside Jordan’s perceptions of a new school. It’s very tony and a far cry, literally and figuratively, from his neighborhood. A really uncomfortable experience as a black kid, even in a place where they try to be accepting but make endless, unconscious gaffes that sting. Very funny and sobering in turn, lively language. Eye-opening (and definitely a place that we need to keep our eyes open, which is why I recommend it for adults as well).
Back next week.