This installment: an architectural theme (f); Indian cognitive dissonance (f);kids on the spectrum (f); short stories featuring rocket launches (f); transgender memoir, kind of (nf); and cyber world stories (f).
Dream House by Catherine Armsden
The author is an architect and this novel reflects that connection, complete with epigraphs from masters of design. Gina’s parents die suddenly and she goes back to Maine to clean up their affairs. Which means facing resentments and disappointments of her own from the past, as embodied in the house she grew up in as well as the family’s original historic manse. (Back in the Bay Area she s found herself blocked from designing her own house-to-be, and ghosts must be laid to rest before she can, it seems.) Atmospheric, intriguing, though sometimes the theme gets a bit heavy-handed.
The Private Life of Mrs Sharma by Ratika Kapur
The tone of this book is immediately arresting because it’s obvious that something is off between the protagonist’s chirpy, self-satisfied tone and the realities of her life. Her husband is working Dubai, her 17-year-old son Bobby wants to be a chef rather than a businessman, and she finds herself connecting with a man she meets while waiting for a train. Really connecting. Carnally! Things get intense and weird indeed though she still prattles on, full of justifications and confused, wishful thinking. The denouement is staggering. Fascinating.
Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst
Tilly is on the spectrum and her behavior keeps getting worse, though her parents shower her with love and support. That’s why this offer of an intentional community for families of problem kids seems an attractive last resort, though it means leaving DC for a rundown camp in Maine. And who is this charismatic but increasingly disturbing Scott Bean, the director of Harmonious Parenting? We get different characters’ perspectives, including Tilly’s which are especially fascinating. Embedded is the slant that perhaps these “disturbed” children may offer insights and tools that will ultimately help us cope with our increasingly fraught future.
The Dream Life of Astronauts by Patrick Ryan
Rocket launches and the mystique that surround them play a big role in these stories, set in Florida at moments of historical import. But it’s ordinary, marred folk who seek reflected glory and are mostly left with the tarnish of dashed hopes. In the title story, young Frankie is enchanted by a retired NASA guy who disappoints on many levels. In another, a lay -about uncle stops by, sticks around, and creates chaos in his wake. And there’s the increasingly sleazy “talent scout” who mucks about with young beauty-contest hopefuls. Solid, atmospheric, poignant.
Darling Days by iO Tillett Wright
A memoir of growing up different, both internally and externally. iO, well you can tell by the name, had unusual parents. A talented, well fixed father who decamped early; a driven, very eccentric mother who lived very close to the bone. And iO who wants to be a boy and manages to be semi-accepted as one until adolescence hits hard. They live on NYC’s lower east side in squalor, where iO experiences a combination of fierce love and neglect. Desperate forays to dad in Europe and eventually on her own, an incredible, talented survivor with an identity hewn from her own needs rather than society’s constructs. Inspiring!
Children of the New World by Alexander Weinstein
Short stories designated as Sci Fi but to me they didn’t sound so far-fetched, just an extension of our increasingly removed cyber-world. In the first, a robotic big brother malfunctions radically, leaving the parents without their built-in sitter and a source of cultural connection for their little adopted Chinese daughter. Then there are the parents who dip into Dark City, a pleasure palace, but then discover it’s corrupted their network so viciously that they have to “delete” their children. Phrases like “you can remove an unwanted pregnancy as easily as dragging a file to the recycle bin.” Powerful and sardonic.
Back next week.