This installment: French’s latest (f); brilliant short stories, animals included (f); religion, addiction, science, immigration–a rich exploration (f-CD); can bad girls learn to levitate? (f); and this book made my blood run cold (f).
Editor’s Note: The titles and links below will direct you to print when available, with occasional notes made of digital eBook and eAudiobook availability.
The Searcher by Tana French
Cal may think he’s left police work behind in Chicago when he retires to a rundown cottage in a small Irish village. But when young, troubled Trey seeks him out—older brother’s gone missing—he’s reluctantly back on a case again; the local force is unresponsive. He discovers murky, ugly doings and the camaraderie he started to enjoy seems to dry up except when they’re trying to make a match for him with Lena. Wonderful character development, a great surprise, and a depth of feeling as well as vivid atmosphere. What else can you ask for?
Animal Spirit by Francesca Marciano
Magnificent short stories, mostly set in Rome, where creatures often appear. Like a 7’ albino python, birds of prey used to banish rapacious seagulls, and a rescue puppy which might just heal the breaches that arise between two couples during an ill-fated holiday. Another features a haunting sojourn to New Mexico, where an old friend is drafted to “rescue” a man with raging bipolar delusions. Each of these stories present a small, solid world— very satisfying.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Gifty is a researcher at Stanford, working with addiction in mice. Her brother Nana died of an overdose when she was young, her mother plunged into depression, and her church in Alabama couldn’t provide much help. Some years later after another suicide attempt, her mother is shipped to Gifty and it’s a very frustrating scene until healing finally occurs. Gifty grapples with her own loss of faith and culture—she spent a difficult summer in Ghana, a place she’d never been, when her mother couldn’t cope. Gradually the defenses that arose from her primal wound and survivor’s guilt give way and she can finally appreciate wonder, unmitigated by the strictures of religion or science. In CD form this book is especially rich—I love hearing the language and accents.
The Lightness by Emily Temple
At 16, Olivia arrives at the Levitation Center in the mountains. It’s a monastery of sorts that runs a program for “bad girls.” But it’s also the last place her father was seen a year ago and she’s hoping to track down his whereabouts. She’s assigned to the garden, run by attractive Luke, and falls in with four of the girls who are determined to master the promise of the camp’s name. They break what rules there are, embark on dangerous activities, and of course it ends badly. How can things be so lax? Well the ringleader is the daughter of the billionaire founder and the staff doesn’t mess with her. I had to suspend disbelief often but appreciated the Buddhist lore and interweaving of myth and fairy tales..
Leave the World Behind by Rumaam Alam
It starts with a very familiar setup:: a family vacation to a posh, remote Long Island house with pool in the woods. Amanda and Clay, their kids Rose (13) and Archie (16). Two days in there’s a knock at the door at night—what? An older Black couple stand before them, the owners. There’s been an extensive blackout on the Eastern seaboard, their city apartment is 14 floors up and G.H. (for George Henry Washington, they discover) and wife Ruth intend to retreat there for a bit. No devices seem to be working. It’s an uncomfortable but doable arrangement, helped by alcohol and the basic decency of the parties involved. But then a series of very disturbing, ominous occurrences indicate that plans for returning to “real life” won’t happen. What makes this book so chillingly effective is the attention to domestic detail and levels of denial. Creature comforts and prosperity fail to comfort in the face of infrastructure collapse. Too close to home these days?
Back next week.