This installment: a thriller—was Melanie really the notorious Coke Mom? (f); up close with grizzly bears (nf); Mark Morris’s autobiography (nf); an amazing children’s illustrator’s bio (nf); Martin Cruz Smith’s latest (f); and mother-daughter enmeshment beyond belief (nf).
Closer Than You Know by Brad Parks
Hardworking Melanie, who’s come up through the foster system, gets the shock of her life when her baby, Alex, is taken from her by the authorities. They’ve found cocaine in her house and she’s now known as the notorious Coke Mom. A politician with a big secret is behind it all. Her husband, an African-American graduate student, seems to have something odd going on, her brother Teddy may be taking up with his druggie girlfriend again, and it’s all looking very grim. Melanie’s also been a rape victim and that plays into the action in surprising ways. Another thriller I couldn’t put down.
Down from the Mountain by Bryce Andrews
Subtitled The Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear. The author, a rancher from Montana, gets involved with People and Carnivores, a conservation group. The conundrum of territorial needs seems unsolvable but he tries by devising an experimental electric fence around an enormous cornfield that has been luring bears from their usual wild fare. He also tells of Millie, a sow with two cubs, who meets a sad end. The cubs end up in a zoo, better then death—or is it? Vivid, passionate, attentive writing.
Out Loud by Mark Morris
The author, known as the “bad boy of modern dance,” is a hero of mine and in this memoir I got to be privy to his genius, his meanness, his delight, and his amazing creative process. He takes us from early days in Seattle with first teacher, Verla Flowers, to his peripatetic years before he got established, to a crazy residency in Belgium—well-funded but very controversial, to his current fame. Now there’s the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn. He’s stopped performing but will keep creating and inspiring for a good long time, I hope.
Helen Oxenbury by Leonard S. Marcus
Subtitled a life in illustration, this oversize, exuberant bio features her magnificent drawings for children’s books, many of which I’d loved for years. The kids she portrays are fleshy, messy, full of life and the work is exquisitely colored. One fascinating aspect: her long marriage to John Burningham, another extraordinary children’s author. (This is catalogued as a J book but I think it’s really for adults.) Lots of photos, too.
The Siberian Dilemma by Martin Cruz Smith
I love that Russian sleuth of sorts, Arkady Renko, and here he is once more. The dilemma of the title refers to thin ice, freezing water, and an impossible choice. Arkady is supposed to deliver a prisoner but senses it’s a cooked up confession and goes to bat for him. He’s also on the trail of his lover, Tatiana, who never showed up as scheduled and is in hot pursuit of a story. There are oligarchs, bears, and an amazing “factotum” who saves Arkady’s ass many times over. A rip-roaring denouement and a very entertaining, atmospheric story along the way. Long live Renko!
Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur
Subtitled My Mother, Her Lover, and Me. The author was 16 when her spirited mother, Malabar, confessed that her husband Charles’s best friend, Ben, had kissed her. That launched a surreptitious affair in which Adrienne was complicit, often providing alibis and diversions. A heavy burden which really screwed up her subsequent life. She even ended up marrying Ben’s son for a spell. An amazing story of enmeshment and its poisonous sequelae. The title refers to a cookbook that Ben and Malabar were working on—he was a hunter—and there are vivid, disturbing scenes of carnage and feasting. Riveting.
Back next week.