This installment:Russian politics and chess (f); growing up black and gay in the South (nf); a trans woman and her dogs (nf); art=truth for this teen (f); sex workers in East L.A. (f).
Editor’s Note: Much of our print collection is now available for holds again. The titles and links below will direct you to print when available, with special notes made of digital ebook and eAudiobook availability.
A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois
This exquisitely melancholy, mordant novel opens in ’79 in Leningrad where chess prodigy Aleksandr arrives from the hinterlands. His triumphs in the field are not a straight shot— politics can manipulate outcomes—but eventually he becomes a world champion until that last match, bested by a computer. Then he turns to radical politics, as the title implies. Meanwhile in 2006, Iriina from Boston is trying to connect with him; her now dead father had written him a significant letter but no reply had come. She’s also in flight from her life, as it were, facing a future of Huntington’s disease which claimed her father. As Aleksandr veers between “rueful cynicism and quiet, enduring hope,” we too experience the wild swings of Russian destiny as played out by Putin et al. A fabulous tale, very atmospheric.
How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones
In this short, heart-rending memoir, Jones shares what it’s like to grow up black and gay in the South. His single mother, bright and struggling, is a Buddhist. Grandma in Tennessee is a hard- core Christian who accuses young Saeed of being too “worldly” and actually puts a curse on her daughter to “save” him. Unfortunately it works—her health was always fragile—and she dies when Saeed’s in his 20’s. It took years for him to come out to her and when he did, they never really discussed it (under the rug, which describes his family’s response to his identity). Much of his sexual experience is loaded with self-hatred, and he kept assuming false personas in attempts to fit in. Jones is also a fine poet and his eloquence carries the message with painful clarity and candor.
Good Boy by Jennifer Finney Boylan
Subtitled My Life in Seven Dogs, and what a life she’s had. Which I’ve tracked through various memoirs about her transgender journey, starting in ’03. Each dog had challenging flaws but in their own way offered her helpings of acceptance and unconditional love (kind of). Two amazing aspects of Boylan’s story: her wife stayed with her throughout and their younger son, now daughter, is transgender too. Sometimes the writing verged a little too close to sentiment (in my book) but now that I have grand-dogs and have witnessed what a healing role they’ve played in my own daughter’s life, I could tell my inner critic to shut up and bask in doggie delight.
Still Life With Tornado by A.S. King
Sarah, 16, hates her life and her name; she’d prefer Umbrella which it turns out has metaphorical significance. What’s wrong? Cold War at home, older brother kicked out 6 years ago, struggles with the nature of art, something bad happened at school—like that. In circular development we follow her around, getting more details each round, as she skips school, tracks a homeless street artist, meets other versions of herself at 10, 23, and 40, and eventually confronts the lies that suffuse the household and have essentially gutted her. Her mother, who works as an emergency room night shift nurse, has tried to keep her dead marriage together for Sarah’s sake, but ultimately the truth will out, thank god. A teen book, Philadelphia setting (great scene in the infamous Mutter Museum), and an authentic, original voice.
These Women by Ivy Pochoda
Most of the women in this downtrodden East L.A. neighborhood are sex workers, and 14 have been murdered. Dorian, white, provides help for them via her snack shack; her daughter was one of the victims. Essie, a very short cop, is the only one on the force taking it seriously; trauma shadows her life as well. The characters’ distinctive voices speak to us in alternating chapters. Lots of atmospheric touches, like the forest fires that cloud the air, and some hallucinatory surrealism which reflects the interior states of these beleaguered, haunted, often stoned women. Very powerful.
Also available as an ebook and an e-audiobook on Hoopla.
See you next week.