This installment: Patti Smith’s latest (nf); original essays about weirdness (nf); four generations of African-American women (f); faith, sorely tested (f); and from Cameroon to NYC (f).
Editor’s Note: Since our print collection is currently unavailable, the titles and links below all direct you to our digital ebook and eAudiobook collections, either in Overdrive or Hoopla*. You can learn more about using those services on our blog, and contact us if you need assistance.
*Restrictions to using Hoopla apply based on your home address.
Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith
The monkey is a trickster, as Smith experienced on a trip she was supposed to do with dear friend Sam Shepard. But he ended up in the ICU in NYC so she went alone and brings us along in her inimitable fashion. Dreamlike, from start to finish, cross country with many detours and surprises. Funky motels and diners, random hitching, grief and epiphanies—the whole gamut. Documented with photos, so we have proof that the Dream Inn is real as well as symbolic. An opportunity for us to travel with this inimitable singer/author while we are stuck with Shelter In Place.
Little Weirds by Jenny Slate
What a peculiar experience it was to go from Smith’s book straight to Slate’s—here was another interior, fragmented, very personal exploration and perhaps enough was enough. Especially because Slate’s tone wasn’t a comfortable fit for me initially, on the edge of cutesy. Slate is also an actor and her delivery sometimes verged on breathless wonder or self-abnegation. But I’m really glad I stuck with it because her musings soon developed a focus that revealed deep growth and some brilliant insights. Like her take on misogyny and the development of the patriarchy, told as a fable of sorts (no jargon in sight). A very original voice, and in this time of all-around weirdness, it feels like home.
The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
The title refers to an old African-American mystical practice, and this runs through four generations of women in the South. Starting with Josephine in 1855, her namesake in 1924, and great granddaughter Ava in 2017. From slavery to “freedom” to current racism in New Orleans as Ava and teenage son move in with his paternal grandmother who’s white. She needs help, Ava needs a job, and the boy can move to a better school district, but predictably it all goes seriously awry. Ava’s mother is a healer, a keeper of the lineage, and Ava has undiscovered gifts as well. Atmospheric, suspenseful and full of lore.
Also available as an ebook and an e-audiobook on Hoopla!
The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
James and Charlie are co-ministers in a Greenwich Village church in the ‘50s. Charlie, from well-to-do intellectual parents, discovered his faith via his study of history. James, from a poor Irish background, managed to get to college and was drawn to religion more through a desire for social activism than faith. Their partners provide a significant contrast: Charlie’s wife Lily is resolutely anti-deist. James’s Nan is very devout. When Charlie’s twin son Will is diagnosed as autistic, the challenge is enormous and devastating. Nan yearns for a baby but no luck so far. As the story progresses, faith on all fronts is sorely tested. Will’s condition turns out to be the key to growth and ultimate redemption. Very thoughtful, absorbing, and not at all preachy.
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
Jende, an immigrant from Cameroon, is thrilled to get a job as the chauffeur for Lehman Bros. bigwig Clark. His wife Neni has big dreams of becoming a pharmacist; between the demands of school and work, this will be a long road, but she’s very determined. Things start to unravel as the financial scandal emerges, Clark’s wife Cindy has problems with drugs and alcohol, and Jende’s undocumented status closes in. When he must deal with what seems like an impossible moral and practical dilemma, it’s back to square one (dishwashing) and all their dreams of security and prosperity fade away. A very timely theme and an interesting perspective on cultural contrasts.
See you next week.