This installment: inside palliative medicine (nf); WWII from the perspective of German girls (f); iconic comics (DVD); startling, brutal short stories (f); an old yearbook stirs up a scandal (f);
That Good Night by Sunita Puri
Subtitled Life and Medicine in the Eleventh Hour. Puri’s mother, a hardworking anesthesiologist, inspires her daughter to train as a doctor, but Puri soon realizes she wants more in-depth contact with patients and is drawn to the field of palliative medicine. She’s a wonderful writer who describes the kind of moral tangles and heavy situations that present enormous challenges. Especially relatives who want “everything” done or patients in denial. I’ve read a lot in this field and was glad for one more window into this profound and complicated subject.
Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein
Could I stomach one more book about Germany on the cusp of WWII? Yes, in this case, because we’re drawn in by the perspective of two teenage girls in Bremen. Ilse is very excited about the new energy; her friend Renate is also drawn to it but discovers her father is Jewish and that ends the connection. We fast forward to America in the ‘70s where Ava, Ilse’s rebellious and estranged daughter, gets a box of memorabilia along with Ilse’s ashes, and discovers a shocking home truth about her origins and what happened between those girls so long ago. Riveting.
Stan and Ollie (DVD)
I snagged this from the Lucky Day shelf on a friend’s fervent recommendation. Wouldn’t have been drawn to it otherwise since I’d never taken to this burlesque duo, though I came to realize how iconic they are. But what a rich and subtle film, essentially a love story. Here they are in a dark time, popularity waning, on a desperate tour of the UK in hopes of getting the attention of a Hollywood producer. Half-filled houses, squabbles, secrets, and then Ollie’s scary health condition. Their wives are also amazing characters: Ollie’s is tiny as contrasted with his bulk, slight Stan’s is a tough Russian Amazon. Very moving.
You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian
After I finished these startling, brutal short stories I decided they were so disturbing that I wouldn’t share them. But then they wouldn’t release me, so perhaps this review will serve as an exorcism. Like the one in which a woman comes across a spell book in the library and it works! A naked guy appears in chalk pentagram she drew and her wishes come true but at quite a cost—to him. A princess falls in love with what turns out to be a grotesque amalgam of objects (mirror, bucket, thigh bone)—a reflection of herself. A woman who took great pleasure in biting as a child is sorely tempted again in adulthood. Feel the menace in the title itself. (Guess I wanted it more than I initially thought.)
Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman
I think of her books as very up-to-date fairy tales and like to pick one up when I want to relax. Here Daphne throws out her mother’s old yearbook, a nosy neighbor, Geneva, plucks it out of recycling and decides a juicy story lies in the coded annotations within. This Geneva is a piece of work. Luckily another neighbor, Jeremy, befriends her and offers all manner of moral support. Daphne’s widowed father is trying out life in NYC—one more complication. There’s a question of paternity (the big mystery). A quick, entertaining read.
The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya
As I traveled in my car from Bolinas to Fairfax and beyond, I also traveled with Clemantine whose tortuous, torturous journey took her from a sweet childhood in Rwanda through seven countries. On the run from the conflict at age 6 with her older sister Claire, they got through the peril-filled countryside, ended up in refugee camps, and kept moving on when conditions grew too horrid. Or when fierce, determined Claire felt they were getting mired in stunned complacency. Eventually, with a no-good husband and 3 young children in tow, they end up in Chicago. Happy ending—right? Not. Clemantine’s psyche was so armored she couldn’t let her guard down. And the reunion with their parents after 12 years didn’t give her any sense of returning “home.” She shares this interior journey with us very candidly as well. Eye-opening!
Back next week.