This installment: three couples reflect India’s complexity (nf); the challenges of foster parenting (f); a man and a dog in the deep south (f); a NYC chick who plays basketball (f); and two DVDs featuring Agnes Varda.
The Heart is a Shifting Sea by Elizabeth Flock
Subtitled Love and Marriage in Mumbai, this book brings us into the lives of three couples. Veer and Maya are Hindu, Shazhad and Sabeena Muslim, and Ashok and Parvati (neither their first choice of mate) are the only ones to have a child. The enormous tangled history of India is reflected brilliantly in their individual stories. In most cases, once a woman marries she becomes subservient and this certainly plays out although there are some very imperfect escape hatches, like having affairs. I found Flock’s approach to understanding a culture riveting and revealing.
The Risk of Us by Rachel Howard
Oh the snares of taking on a foster child. More heartbreak than pleasure initially, though this mom and dad hang in there with 7 year old Maresa. You’d think the social service agencies would provide help, but between surveillance, bureaucracy, and doctrinaire approaches to child-rearing that don’t fit their family, it’s amazing they kept going. Clear-eyed, sometimes exhausting (even to read), but let’s hear it for commitment and its ultimate reward.
Biloxi by Mary Miller
Everything seems slower in the South and that definitely characterizes Louis. His long-time wife ultimately decamped, and he’s unmoored at home awaiting a big check from his father’s passing. Impulsively he gets a dog and after a bit, along comes its person, a dubious young woman whose former paramour gave away the dog out from under her. Innocent Louis does what he can for this wild-card, Sasha, until she does him wrong but basically sets him free to hit the road. Gentle, mordant humor.
The Falconer by Dana Czapnik
Another tough girl in NYC. (I’ve read a bunch like this recently.) This one stands out because Lucy (aka Loose) plays basketball. She spends lots of time on the courts and on the roof with her best friend Percy, from a privileged family, but when that relationship gets briefly sexual, there goes their bond. Luckily this sharp outsider has a few more friends: Alexis (on scholarship) and a couple of far out women artists. The city is as much a character as these folks, and art and philosophy almost get as much of a workout as her beloved basketball. Refreshing.
Faces places (DVD)
82 year old Agnes Varda, French cinematographer, and JR, a hipster with an ambitious goal, take off on a road trip in his photo-mobile. He takes these enormous portraits of local folks and wheat-pastes them on buildings and walls. ( This reminded me of the graffiti artist Banksy, ephemeral public art, but huge. And Varda reminded me of my mother: short, vigorous, tough, and judgmental.) Turns out “ordinary” people look beautiful on such a scale. The photos of old miners on a row of brick houses ready to be demolished, plus Jeanine, the last holdout. Surprising juxtapositions like Varda’s toes and teeth on train tankers. (Note: JR came to SF recently and you can see his work at MOMA.)
La Pointe Courte (DVD)
So that’s library life: into my hands fell an early film of Varda, and I loved it. This fishing village has problems—the health department suspects pollution. A local boy risen in the world brings his disaffected wife from Paris back to visit. Can this marriage be saved? The couple is played by brilliant actors; the villages, quaint as all get-out, play themselves. Varda made this when she was 25 in 1955 and I was blown away by the brilliant cinematography. (All this fuss about the recent Roma and here she was doing it way back when.) Fascinating and (but) Very French.
Back next week.