This installment: interracial dating woes in Britain (f); British pop scene, more dating woes (f); finding sobriety in Sweden helping immigrants (f); charming CD about the challenges of perimenopause (f); DVD version of Solomon’s book on being different (nf); and an exquisite kid’s book on grief (f).
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
White boyfriend Tom tells British-Jamaican Queenie to leave, just when she’s had a miscarriage she didn’t inform him about. With such misery distracting her, her job is imperiled. She tries to restore equilibrium with what turn out to be a series of unpleasant sexual encounters. The worst: a demeaning fellow who turns out to be a good friend’s boyfriend, so there goes that relationship. Her two other good friends hang in there and finally, finally she turns it around and reestablishes the self-worth she deserves. This is important material on race and sex wrapped in an engaging package.
How To Be Famous by Caitlin Moran
Here we have Johanna from Moran’s first novel, How To Build a Girl, a few years later when her column on pop music gets acclaim and she starts to hang out with, yes, famous folks. The one she’s fixated on is John Kite, but their relationship is stalled on being buddies and besides, he’s always on tour. A humiliating sexual encounter with a snarky comedian ends up on video and it makes her want to jettison the whole scene. A number of pop references I didn’t get but Johanna is so clear-eyed and spunky, especially about the specious aspects of fame, that I happily went along for her wild ride and her coming of age.
Such Good Work by Johannes Lichtman
Addiction gets old fast and I almost gave up reading as Jonas kept losing ground. He’s been teaching at a small college and supposedly writing but nothing’s working. In desperation he moves to Sweden (he has a Swedish mother) and goes back to graduate school, now sober. Again life feels hollow and pills beckon but then he encounters Middle Eastern immigrants and that’s where he finds his calling. Finally something bigger than his self-absorbed pity, and even though the situation is grim and sad for most, I was so glad to find him truly engaged.
How Hard Can It Be by Allison Pearson
Here’s one I enjoyed on the page and then I listened on my commute and loved it all over again. Kate rejoins the job market in financial after a spell of child-rearing and discovers that her age—49—is considered ancient. So she passes herself off as 42, gets a position (for the same fund she once ran) and what a juggling act. Especially as perimenopause has its way with her, her teenage children are not easy (are any teenagers?) and her husband makes a career change and steeps himself in “mindfulness”—hah! The narrator did a bang-up job though the American accents got a bit wobbly, and even though there’s a rom-com ending, Pearson addresses real-life issues seriously amidst the hilarity.
Far From the Tree (DVD)
I was very taken with Andrew Solomon’s book and hugely curious how it would play out in this documentary. It works but is sometimes difficult to watch. Like the autistic boy’s tantrums until they discover who’s inside and how to communicate with him. The mother of a teenager who killed a child—anguish through the love that never goes away. There’s a charming couple—“little people”—who are warm, solid, and playful. And Solomon himself who wrote the book to try to understand and reconcile his otherness as a gay man. All extremely poignant.
Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes
A kids’ book about grief, exquisitely rendered. Amelia, in the 7th grade, finds solace in the local clay workshop. Her mother died long ago, her father feels distant, and a wonderful neighbor provides day to day warmth and comfort. Casey, nephew of the clay studio owner, comes for the summer. His parents might be splitting up. The two form an intense friendship. Amelia becomes obsessed with the illusion her mother has returned. Not, of course, but it’s one more piece of destabilization in an already stressed young girl. Every word in this book feels perfect, conveying depth of feeling with great simplicity. I don’t know how Henkes does it.
Back next week.