This installment: crime fiction from Scotland (f); weirdness in a Washington state backwater (f); weirdness in the Ozarks (f), weirdness in British Columbia (f); Chast’s graphic memoir (f); and American lads at the ’36 Olympics in Berlin (nf). [note: I read these in 2014.]
The Red Road by Denise Mina
Intelligent, intricate, gritty crime fiction from Scotland. Detective Alex Morrow is in the midst of testifying at the trial of a horrid arms dealer when a red herring appears. How could his fingerprints appear at a murder scene when he’s locked up? She untangles the mystery in fits and starts, often leaving me a little lost but thoroughly intrigued. Lots of local color, including a very odd hippie who wears rag-tag woman’s clothing.
Steal the North by Heather Brittain Bergstrom
Eastern Washington State feels like a backwater, even compared with Sacramento where Emmy grows up, but when at 15 she’s sent to relatives she didn’t even know about, the landscape tugs at her—true home. Misery despite, initially—adjustments like this for teenagers are especially hard. Her aunt’s had many miscarriages and Emmy’s participation in a healing ritual might just turn the tide. An Indian boy next door becomes her ally, comfort, and more, though their ultimate courtship faces huge obstacles. Intense and absorbing.
The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh
Oh the Ozarks, full of backwoods weirdness. A town named Henbane — you get the picture. Caves, sinkholes, wells and wilderness seem to absorb the “missing” and no one seems to make much of a fuss, especially the local constabulary. This kind of closed society takes care of its own. Lucy’s mother, a beautiful witchy outsider, disappeared early on. Now her best friend Cheri’s gone too and Lucy goes poking around—a dangerous pursuit. This might be considered Southern noir, sometimes a bit too much for me (like enveloping kudzu), but it gripped me despite.
A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountains by Adrianne Harun
Backwoods British Columbia where in real life girls started hitching and were never seen again. Harun explores the story fictionally, weaving folklore, physics, card games, and the Devil himself to create a web of challenging, bleak yet spirited life in dead-end small towns. Lots of bad actors, lots of domestic violence. And the best entertainment for teenagers is shooting varmints at the old dump. Spellbinding, disturbing—and worth it.
Can’t We Talk About Something More PLEASANT? by Roz Chast
Oh how I love this book! Death and family dysfunction– my reading “specialties.” Now we see the source of all those hilarious, nebbishy, anxiety ridden characters in her cartoons. A fierce, withheld mother, a kind but ineffectual father and a codependent folie a deux that makes trying to help them into their increasingly feeble nineties maddening and heart-breaking. Chast is fiercely honest and lets us in on her very mixed feelings, including a large helping of rage. There were times I was doubled over in laughter and other times deeply struck by exquisite melancholy, like the sketches of her mother’s face on her deathbed. Highly recommended for its stringent dose of truth in addition to artistry and black humor.
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
Subtitled Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. This isn’t the kind of book I’d ordinarily be drawn to but I saw the author speak at the ALA convention and was won over by his modest delivery and passionate commitment to what turned out to be a very engrossing story. The boys were all struggling economically at the University of Washington and never expected to get so far, but there was determination in the core of each that propelled them into the surrealistic limelight of Hitler’s attempt to sanitize his country’s reputation. Brown describes the subtle, powerful art of crewing in vivid depth. I didn’t realize what an amazing balancing act it is. A winner!
Back in three days.