This installment: Enger’s latest (f); Somalis in Oslo (f); black lives matter (DVD); iconoclastic cartoonist’s memoir (nf); one from Julia Glass (f); and creepy, funny short stories (f). [Note: the last two are from 2014. I’m on vacation and will have a new batch after I get back.}
Virgil Wander by Leif Enger
The eponymous protagonist’s name has mythic overtones and indeed I’d call this Midwest Magical Realism—an odd but tasty mix. He hasn’t wandered (yet) geographically, but almost slips off this plain via a plunge over a cliff. He survives but feels displaced. Where is home, other than the old movie theater he owns? Into his questioning life comes Rune (another mythic name) from Scandinavia who’s just learned he had a son, a now dead adventurer. Rune makes and flies extraordinary kites. Quests galore, fishing in the big, cruel lake, tragedies and bereft kids in their wake, and the magic of the movies. All takes place in a town on the skids—the only festival they can come up with is “Hard Luck Days.” Charming.
North of Dawn by Nuruddin Farah
Somalis in Oslo—a complicated setup. A Somalian couple has acclimated well over the years, as has their daughter. But their son who turned zealous back in Somalia died in a suicide bombing there and the couple reluctantly invite his widow and stepchildren to join them. The widow and teenaged daughter who’s been raped in a refugee camp hole up in their apartment but son Naciim is affectionate and eager to assimilate. A couple of sketchy imam connect with the widow but she also has a friend from the camps from her old life as a call girl. Local anti-Muslim and anti-immigration factions create even more tension. Sometimes the writing felt a little stilted to me (odd vernacular phrases) but I was fascinated by this opportunity to examine the clash of cultures.
The Hate U Give (DVD)
The young adult book was powerful and the film does it proud. Starr lives in a black neighborhood in Atlanta, dominated by a drug dealer, King Lord. Her father did jail time but is now a solid citizen and she goes to a private school where she has to “code-switch” to fit in. Her best friend from childhood, Khalil, is shot on a traffic stop and she’s the only witness. It’s a scary position to be in but Starr bravely rises to the task. Citizens take to the streets when the cop gets off, the family business is torched, but there’s some redress if not exactly full justice. A movie that tells it like it is!
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot by John Callahan
I loved this memoir when I read it back in 1989 and went back to it after I’d seen the recent VD (and not liked it very much, unfortunately). So I wanted a hit of undiluted Callahan again and found it as exhilarating 30 years later. He was a bad boy, a drunk, and a car crash made him a quadriplegic. What a struggle to get semi-functional, sober, and then a career as a fabulous, outrageous cartoonist until his death in 2010.
And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass
I’ve read all of her books so far and am always glad when a new one comes out, especially if it brings in characters from previous novels. In this one, an art historian, Kit, is at loose ends. Which doesn’t bode well because he has no real job, twin children, and a wife who’s getting fed up. So she sends him off to his stepfather, Jasper, hoping it will jolt him into action. As it turns out, Kit has been haunted by the mystery of his real father’s identity and gathers just enough clues to discover a whole new family network with its own complexities. His paternal grandfather is a politician, now felled by a stroke. His father died of AIDS. At the end of the book, not all is healed, but Kit’s on his way to a sense of himself which has to be better than the previous weird limbo of unknowing. I was pleased to be back in touch with the dad’s friends Fenno and Walter and the incredible parrot Felicity from The Three Junes.
Bark by Lorrie Moore
Short stories, often creepy and funny—a tasty, unsettling combination. In the first, a newly divorced guy meets sexy, provocative Zora but she comes with a disturbed 16-year-old son and their bond seems a little too close. In another, a soon to be divorced couple go on a nightmare vacation. Then there’s the young woman in a sublet house who starts befriending an old guy and finds herself in a whole new unexpected life. Surrealistic, witty, sometimes a bit chilly but always fascinating.
Back in three days.