This installment: a literary spoof (f); a cozy historical novel (f); nasty business in a grocery chain (f); a down to earth graphic depiction of the human condition (f); a DVD about eminent domain (DVD); and a vividly messy growing up (nf).
The Unstrung Harp by Edward Gorey
You never know what will land in the book drop, and when this skinny little volume fell into my hands, I just had to while away my dinner hour in such wiggy company. Subtitled or, Mr Earbrass Writes a Novel. Oh that wordsmith with his oddly flattened head and 100 ways to avoid actually writing . Boy does Gorey love wordplay, as in this gaggle of Earbrass’s fellow authors’ names: Lawk, Sangwidge, Ha’p’orth, Avuncular, and Lord Legbail. Could Gorey be the Monty Python of the literary set? A brief but trenchant romp.
The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg
I thought of this one as a cozy historical novel– a genre meld of sorts. The set-up: Doris is very old and increasingly enfeebled. As we go through the eponymous object, we get the story behind each name, from Sweden to Paris, to NYC and back with many stumbles and a few tragedies along the way. Wartime deprivation, a lover lost, etc. A kind of evening-by-the-fire read.
The Secretary by Renee Knight
If Martha Stewart were Mina, the daughter of Lord Appleton, purveyor of fine groceries, then Christine as her very loyal secretary would be privy to all sorts of sneaky business. And indeed, glamorous Mina is determined to put her stamp on things with cutthroat tactics wrapped in the velvet glove of a glowing TV show and clever PR. Christine, ever so helpful, fiddles with diary entries (to make Mina’s life easier) and burns documents all in the name of service. Meanwhile Christine’s marriage and relationship with her own daughter suffer but she has her loyalties. At the surprising denouement we discover Christine actually holds the cards though it’s a bad hand all around. No characters I was rooting for, so a chilly read but certainly riveting.
Off Season by James Sturm
A graphic novel that features a hard-working, frustrated, disaffected guy. Well he and everyone else has dogs’ heads but boy, are they human. It’s the recent election that’s splintered his already tense marriage, a slick construction boss with a promised paycheck as soon as his client pays up, fractious children—the whole catastrophe. Very real, very moving, and when you come down to it, very sad. But worth it.
Little Pink House (DVD)
A patron pressed this into my hands: “you have to see it!” So I did, and enjoyed it thoroughly (despite what the critics said, as in “it’s no Erin Brockovich.”) A true story based on a dastardly plot in New London, CT, to seize working-class houses through eminent domain so that Pfizer could build an enormous campus. Catherine Keener plays the very down-to-earth EMT whose eponymous house is threatened and it goes all the way to the Supreme Court. Good guys—pro bono lawyers, and bad guys—a crooked governor, a fiercely ambitious college president and more. Stirring, even though (spoiler alert) they lose.
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden
A memoir of growing up in a very jumbled milieu and turning wild herself in reaction. Mother Hawaiian-Chinese, father a rich tough guy with another family they only learn about later. Drugs and alcohol on all fronts. Very vivid with vignettes that form a kaleidoscopic picture of chaos and deception. I’m forever in awe of writers who go through so much and come out so strong with amazing stories to tell, and Madden is definitely part of that pantheon.
Back next week.