This installment: weird and charming graphic vignettes (f); mammalian follies to the max (f); caregiving intensities (f); a wicked look at the book biz (f); from addiction to art (nf); and hanky-panky among jurors.
Bizarre Romance by Audrey Niffenegger
Well, the title grabbed me first, on display among the graphic novels (a favorite section but tucked away in the back next to Science Fiction) and then I plunged into these weird little vignettes with pleasure. Some straight prose, some illustrated by Eddie Campbell in graphic novel form. Like “RoseRedSnowRidingBeautySleepingWhite” (whew) where in a costume shop Roselyn dons the rosy cape, is seized by a hand that comes through the mirror, and is dropped into a land where she becomes its benevolent, innovative ruler. She brings about anachronistic innovations, marries and has a daughter who bears the head of a badger (very cute) but of course it can’t last. That’s just a taste. Check it out.
The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
This novel explores many aspects of what my husband referred to as “mammalian follies,”—coupling, begetting, and in many cases, uncoupling when it doesn’t work out. The embedded irony is that the ur-couple, Marilyn and David, have a juicy, satisfying relationship even after all those years and their progeny always feel less-than. The constellating drama: Jonah, whom Violet bore in secret when she was 16, appears and knocks everyone for a loop. Chicago setting, children providing more misery than pleasure, from the ‘70s to present day—lots of upheavals and rueful realizations—ahh!
Say Say Say by Lila Savage
It’s what Jill cannot say that’s the central concern of this book; she’s relatively young but brain damaged from an accident. Ella is hired as caregiver but often feels helpless as Jill rages, balks, and repeats herself over and over. Her husband Bryn has dedicated himself to her primary care and is run ragged. Ella wants to help him as well but it’s confusing, awkward, and one more level of frustration. The author knows whereof she speaks with 10 years of caregiving under her belt. Sad, moving, thoughtful.
The Last Book Party by Karen Dukess
Eve grew up on Cape Cod but is trying to make it in the publishing world of NYC. She’s passed over for promotion so decides return home and take up Henry’s offer; this famous journalist is working on a memoir and could use her assistance. First she connected with his charming son (a one-night-stand) and then things turn inevitable between her and Henry. Meanwhile his wife, an acclaimed poet, has her own diversions. The party in question, a yearly costume extravaganza, is where it all plays out and falls apart. A wicked look at the book biz with its swamp of writers’ egos. One of those sadder-but-wiser tales I dearly love.
The Light Years by Chris Rush
A memoir fueled with alcoholism, drugs, and family dysfunction but shot through, amazingly, with Rush’s indomitable spirit. Growing up in New Jersey in the ‘60s, this gay Catholic boy definitely didn’t fit in. Boarding schools, wild trips to connect with far-flung, rebellious relatives and friends, a hot mess. But—is it art that saves him? That’s his current, award-winning profession and I’m so glad he lived to tell this vivid, hair-raising tale.
The Body in Question by Jill Ciment
At first she’s just juror C-2, sequestered for a weird case—did this adopted Romanian twin set her baby brother on fire? She’s a photographer, married to her now aged professor. When juror F-17, an anatomy professor, flirts with her, she goes for it. The panel is put up in a slightly seedy motel and the 7 of them are a mixed bag. Not long after the verdict, her husband dies. Word of the tryst gets out in the papers and between notoriety and the loss, her life feels very compromised. This was riveting and disturbing. (One thing that bothered me: when her husband dies the machines around him go flat. But he has a pacemaker—wouldn’t that keep going? Let me know if anyone out there has an answer for me.)
Back next week.