This installment: a jaw-dropping story of a trans woman who cleans up messes (nf); a hermit conceals a woman in a coma (f); shoes and Jews in China (f); mountain living (nf); library pleasures and pitfalls (nf); and charming teen book (f).
The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein
Subtitled One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster. A trifecta for someone like me with very dark taste. Sandra was once Pete, a severely abused, adopted boy. Fled at 17, drink and drugs, married early with two sons, then took the leap into her true personhood. Initially supported herself with sex work (a common trade for transsexuals), but ultimately got into the work that this book explores. Hoarders, suicides, etc.—messes you wouldn’t believe. Sandra’s warm, upbeat, and beautiful. She does what healing she can along with the monumental clean up tasks. She’s also health-challenged. I read this right after Circe and came to think of Sandra as a present day goddess. The author is candid about her own troubles and sometimes the book feels a bit messy and overdone, but that’s Sandra for you—a phenomenon from Down Under. Mesmerizing.
The Hermit by Thomas Rydahl
A peculiar mystery from Denmark that both fascinated and baffled me in turn. Eponymous 70-year-old Erhard, a sporadic taxi driver on a small island in Spain, lives in isolation with only goats for company. But he gets sucked back into society by his outrage over a dead baby found in a semi-submerged car, and the police manipulate the evidence to wrap up the case fast. Strange doings with a drinking buddy and his beautiful wife who ends up in a coma. To protect her, Ehrhard conceals her identity and tends her while doggedly following up clues that will lead him to the baby’s murderer. I often had to suspend disbelief but couldn’t put it down. Here’s an anti-hero with a fierce sense of justice uncovering rot all around—yes!
The Emperor of Shoes by Spencer Wise
Alex, the Younger Cohen, works with his father manufacturing said shoes in China. He’s rebellious and falls in with Ivy, a delectable worker with revolutionary ideas, like decent conditions and compensation. His father balks since the whole setup is based on graft and skimping; otherwise manufacturers would go elsewhere. A possibly happy ending I wanted to believe in. The mix of Yiddish and Chinese cultures is incongruous yet entertaining, and lots of inside dope about how shoes are made. Who knew?
Rough Beauty by Karen Auvinen
Subtitled Forty Seasons of Mountain Living and predictably the living ain’t easy, what with fierce winters, small town suspicions, and the shocking denouement that starts the book: a devastating fire. But Karen is a match for the challenges, with her independent spirit, her poet’s need for solitude, and sheer grit. To manage financially she cobbles together jobs—teaching, tending bar, delivering mail—and best of all, gets a canine pal, Elvis. More intensities: her mother’s decline and family conflicts, but she emerges with forgiveness and even finds love—yes! Vivid and atmospheric.
Free For All by Dan Borchert
Subtitled Oddballs, Geeks and Gangstas in the Public Library. I came upon this in one of our displays and had to do a compare and contrast with us, of course. A small regional library in Southern California. After a string of miscellaneous pursuits he got this “real job” when he had a family to support. He’s a paraprofessional, like me. Civil service, for security—you really have to screw up to get fired. Lots of strange stuff happens in libraries, no surprise, and the overworked staff copes brilliantly for the most part. We get to know the most heinous patron, a woman who racks up big fines and keeps getting new cards under different names; each of her many kids get cards, too. Many eccentrics, including regular loners. Borchert mines the comedy in many anecdotes, as well as poignancy and pride. Sometimes dated in details (2007 pub. date) but so much rings true.
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron
James doesn’t want to go to Brown. He finds aggregations of people a drag and dreams of holing up in an old Midwestern house and reading classics instead. He’s “working” in his NYC mother’s absurd gallery where he does like John, the gay black assistant, though James hasn’t focused on anything sexual yet. And he loves his 82-year-old grandma. We’re privy to the convoluted inner workings of his mind, funny and philosophical, but he tends to close down with his family and especially with his shrink. A tender, witty teen book.
Back next week.