This installment: teen identity confusion (f); Backman’s latest (f); time and writing: what do they mean in the great scheme of things? (nf); smug neighbors get their comeuppance (f); and an economist unwinds by necessity (f).
Editor’s Note: The titles and links below will direct you to print when available, with occasional notes made of digital eBook and eAudiobook availability.
Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy
A teen book that explores identity confusion. The eponymous protagonist in a Mississippi bayou town has blue hair and loves Grace. Until Grace dumps her, childhood friend Freddie reappears after 6 years, and she discovers her powerful attraction to him—how could this be happening? Another complication: her sister Hattie is pregnant by feckless, useless Tyler and their trailer is already crammed. Things are more tolerant in this southern setting than I expected (a number of queer kids, not ostracized) but Ramona is still beset by conflicting feelings and loyalties. Tender, thoughtful, funny.
Anxious People by Frederik Backman
The setup is peculiar from the get-go: a failed bank robber stumbles into an apartment showing and the father-son police team call it a hostage situation. Everyone’s spectacularly confused. As they’re holed up waiting for the negotiator from Stockholm and the pizza to arrive, this disparate bunch make surprising alliances and we discover what brought them here; motives were surprisingly varied and in some cases, real estate wasn’t even the point. The witness interviews are particularly funny. The wiggiest character is a guy in a rabbit head mask dressed only in his underwear—an actor hired by a prospective buyer for a stunt to turn off other applicants. Backman is good with grumpy characters —remember Ove? I looked forward to the inevitable humanizing and the satisfying denouement.
Desert Notebooks by Ben Ehrenreich
Subtitled A Road Map for the End of the World. Timely—eh? A brilliant book I couldn’t fully take in but want to share it anyway. My husband John loved the subtle, powerful starkness of the desert where you could sense the bones of the earth. Ehrenreich shares that love in his forays, first in the Mojave and then in Las Vegas (!) where he had a fellowship. He explores concepts of time and writing throughout history, philosophy, and literature. (Hegel, for instance, gets a workout.) I didn’t realize the creosote bush was so ancient and interconnected, like mycelium. Wish I had the patience to follow the author into thickets of inquiry but just scooped up what I could right now, which was breathtaking. Highly recommended.
Also available as an eAudiobook from Hoopla.
Those People by Louise Candlish
A charming enclave in London where neighbors delight in apparent harmony and cooperation, like closing the street so their kids can play unfettered by traffic, as in the good old days. Well those days come to an abrupt end when an old resident dies and her relative takes over. What a disaster! He’s gross, destructive, and dismissive. The police and the council aren’t all that responsive to their outcries and they discuss possible actions for revenge. A recipe for disaster which indeed comes about. Of course facades crack; domestic tensions and self-interest become the name of the game. A nasty story I enjoyed. Ahh, schadenfreude.
Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss by Rajeev Balasubramanyam
The protagonist, an economist at Oxford, is a front-runner for the Nobel Prize. He doesn’t get it. He never quite got over his divorce and estrangement from his kids, and his judgmental qualities get even more acerbic. An accident, a minor stroke, and it’s obviously time to do something completely different. In desperation he ends up at Esalen and actually starts to change. A crisis with his youngest daughter brings the scattered family back together at a Zen monastery in Colorado and there’s healing all around. So many opportunities for humor here, nicely done.
Back next week.