This installment: an alternative treatment for autism sparks tragedy (f); the nightmarish Nickel Academy in the south in the ‘60s (f); Gilbert’s latest (f); a peculiar thriller (); Atwood’s latest (f); and little book about (much more than) high heels (nf).
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
Oh these ironic titles, because not only don’t miracles happen here, but horrifying events take place instead. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment offers (dubious) hope for kids with problems—autism, cerebral palsy—and also might address Matt’s infertility. A Korean immigrant family brings this therapy to the town; Pak did it in Seoul. Protesters picket (“autism isn’t a disease!”) and a series of botched events result in deaths. We get each character’s perspective and story chapter by chapter and there’s a denouement that brings a glimmer of hope to a very sad story. Fascinating!
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Elwood had a bright future but when he got a ride with what turned out to be a car thief, he got sent to the infamous Nickel Academy instead of college. What a nightmare: segregated of course (Tallahassee in the ‘60s), supposedly improving young lives but actually destroying many instead. Elwood grew up listening to MLK’s speeches, and trying to live out nonviolence in such a milieu proves an impossible stretch. Very powerful, quite shocking.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
Viv hits NYC when she flunks out of Vassar. It’s 1940 and her Aunt Peg has a wild scene going at the theater she’s created. Viv can sew and puts her skills to good use, but her understanding of social interactions leaves much to be desired. She makes a Big Mistake but gets back into Peg’s good graces when they put on shows for soldiers at the navy yard. The book is in the form of an extended a letter to mysterious Angela and eventually we find out their connection. An easy, absorbing read.
Our House by Louise Candlish
This is a peculiar thriller that I kept questioning but also kept reading. The premise: Fiona comes home earlier than expected. Strangers seem to be in the process of moving into her house. She and Brian have separated but are “sharing” the children. Both Brian and Fiona find themselves in new relationships but soon discover something is very fishy. Brian had been involved in a serious automobile accident but stayed under the radar—or so he thinks. It’s a shell game of sorts with a double-crossing denouement that provides a taste of justice in a very murky stew. When I suspended disbelief, I had a good time with it.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
At last the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. I found it helpful to have seen the TV series recently, because I think it would be challenging for someone lacking background. It’s a struggle between hyper-religious Gilead and anti-Gilead forces on both borders. Of course there’s rot underneath Gilead’s piety, but how to get to word out and bring the regime down? From within, it turns out, and there are surprising allies there that ultimately do so. Atwood’s witty (as in a Gilead saying: Pen is Envy, as a warning about the written word—get it?) and good on plot twists. But I wouldn’t call this a fun read—a little too close to home.
High Heel by Summer Brennan
When I first spied this cute little book on a subject close to my heart (all kinds of shoes) I thought it would be a quick, fun read. And there’s lots of delight in it but also heavy duty material because of the feminist perspective such footwear evokes. The author wears heels, she admits, but wrestles with the historical and societal messages attached. We have mythology, anthropology, sociology, and polemic packed into these short chapters. More than I expected—who knew a shoe could deliver such a wallop?
Back next week.