This installment: suspense in the jungle (f); suspense in the Northwest (f); early Herzog (DVD); a fresh, dark take on motherhood (nf); depressed—but good writing (f); and coming through a difficult experience even stronger (nf).
Into the Jungle by Erica Ferencik
Foot-loose, bad girl Lily has managed to get herself to Bolivia where she’s barely getting by cleaning the hostel. A local, Omar, wins her heart. But he’s not exactly local, because he has to return to his tiny village where a jaguar has killed a child; the tribe needs every able-bodied hunter on board. Impulsively she goes along with him and faces incredible challenges: the stony villagers, inimical wildlife, weird food. Things get much worse when predatory whites wreak havoc; they try force to learn the location of a sacred mahogany grove. I had to suspend disbelief periodically but was gripped by the steamy atmosphere and the almost unbearable suspense.
Deception Cove by Owen Laukkanen
Two broken people and a dog vs drug dealers and crooked cops in a small town in the Northwest make for a stunning thriller. Mason has just gotten out of the pen: 15 years-worth, but he’s a good guy at heart. Jess, now a widow, was in the Marines until a traumatic event with a woman translator (and friend) in Afghanistan deemed her unfit for service. And oh that Lucy, a pit bull. Mason trained her, Jess got her as a service animal, then Lucy bit a cop and is slated for destruction. The three band together uneasily but then have to fight for their lives. Great characters, action galore, very well written.
Aguirre, The Wrath of God (DVD)
When this came out in ’72, I was blown away and the images have stayed with me all this time. A friend just came back from a trip on the Amazon and a recent book took me there as well so I decided to revisit this extraordinary film and it withstood the test of time. Kinski is riveting and insane as a 16th century zealot on a doomed expedition. It’s fascinating to see such demagoguery up close, what with our current political climate. I also listened to Herzog’s commentary and was astonished to learn he was only 28 when he made it and the budget was only $350,000. Dreamlike, exquisite, and frightening.
And Now We Have Everything by Meaghan O’Connell
Subtitled On Motherhood Before I Was Ready and this certainly describes O’Connell’s reluctance. Living with a nice guy in a funky NYC apartment, both writers with sketchy incomes, and lack of the kind of baby hunger that so many women are gripped by these days. But she proceeds anyway and describes the extended birth experience and murky months after with incredible candor. Undiagnosed post-partum depression didn’t help but at last she bonded with the kid and a move to Portland made life easier for sure. One indelible, absurd scene: a visit to a sex store on Valentine’s Day. Clever yet heartfelt writing.
Rabbits for Food by Binnie Kirshenbaum
At first I found flattened life with Bunny (yes, that’s the name her parents gave her) so sluggish with depression and fear that I was ready to bail. But fine writing kept me going and when I got to her experience in the bin—she finally got committed after a bizarre New Year’s Eve incident with a fork and her own thigh—the book really came to into focus for me. Oh the swamp of mental illness and the imperfect remedies out there…
Broken Places & Outer Spaces by Nnedi Okorafor
I love stories of coming through horrible experiences stronger than before, and this one really fills that bill. Okorafor, now an acclaimed science fiction writer, was a fine athlete at 19, on a pre-med course at college. Why not correct her scoliosis? Well the operation went awry and she emerged paralyzed below the waist. At first felled by despair but in her post-drug haze she started to make notes which became the seeds of her newly-made creative self. A long haul and she still deals with physical challenges, but that experience changed the course of her life. This slim book grew out of a TED Talk and I found it an inspiring, invigorating read.
Back next week.