** The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat

The Parking Lot Attendant is a charismatic hustler who, for now, runs various illegal schemes from a Boston parking lot, within and outside the Ethiopian immigrant community there, but has bigger ambitions. The girl-narrator describes how she falls under his initial benign, even kind influence, but slowly becomes an accomplice. I thought the description of her relationship with the parking lot “attendant” was mesmerizing — but the ending in the island commune seemed way too improbable.

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*** Every Other Weekend by Zulema Renee Summerfield

I was a little leery of the precocious Nenny’s voice in Every Other Weekend — plus, can the ordinary life of the daughter of divorced parent be really that interesting? Well, yes! As we follow her to her parochial school, through her wildly devastating nightmares, and along her complex relationships with her silent, though, but secretly sweet stepfather, we fall in love with her world and her vision of it. Even without the eventual tragedy, she takes us into the universe of third graders, and it’s not quite as simple as we might think. Don’t give up before you read at least 100 pages!

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* Live Work Work Work Die by Corey Pein

I wonder how Corey Pein, the author of Live Work Work Work Die: A Journey into the Savage Heart of Silicon Valley would describe California’s Gold Rush. He would find much to bemoan: the fantastic hopes of newcomers who believed there were fortunes to be made, the long work hours, the unbelievable cost of housing, the swindling and backroom dealings, and the harsh realization that the only ones making a reliable living are those that sold shovels and jeans. And that’s exactly what the book is about: how dreamers of riches find themselves lining the pockets of unscrupulous property owners and promoters of “startup boot camps” while gentrifying neighborhoods push out blue-collar workers much like the Gold Rush crowd systematically removed Native Americans that were in the way.

I’m not sure why we need a book-length expose to show that Silicon Valley is in an economic bubble, with all the problems attending to economic bubbles. And some facts are curiously wrong: it’s true that commuter trains are unconscionably slow in these parts, but it does not take three hours to go from San Francisco to Mountain View.

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** Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibasaki

The hero and narrator of Spring Garden is a lonely young man who lives in a rapidly emptying building that is scheduled to be demolished soon. He and one of his neighbors become obsessed by the house next door, which was the subject of a book of photography, and they gradually gain access to the house to become voyeurs from the inside. That’s the entire story, which is charming and slow-moving.

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* Trenton Makes by Tadzio Koelb

The heroine of Trenton Makes murders her abusive husband and starts living as a man — an admittedly desirable choice in 1946. She finds a factory job and a common-law wife, but her double life will eventually unravel.  An unusual premise an an intriguing start could not rescue the story for me, which quickly veered towards far-fetched situations and a long, boozy grind towards her eventual unmasking.

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** Insane by Alisa Roth

America’s prisons and jails are full of mental patients who would likely fare much better in therapeutic settings (and their reassignment would allow police and correctional officers to focus on maintaining peace and order rather than serving as reluctant and mostly untrained mental health providers).  Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness describes both the failures of the system and some promising experiments driven by various police departments and prisons. Unfortunately the author chooses to multiply similar examples, even when a point has been made successfully, and she does not do a great job of isolating the real causes of the problem, beyond indicating a general lack of treatment facilities and funding. It would be very helpful to have better metrics and analysis of the root cause.

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** Feast Days by Ian MacKenzie

Feast Days stars the wife of a young, ambitious American banker who has been dispatched to Sao Paulo. She is jobless, adrift, and curious about the country she just landed in. She tries her luck as an English tutor and experiences the ambitious status of that position. She goes to protests. She travels. And she reminisces about her husband’s and her courtship, which contrasts badly with the unravelling state of their marriage. The race and tone seem to unravel by the end of this (short) novel but the first two thirds are brilliantly captured.

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