Monthly Archives: May 2017

** The Red Car by Marcy Dermansky

The heroine of The Red Car has an abusive husband and a job she could apparently do in her sleep when an old mentor dies, leaving her the famous red car. So she flies across the country and tries to find herself again, in what I thought were rather cliched northern California moves. Still,  her self-talk is well-observed and the first half of the (short) story hangs together quite well.

 

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Filed under New fiction

* The Temporary Bride by Jennifer Klinec

The Temporary Bride made me feel acutely uncomfortable. It is a memoir of a daring Canadian woman who loves to cook and discover new food cultures and has travelled to unlikely locales, alone. (Think Sana’a, Yemen). In this book, she travels to Iran and learns cooking from a homemaker she finds through her son, and the stories of her relationship with this woman living in a world so different from hers are wonderful, as is her avid interest in restaurants, street vendors, and even a camel slaughterhouse.

And then she starts a relationship with the son, one that begins with ambiguous violence and then continues with, to me, unhealthy cultural undertones, as she seems to think of him as slightly inferior, untrained, uncouth. Although she proclaims her love of him, the revelation of so many personal details seemed exploitative and inappropriate.

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Filed under True story

*** Saratoga Payback by Stephen Dobyns

Saratoga Payback is the entertaining story of a private investigator who, having had his license revoked, just cannot turn off his investigative instinct. And of course a corpse on his driveway  is irresistible. He will be drawn into mysterious horse abductions and many more murders until the breath-taking finale. But the best part of the book is the self-talk and private life of our hero, with his aging knees, self-deprecating humor, and complicated relationship with the police chief.

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Filed under Mystery

*** The Crossing by Andrew Miller

The Crossing is the portrait of a strong woman who makes her own way, regardless of custom, betrayal, or tragedies. It will eventually put her on a small boat crossing the Atlantic — by herself. This is not a happy-ever-after story, or even a temporarily-happy story, but the heroine is dogged, strong, unforgettable.

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Filed under New fiction

* Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson

It’s not clear what Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America is trying to accomplish. While the author rightly highlights the many privileges of white people in America, his strident tone will surely repel those who would most need to grasp the damage of their racist views, and discourage those who are working towards a more egalitarian society. The most effective part of the book, for me, were the personal stories of discrimination taken straight from the author’s family, full of law-abiding, educated, successful individuals that regularly encounter naked racism as well as more covert versions. He also clearly explains how black immigrants have a leg up on black Americans. But the vitriol…

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Filed under Non fiction

** This Close to Happy by Daphne Merkin

 

It’s hard to read This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression and not feel deeply sad for the author, whose euphemistically tagged “treatment-resistant” depression has followed her since childhood, with multiple severe episodes following stressful life events.  But she seems to attribute most of her problems to her upbringing, which was clearly cold, even neglectful but not out-of-bounds cruel — just clueless. It made me wonder whether holding on to the notion that she deserved a better childhood may not have made it even more difficult for her to live with her illness. It also made me wonder why she clung to a mother whom she describes as indifferent and callous well into adulthood. Wouldn’t she be better off to put some physical and mental space between her and her mother? In any case, the book is a reminder of the great travails of depression, and the gap still to be bridged by medicine when it comes to treating it.

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Filed under True story

* Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

Say you just found out that a psychopath made snuff films and the police officer to whom you reported your discovery (complete with abundant copies of said films) nonchalantly sent you away and told you not to worry your pretty little head. What would you do? (I know the premise is far-fetched but work with me.)

(A) Contact other and/or more powerful police authorities

(B) Get help from trusted friends and family

(C) Drive, unescorted, to the psychopath house, which is isolated out in the country, to see what you find

The heroines of Pretty Girls pick (C) and what follow is terrifying, but what terrified me the most was their stupidity. And also the amount of gratuitous details from the snuff films. And the ending that suggested that killing psychopaths yourself was better than using normal law and order avenues.

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Filed under Mystery