The main drawback of Salvation of a Saint may be the plot similarities with The Devotion of Suspect X: a dastardly husband (it was an ex-husband in The Devotion of Suspect X) killed by his wife in an almost unsuspectable way, with the plot unearthed by a scientist and friend of the police investigator. But, on its own, it’s a wonderful mystery with a satisfying twist, the investigator has a female sidekick who seems more adept than the veteran. Enjoy
Monthly Archives: March 2019
The Making of a Dream: How a group of young undocumented immigrants helped change what it means to be American follows five undocumented teenagers and your adults that fought for legal protection, sometimes clumsily, but eventually successfully as embodied in the DACA policy (until the Trump presidency ended it). The book does a good job of showing the pitfalls and compromises of DACA, in particular the many categories of people who were left out (anyone who was not in high school or college, for instance) and the rifts it created amongst the many so-called “mixed-status” families, where parents or older siblings would not be eligible but younger siblings could be. It also shows how President Obama, who did approve the policy, saw its limits very clearly: why focus on in-country immigrants when so many others may want to come, too? And why use a policy when it’s really the entire immigration process that needs reforming — and is still no reformed. An interesting, albeit limited history.
The author of Solitary spent over 40 years in the Angola prison of Louisiana, most of it alone in a cell 23 hours a day, and almost all of it for a crime he did not commit. He freely admits that his life pre-prison was mostly spent on the wrong side of the law, but nothing that would send him away for that long, or under such a harsh treatment. Racism was at the center of the prison (just as a very mild example, the guards were called “freemen”) and institutional racism meant that framing an African-American man for murder was swiftly arranged. It’s a miracle that he got out, and as undamaged as he did.
The author of Joy Enough was unlucky enough to see her mother sicken and die and her husband walk out on her at the same time. Such bad luck! And there are a few heart-melting moments in the memoir, as when the members of her mother’s book club show up, spontaneously, to clean the house after her death. But the story, however tragic, seems rather ordinary otherwise.
The authors of Love, Money, and Parenting: How Economics Explains the Way We Raise Our Kids are fathers and economists, and they have patiently compiled information on how parents choose to be parents in the first place, and how they decide how much to intervene in the decisions their children make, based on the economic climate, the amount of income inequality, and whether the society rewards education or other goods. It turns out that parents are remarkably rational and for the most part, guide their children to success in the societies where they live–or where they expect their children to live. For Americans, the basic conclusion is that, in a society that is quite unequal and where education can pay off nicely, parents push, hard, but they stop short of dictating junior’s career path, because it will yield the best results.
I particularly liked the anecdotes provided by both (European-born) authors on the various surprises they encountered while raising their children in various countries, showing that cultural differences matter a great deal (and match economic differences very exactly).
In Scrublands, a washed-out journalist arrives in a small, drought-stricken Australian town to write that’s supposed to be a simple account of how the town is coping, one year after the unlikely mass murder and suicide of the priest. Martin may be burned out, but he’s no investigative slouch and in short order he finds out that the accepted reason for the killing spree, that the priest was about to be exposed as a pedophile, is bunk, and the more he digs, the more he finds. Soon, more glamorous journalists arrive and he’s pushed aside, but the plot continues to thicken. The author is kind enough to summarize the findings at several points so the reader is not completely lost! Nice and complex, with interesting characters, on both sides of the law– and the first fifty pages give the best description of how it feels to exist in a hot and dry place.
There’s a lot of sickness but, surprising to me considering the subtitle, not a lot of friendship in How to Be Loved: A Memoir of Lifesaving Friendship, as much of the description was of the horrendous ordeal the author had to suffer, starting with a brain tumor and ending with an allergy to, well, everything!
If you want to remind yourself that being sick is horrible, this is the book for you. If you have not quite grasped that the US health system is not working so well, ditto. For me, no thanks.
I’ve lost count of how many memoirs Dani Shapiro has written, but I know it’s a terrifying number already (and I liked some, not all). Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love is the sign of things to come, I imagine, as it springs from her chance encounter with an unexpected first cousin after she had submitted her DNA to a genealogy website.
Her father is not her biological father, and although she quickly identifies who is, she needs to know how it all happened (very decorously, by the way, following the now strange logic of early artificial insemination programs). She takes us with her as she navigates websites, her crumbling relationship with the woman she thought was her half-sister, her tentative contacts with her biological family and, very deliciously and kindly, the loving support she gets from her husband and son. (Her teenage son provides the most hilarious moment in the book, when he happily surmises that his new grandfather may well give him the gift of a full head of hair!)
A great reminder that family secrets can cause a lot of pain, even when the outcome is pretty good, as it is here.
Sugar Run starts startlingly well, with a 35-year old being released from prison into the void, after a long sentence. Her family did not send her civilian clothes. She needs to get on the Greyhound bus and find her way, home but not just home. And then it starts to fall apart, slowly. Wouldn’t someone who had been away that long be startled at new reality? Apparently not, but it’s hard to believe. Would she conveniently meet just the woman she will fall in love with, with her problems and her children? Would the story of her crime conveniently unfold to show how she is doomed to repeat the past? And of course the heavy consumption of alcohol and drugs makes it all that much more boring. As one of the young characters says, “Sometimes, Mom needs help.” She does, buddy, she does, and no one is coming to help her, or you!
The intertwined stories of successive owners of the same piano in The Piano are strangely compelling, probably thanks to the strong female characters with unusual lives. Still, I felt that the story was too forced, too unlikely, too constructed to really flow, and, in parts, read more like a compilation of careful research (on interesting topics including music, Russian emigres to the US, Death Valley) than a story one may actually embrace and believe. You may be more trusting and charitable than I am.