Monthly Archives: August 2019

*** Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

Idaho stars the wife of an early-onset Alzheimer patient, who tries to untangle her husband’s past, now that he can no longer remember what happened to his first wife and daughters. The tale is hazy and disconnected, as surely his mind must be by the time the story starts, but also kind and loving, despite what we know from the start must be a very dark story. The magnificent Idaho mountains are an added pleasure to the complex tale.

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Filed under New fiction

** Writing to Persuade by Trish Hall

Writing to Persuade: How to Bring People Over to Your Side attempts to mix suggestions on writing persuasively with tidbits from the author’s life–and, as is often the case, I much preferred the life story to the advice, starting with the startling realization that her mom may not have liked her much because she reminded her of her absconded husband. The advice is fine, really, albeit sometimes hackneyed, and hectoring. The author does include wonderful examples of before- and after-editing prose, which show the awesome power of good editing.

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Filed under Non fiction

* Home for Erring and Outcast Girls by Julie Kibler

The author of Home for Erring and Outcast Girls proposes a fictionalized history of a real institution that took in abused and pregnant women and allowed them to keep their children, unlike most other institutions of the time. It is to be expected that the stories would be heartbreaking, and indeed there are enough rapes, abandonments, and betrayals to keep going for hundreds of pages–and still there’s more, as she overlays the equally sad stories of the fictional contemporary researchers of said institution, both with similarly exploited pasts.

If you like dramatic stories with clearly marked good and bad characters, you will like this book.

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Filed under New fiction

** A Decent Life by Todd May

A Decent Life: Morality for the Rest of Us has a modest goal–to inspire us to be a little better than we are. No heroics required. The author encourages us to do the little things that will make others happier, and perhaps inspire them to pay it forward. (I must say I did not get his favorite example, putting a napkin on top of someone’s cup of coffee to keep it warm. I think it’s a little creepy!) He reminds us that surrounding ourselves with like-minded people, and like-minded people only, is tempting but overly comfortable. He encourages us to visibly demonstrate support for people who are being verbally abused. It’s all pretty easy, really. And what if everyone did it?

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Filed under Non fiction

* Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

Number One Chinese Restaurant stars an immigrant family who owns a Chinese restaurant, of course, while one of the sons wants to strike out on his own and build something more fancy. There’s a difficult mother, the memory of a controlling father, a mafia-like figure, and a large case of waiters that complicate all decisions and actions. There’s a fire and a difficult opening night, and lots of behind-the-scenes intrigues. I did not find any of it very exciting.

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Filed under New fiction

** Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart

The hero of Lake Success is  hedge fund manager with an autistic son, a large watch collection, and an upcoming SEC investigation. He decides to chuck everything and go find his decades-old girlfriend (who, supposedly, will drop everything for him, just like his wife will just keep on taking care of his son). He discovers Greyhound buses and an entirely different set of characters from his rich colleagues and their educated, but now unemployed wives.

I could not care less about watches or performance cars, and following the predictable adventures of a man trying to slum it seemed unappealing at first, but the author does great job of exposing the logical, if distasteful, workings of his hero’s brain as he bumbles outside his cushy life, always expecting that his privilege will continue to hold. It’s funny story, really. Also, we need to tax hedge fund managers more. They would totally understand why.

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Filed under New fiction

* This Land Is Our Land by Suketu Mehta

There is much to admire in This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto, especially a longer-term view of how immigration shaped not only the United States, but indeed the entire earth. The author also reminds us that many of the reasons why migrants decide to leave their countries were manufactured by the many countries that now wish to keep them away, through colonialist and other exploitative actions–and that much anti-immigrant sentiment is manufactured by plain racism.

That said, the book is written as a pamphlet that fails to present rational, let alone balanced views. For instance, the author takes great pains to show that immigrants into the US come with much more education than native-borns, so more immigrants would ensure a better-educated populace. Really? Isn’t the difference at least partly caused by but the (overly tight, to be sure) immigration policy? And he proposes utterly impractical solutions, such as requiring incoming immigrants to settle into depressed areas of the country, where housing is abundant (but, presumably, jobs are not!) So it’s a rant more than a constructive discussion.

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Filed under Non fiction