The Altruists follows a family of academics whose grown-up children seem lost after unexpectedly inheriting a fortune from their mother. The father is lost too, losing his teaching job and about to lose his house, with a tenuous relationship with a much younger woman. They try to figure things out, with the story flashing back from the present to their parents’ courtship. The most remarkable part of the story may be the youth of his author. I did not think that the characters, with the exception of the mother, who is dead and cannot contribute too much, were particularly appealing.
Monthly Archives: September 2019
The hero of Big Sky, a retired police detective turned private investigator, is struggling with his teenage son, his son’s mother, and a mysterious contract with a woman whose past is coming back to destroy the apparently perfect life and family she has acquired. There’s a very dark child trafficking ring that needs dismantling, and he will do it.
Mostly Dead Things takes place in a taxidermy shop, but it’s really the story of a complicated family, including a most bizarre love triangle involving the heroine and her brother. The ghoulish workings of the shop are really tame compared to the personal struggles. The story tries to be lively and funny but it’s really quite depressing. I’m not sure I would agree that it’s as funny as critics would like us to believe.
Life in the Garden is a meditation on gardening and literature, with the author visiting various gardens, mostly but not exclusively in the UK, where she lives, and reading fiction with an eye on the flora. She thinks Carol Shields is a gardener based on her accurate descriptions flowers, and she feels guilty that her own garden has more pink than the gardening gurus advise. She ponders about a gorgeous garden that employs 17 full-time gardeners, and books that suggest hiring hermits to liven things up. It’s a delightful romp, but probably only for fellow gardeners, and gardeners who have read widely, to boot.
The Sorensons seem to have a perfect marriage in The Most Fun We Ever Had, burdening their four daughters with an unattainble idea of coupledom–but of course the reality is much more complex, if hidden and in many cases buried in the past. The daughters, meanwhile, have various issues with their mates, children, lost children, and the big fat lie that one is attending a law school that, in fact, did not admit her. When a son given up for adoption resurfaces, chaos ensues in a torrent of emotions, fraught conversations, and much drama. There are more birth scenes, hospital scenes, and jail pickups than family members!
The Body Papers recounts the author’s move from the Philippines to the US as a young child, her experience of racism, and abuse at the hands of her grandfather. It’s a complicated immigrant’s story, and also a complex family story.
Brisk, unsentimental, but kind advice about death and dying is what is dispensed in Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying. It is written by a plaintive care nurse who wastes no time informing her readership that dying at home may sound good, but may exhaust your family, that cremation is bad for the ozone layer, and that true compassion means not forcing our solution onto the sick and dying–from eating more lunch to submitting to a surgical procedure.
It was somewhat surprising to me that someone so obviously practical would write a book that can be discursive and also very personal. It’s certainly a book that held my attention.
The author of The Way We Eat Now: How the Food Revolution Has Transformed Our Lives, Our Bodies, and Our World explore how a world that, for the most part, finally has enough food, is at the same time producing badly-fed, if overly large, bodies. She shows how sweet drinks, large plates, solo eating, restaurant eating, horribly unhealthy packaged foods, and government subsidies for sugar and corn all conspired to make more calories and less nutrients available to all of us.
Her suggestions are mostly for individuals, as in eating on smaller plates, and drinking water, although she does suggest teaching children about healthy and tasty foods in school, which seems like a great idea. There should be a way out of moneyed bad eating, right?
Mind Fixers: Psychiatry’s Troubled Search for the Biology of Mental Illness exposes the sorry state of psychiatry, a specialty that is still struggling to define diagnoses with more than uncertain bundles of often self-reported symptoms. The author shows how social and political movements, a mindless belief in Freudian theory, and big pharma have all conspired to slow down progress towards finding unequivocal biological markers for psychiatric diseases, and better treatments. Not a happy story, although there is hope.
A Virtuous Woman is Ruby Stokes, who ran off very unwisely from her comfortable home as a teenager, only to be promptly abandoned by her flashy lover. She eventually marries a decidedly unglamorous tenant farmer and finds quiet contentment, in a life enmeshed with that of the owners of the farm. It’s a quiet, sweet, optimistic story.