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.
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.
This time, still in Mumbai, Aravind Adiga tackles the great Indian passion that is cricket. Selection Day focuses on two talented brothers and their rival and friend who, unlike them, comes from a privileged background. The story also stars their obsessed father, who has trouble relinquishing his overbearing iron grip on his sons to their coach, a love interest, and multiple intermediaries in the cricket world, all expecting a little black money from the deals.
There are some wonderful observations of sibling rivalry, the seven kinds of Jain truths, and how decisions that are good for the family may not be so good for the individual — but too many pages describing the second day of cricket matches with 256 runs did me in.
The Barrowfields is the story of a young man who grows up in a small Appalachian town with an ambitious but depressed father who disappears midway through, causing the man to flee, but then return. It’s a pretty standard coming-of-age story but well written and with wonderful secondary characters, especially the younger sister, so it manages to stay with you.
Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America is an expose against the dental care system in America, which leaves a sizable minority of Americans without care, and with awful toothaches and infections. The author exposes how dentist associations have fought to keep the equivalent of nurse practitioners banned while allowing Medicaid coverage for dental work to be pretty much useless since few dentists take Medicaid patients at all, and most only a few.
The book is somewhat repetitive and often overly sensational but does a good job of exposing a sad corner of America.
With Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society, Cordelia Fine (of Delusion of Gender fame) is at it again, this time attacking the supposedly obvious finding that biological sex causes testosterone-laden men to take more risks, be more aggressive, and in general want to subjugate the world. She counter-attacks by showing how some classic experiments were designed with obvious biases, or used statistics in frowned-upon methods (the testosterone probably made the researchers do it, right?), and in any case are now supplanted by newer, better-designed studies of animals and humans that show both sexes making similar decisions, seemingly ignoring their T hormone levels.
It’s funny and personal anecdotes are skillfully woven in, which is not a given in nerdy books. The first page features a dinner-table discussion of what to do with the family dog’s soon-to-be-removed testicles. Lovely, in my book!
Do Not Say We Have Nothing sets out to tell the story of two intertwined families through the eyes of the youngest daughter, leaving safely in Vancouver while the rest of the protagonists suffer various hardships in 20th century China, including the Cultural Revolution (particularly dangerous for devotees of classical music) and the Tiananmen Square massacre. The Booker Prize committee loved it; I found it tedious and overly heavy with history. Sure, there are lots of clever observations, including the ongoing theme of sending secret messages through hand-copied books, but I would have liked more personal stories and fewer political ones, since they are abundantly told elsewhere.