All branches of Marin County Free Library will be closed on Monday, July 4 for Independence Day.

Neshama's Choices for 2nd week in February

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This installment: a novel about autism; one placed in a lighthouse; linked stories about immigrant twins; a child who kills (!); Mallory’s doomed expedition from his wife’s perspective; and haunting, surrealistic short stories.

   Love Anthony by Lisa Genova

The author is a neuroscientist who writes novels about conditions that interest me hugely.  This one’s about autism.  Olivia, mother of autistic Anthony, has fled to Nantucket after his death.  She’s a photographer.  Beth, a housewife who has left her writing career behind, had a dream about a strange boy.  Her  marriage is in trouble and as solace, she starts writing about these dreams.  It’s almost as if Antohny’s speaking through her.  Eventually the women meet and Beth’s manuscript brings Olivia great comfort.  She’d always struggled with the need to “normalize” her son versus the often joyous expression of his essential self.  I didn’t lose myself as fully in this book as I’d like, because my critical self questioned the premise and Anthony’s experience sometimes seemed to verge on glowing sentimentality.  But it was fascinating despite, and a worthwhile read.

   The Edge of the Earth: a novel by Christina Schwarz

Lighthouses: great novelistic fodder with isolated, picturesque locations, eccentric characters, and potential dangers everywhere.  Here we have Trudy who leaps from a tame ordained future in the Midwest to a wild man (her fiance's cousin Oskar) and his position as an assistant lighthouse keeper off the California coast. But Oskar is an erratic visionary, probably mentally ill, with many schemes already fizzled out. Cultured Trudy has a rude awakening but she's strong and bright and starts teaching 3 kids who are part of the other family at the station and exploring the natural treasures of the coast.  With the discovery of an Indian woman living alone in a cave, things get very intense.  Oskar thinks of her as his ticket to academic fame; Trudy knows relocation would be disastrous. Good storytelling--suspense and rich details of time and place.

   Ivan and Misha by Michael Alenyikov

Linked stories about fraternal immigrant twins.  Father Lyov, now Louie, was once a doctor in Kiev but is now a doorman.  Misha is gay, a would-be writer with a day job.  Ivan is bi-polar, a cabdriver, and all over the map sexually and psychologically. Misha's relationship with a man who keeps changing his name is warm but uneven.  He feels responsible for aging Louie and increasingly problematic Ivan.  NYC setting. AIDs makes its presence felt. Love, frustration, and missteps create a lurching trajectory, with considerable dark humor. Lots of local color.

   The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne

Sebastian is 8, kind of cute, kind of weird.  And accused of bludgeoning a neighbor boy to death.  His lawyer, Daniel, does his best for the boy who has a reputation for bullying and wealthy parents whose dysfunction is well masked.  Turns out Daniel had a very troubled boyhood himself, and chapters alternate between his former and current lives, with fascinating parallels. Set in London, absolutely riveting.

   Above All Things by Tanis Rideout

A fictional account of Mallory’s last attempt to summit Everest in 1924. But Rideout, a Canadian writer, also introduces us to Ruth, his wife.  Alternate chapters take us from the terrifying slopes to the domestic scene back home; of course Ruth wishes he hadn’t signed up again and lives in fear of the outcome (as well she should). We see what drives Mallory—defeat is unthinkable, despite impossible conditions. Otherwise he faces ignominy, letting down England, and having to return to a lukewarm career as a teacher.  Good historical and emotional material (a great mix).

   A  Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel

Strange, haunting short stories which underscore the surrealistic aspects of what my late husband called “mammalian follies” – i.e. the stuff of life. The one that grabbed me by the throat was “Poppyseed,” about a procedure I’d just read about in that fascinating nonfiction book, Far From the Tree, in which the loving parents of a severely damaged girl child have her essentially frozen pre-puberty  so she won’t get too big or messy to handle. Even though the happenings are almost gothic in their weirdness, the tone of the stories is rooted in ordinary life, which creates a tingly vibration. Yes, a man just might grow a set of drawers in the middle of his chest in response to his wife’s pregnancy…Very original.

Back next Tues. (Monday's a holiday)

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Posted by: Neshama

Neshama works at the Fairfax Library.

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