This installment: Africa revisited, Northwest short stories, and a novel about horses.
Lower River by Paul Theroux
I've dipped in and out of Theroux's books for years, starting with the haunting Mosquito Coast. Sometimes he can be charming, almost playful. More often he's dark and bleak. (I was especially drawn to Dark Star Safari in which he revisits the Africa he knew twenty years ago and finds it much and badly changed.) Here's a fictional take on that experience. Ellis had four wonderful years in working in poverty-stricken Malawi in his youth. When duty called back home he returned, and it's been a long dull slog ever since. Then his marriage collapses, the business he inherited has been driven into the ground, and his grown daughter is acting like a selfish bitch. So what does he have to lose? Back to the benighted village he goes with dreams of being of service again. And as it turns out, it's a total nightmare, with menace, greed, and misery all around. Yes there's a split-second save (phew) but he's lucky to escape with his skin. Atmospheric as all get-out, including smells, and weirdly entertaining despite--or perhaps because of--the darkness.
Happiness is a Chemical in the Brain by Lucia Perillo
Short stories set in the Northwest, with a straight-talking style that connects with the reader right away. (Like a fellow rider on the Greyhound next to you who just happens to have a really juicy story to tell--and aren't you lucky.) Three feature a pair of sisters and their dysfunctional mother. Louisa has Down Syndrome and her younger sibling's in and out of rehab but they manage to have wild adventures and come out relatively unscathed. The settings are often hard-scrabble, the emotions comic, tragic and rueful (often in close succession). Refreshing.
Boleto by Alyson Hagy
Ranch life in Wyoming is tough but Will, who loves horses, has a dream of making it in California. He's a truly nice guy, often at odds with his employers, first at a dude ranch and then in an estancia for polo ponies. He's taken a gamble with a filly which needs lots of patience and training. I fell right into this book, rooting for Will, learning about horses from the inside out, reveling in the intense mountain scenery. Seamless, suspenseful, and satisfying. (This after a handful of books I tried and simply couldn't connect with...which made it even more precious.)
Back next Monday.