This installment: an autistic girl finds self-expression; a charming but feckless guy wanders the West; a sweet, illustrated story about a missing cat; an obscure Terry Pratchett novel; a compendium of wonderful essays; and two fine DVDs.
Carly's Voice by Arthur Fleischmann with Carly Fleischmann
Subtitled Breaking Through Autism. This subject fascinates me endlessly: parents heroic by necessity, afflicted children coming through. For 10 years Carly had no voice and no one knew who was inside this frustrating, frustrated, malfunctioning package. Her parents, Canadians, tried everything amidst the mayhem and finally, through a computer, Carly managed to "speak." And what a lively, funny, self-aware person she is, despite ongoing problems with motor skills and controlling her behaviors. She even got Ellen de Generes, whom she loved on TV, to read her award acceptance speech. Uplifting despite the built-in heartbreak.
Car Camping by Mark Sundeen
This odd little paperback intrigued me with its promise of "desert adventures." But it turns out to be a picaresque quasi-novel despite its Dewey designation (917.904). Young Mark sets out with friends and/or relatives and things always seem to get screwy fast. He hits lots of high (and low) spots in the Southwest, wondering whether he can achieve the "right now" approach his cousin Donny speaks of. A sort of American Zen, but more like "whatever." Sundeen sounds fresh and artless and wonderfully unpretentious which makes the book fun to read, even though it doesn't do much more than ramble. Entertaining.
Have You Seen Marie? by Sandra Cisneros
When I opened this little book up I was confused. Was it a children's book with its sweet illustrations on every page and not much text? No, I discovered: It's a story of loss (and found) through Cisneros' San Antonio neighborhood, as she and her visiting friend search for the missing cat. There are patches of wildness that bring solace as as well as neighbors’ stories and a sense of community. And echoes of Cisneros’ own recent loss of her mother. Charming, surprising, heart-warming, and lots of depth in a small package.
Faust/Eric by Terry Pratchett
I thought I'd read almost everything by this madcap Science Fiction writer, but this little paperback must have slipped through unnoticed. Discworld with its absurd cosmology is the setting, and Eric, a very adolescent hacker, has somehow managed to summons Rincewind to grant him three wishes. This particular demon, with his malevolent many-legged Luggage, takes Eric on a wild ride through time and space (even to Hell and back), trailing havoc. An example of Pratchett's wit: the parrot whose primary word is "wossname." Sometimes the series gets too arch for me (depending on my mood) but in this case I was delighted to be back among the denizens of this wiggy universe in which the college's librarian is a very dignified orangutan. And it's especially poignant because Pratchett is now afflicted with Alzheimers.
The Best American Essays of 2012 edited by David Brooks
This book came along just when I'd hit a spate of modestly diverting but not exactly amazing books and hungered for one with food for thought. And what a feast this is. Almost every essay was like a conversation with a very knowledgeable, passionate friend on subjects that really get my attention; among them: death, education, health (or lack of it). Each is so accessible, well-constructed, and well thought out it could be the basis for a seminar, but most are shot through with the kind of personal material that, for me, really brings the material home. Some are gleaned from familiar magazines, but others are from more obscure sources. Highly recommended.
Love those ironic titles. In this Norwegian film, new neighbors--a handsome couple and their very black adopted son--stir things up for needy Kaja whose husband is increasingly distant. Her son gets into disturbing games with the boy (master and slave) and the spouses mix it up with dramatic, painful consequences. I liked how all the trappings of domestic and societal "happiness," especially the local choir in which both couples participate, are such a desperate but thin layer spackled over deep dysfunction, and of course the cracks will out.
The City of Your Final Destination
This was a book I thought would make a good movie and guess what--they made it. Merchant and Ivory, no less, though post Merchant. Omar's trying to write a thesis on a dead author but his heirs won't authorize access. Off to Uruguay he goes to see if he can convince them, and discovers a tangled back story for both them and him. The estate, Ocho Rios, is lush and exotic. Its denizens, a gay brother (Anthony Hopkins--wonderful), a chilly blond wife, and a skittish mistress (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are all in situ and at odds. Very entertaining and lovely to look at, too.
Back next Monday