A haunting novel set in the far north, a musical compendium, and a Southern California fable on CD.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Magical realism in Alaska? Well the state has a hallucinatory quality to begin with: starkness, otherworldly beauty, days either too long or too short, wild weather, great trials. Mabel, a professor's daughter, has fled here with her husband Jack after a late miscarriage for a new start. It's 1920 and they plan to homestead. The first summer they grow barely enough to subsist and sell. She bakes pies to sell as well but Jack won't let her help in the fields. In a moment of uncharacteristic lightness they build a snow child, complete with added mittens and scarf. The next day the figure is gone. Then Mabel catches a glimpse of a little girl in the woods, echoes of an old Russian fairy tale she grew up with. The story unfolds with lots of ups and downs. Despair, calamity, and hope make a fine broth. Lovely stuff, a mixture of fantasy and grittiness.
Look I Made a Hat! by Stephen Sondheim
Complete lyrics and annotations in an enormous pink-jacketed volume. I haven't seen his musicals (after my time, as it were) but was intrigued by a review of the book. So I spent some time wandering through it. And indeed it confirmed what I'd suspected: he's brilliant and witty. I dipped in and out of various shows but spent the most time with "In the Woods" because of my interest in fairy tales and was well rewarded. Also enjoyed revisiting the lyrics he did for "Candide," which I do know well. I especially appreciated behind the scenes glimpses of various productions: the way a song was tweaked to reveal how a character felt, for instance. And liked looking at lyrics which were cut for dramaturgical reasons but were great in themselves.
This Book Will Save Your Life by A. M. Homes
Richard seems to have everything: lots of money, spiffy house in LA, a full time maid, a personal trainer, a nutritionist. But then comes mysterious, frightening pain which takes him to the ER and launches him on a reluctant hero's journey. No apparent diagnosis emerges so he consults the unusual Dr. Lusardi who prescribes all manner of consciousness-raising adventures, starting with a silent retreat. Then there's Anhil, donut shop owner and surprising source of wisdom, joy, and new frontiers. The primal wound, we eventually discover, is the long separation from his now 17 year old son. Unbelievable things keep happening to Richard and at last he's caught up in the fullness of life with real concomitant pain and genuine pleasures. A fable, for sure, and a witty send up of southern California mores. Great read (but in this case listen, since I caught it on CD).
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