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Neshama’s Choices for 1st week in February

This installment: an old favorite to listen to, a cult classic movie, a girl abducted by fairies (contemporary version), and a space odyssey with psychological underpinnings.

    The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Yes, it's been around since 2002 when I read it with delight. But the CD version fell into my hands recently and I decided to revisit it and was very glad I did. First of all, I'd forgotten a lot in the ensuing decade, and secondly, the narrator's voice is perfect, reflecting Lily's qualities of fierceness, wonder, naivete, and persistence in a Southern accent like honey itself. So here's this motherless 14- year- old with an abusive father, and a black surrogate mother/servant Rosaleen who gets in trouble with the law. Lily manages to spring Rosaleen and they head out on the lam and end up in Tiburon, SC on the faint hope that someone there might know what happened to her mother. They find deep shelter and deep challenges in a household of black sisters who sell honey and worship the Black Madonna. Lots about the nature of beekeeping, earning trust and friendship, loyalty, and eccentric spiritual practice. Very satisfying. (A note on listening as well as reading: I often read a book first, then listen to it --I spend a lot of time on the car-- and it never seems like repetition. I often hear things I just glanced over on the page, being a very fast reader, and appreciate the chance to savor the material in another dimension. Try it yourself.)

   The Big Lebowski

How could I have missed this cult classic by the Coen brothers when it came out in '08? True confessions: I don't go to a lot of movies, and perhaps I thought it was too "low brow" for the likes of moi. But now along with the multitudes, I love the Dude and his hapless bowling cronies as they lurch through a crazy scheme involving a ransom and many automotive mishaps. Then there are the florid dream sequences with a touch of Busby Berkeley and a taste of Wim Wenders. Brilliant characterizations, like Walter the pontificating vet who insists on observing Shabbos though the ex-wife he converted for is long gone. A gem!

   Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

Christmas Eve and a weird time for an unexpected visitor. Especially if it's the daughter who disappeared 20 years ago. Tara looks very much like she did then and thinks she's been gone only a short time. Reluctantly she tells her story but doesn't expect anyone to believe it. In the nearby forest she'd accepted a ride from a man on a horse who turned out to be from the realm of fairies (though the fairies don't call themselves that) and lived with them until he released her, as promised. Her family takes her to an eccentric shrink who develops complex theories about what ails her but doesn't help. Then there's Richie, the musician boyfriend she was fighting with when she fled to the woods. He's been on a downhill path ever since. Now this all sounds very farfetched, but Joyce does an amazing job of juxtaposing the worlds of "reality" and "fantasy," as her loving but thoroughly bemused family tries to sort things out. A surprising denouement . By the way, the fairy realm sounds a lot like a sensual but heartless hippie commune. Fascinating stuff.

   Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer

This first novel plays with a theme that I've come across recently in other books: the link between technology and Aspergers. Here Maxon is on a mission to the moon, leaving pregnant wife Sunny to cope with her mother's dying and their 4-year-old son Bubber's increasingly difficult behavior (like father, like son--both brilliant and afflicted, though Maxon's more socialized through rigorous training). Sunny, born during a solar eclipse, has a secret. She's completely hairless but has always worn a wig. But after a car accident in which the wig flies off, she casts off convention as well, taking Bubber off his medications and out of preschool, and pulling the plug on her mother--all radical acts for sure. Meanwhile Maxon's mission is in trouble, and though he comes up with an amazing remedy with the help of his son (a hallucination?), it's a bad ending. There are cartoon elements in this book (not in a pejorative sense) like Les Weathers, the TV anchorman and neighbor who's all teeth and chin and blandishments. I read it at a bit of a remove, enjoying the imaginative constructs but not fully caught up in the story. But worth it despite.

Back next Monday.


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