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

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This installment: a fine old DVD and novels about: deathbed truths; communion with a favorite author; the slippery nature of public relations; a father absconding with his kid; a witchcraft/realty mix, and a fiancée in a tough spot.


   The Mosquito Coast (DVD)


I loved it when I saw it first two years ago and tracked down what I wrote about it then: Allie’s so cracked; America’s doomed, he thinks, so he takes his family to “Geronimo” (Belize) and sets up a potentially utopian scene.  His vision: bring the magic of ice (civilization) to the “savages.”  In a particularly absurd and heartbreaking scene he bushwhacks through the steamy jungle to show a stone-age tribe this marvel.  Of course it’s melted by the time he arrives and instead finds three sinister bandits who bring down his paradise fast.  An obsessive preacher also makes him see red.  The final scene: the family desperate on a storm-ravaged homemade craft, reminded me of Herzog’s Aguirre, The Wrath of God, also highly recommended. All-star cast: Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren, River Phoenix, Andre Gregory as the preacher. (After I saw it I went back to the Theroux novel and enjoyed it again, marveling at how much the movie left out but managed to deliver the message fully.)


   Abundance by Amit Majmudar


When a mother is diagnosed with rapidly spreading cancer, her grown children try to make the best of the remaining time with her.  She’s modest, doesn’t want a fuss, but they come to see her anyway, with very mixed results.  Mala, a physician like her father, has an arranged marriage to another doctor and two sweet children.  Ronak has married a white woman and gone into finance; they have children as well. But neither is particularly close to the parents so there’s more tension than love between the generations. The father is also a mathematician of note who has aced one of the Seven Unsolved Problems and his wife has always done everything to give him the psychic and literal space to explore his passion.  What finally brings them all together? Food—mother coaches and Mala masters her recipes and techniques. Midwest setting, excellent depiction of multicultural challenges (India/USA), and touching family interaction.


   Farewell, Dorothy Parker by Ellen Meister


This fanciful novel is a little like “what author, living or dead, would you like to spend time with?” For Violet, a movie critic for a NYC magazine, there’s no question. Her choice materialized out of an old hotel guest book and gets involved with Violet’s sad life: leech of a boyfriend and custody battle for her dead sister’s 12-year –old daughter with the paternal grandparents both of them hate. Violet’s reviews are trenchant but she has trouble standing up for herself. Parker is a powerful coach, if a wild card, but has her own problems which have landed her in limbo and kept her from moving “into the light.” Violet sheds the boyfriend (whew), negotiates power struggles at work, and ultimately gets what she needs with Parker spurring her on. Entertaining and lots of literary and historic lore along the way.


   A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee


Public relations is a morally slippery field but Helen, thrust into it by a divorce, discovers an unusual knack for effective pr: rather than working on a cover up,  a sincere, public apology can do the trick. She and her adopted teenage Chinese daughter Sara move to NYC from the suburbs, and she’s launched on a life she never envisioned for herself.  Meanwhile, a movie star with a tarnished reputation is getting into even hotter water and it turns out she knows him from small-town parochial high school days.  Their paths intersect surprisingly in a wild denouement. Entertaining and thought-provoking.


   Schroder by Amity Gaige


Here’s another book about a father going on the lam with his kid.  In this case, Eric, divorced, is having an existential crisis and when he absconds with 6 year old Meadow, we know it won’t end well.  The back story is his other life: starting in East Berlin, he and his father immigrated to the States. Here he was cruelly teased until he created another name and identity for himself that stuck. His short, crazy journey with Meadow is fraught—junk food, madcap adventures (some fun, some not so) --and when it’s over, so is his fabricated existence and freedom, for a while. One odd bit: he has a private, ongoing research project about the nature of silence and his finding  are interwoven with the story and provide an interesting resonance. Absorbing, sad, but some absurd humor as well.


   The Good House by Ann Leary


Boston setting. Hildy Good is a Realtor and an alcoholic, with old Salem witchcraft in her heritage and a certain facility for doping out people’s desires.  She makes a new friend: rich, troubled Rebecca next door.  But what’s Rebecca doing with that married psychotherapist, and for that matter, what’s Hildy doing with her old boyfriend Frank?  And how about those blackouts, despite a spell in rehab and supposed sobriety?  It’s a small, gossipy town and things get very tangled indeed.  I have to admit there wasn’t one character I was really rooting for, and I found Hildy’s denial painful and frustrating to witness.  Still, intriguing and suspenseful enough to enjoy despites these caveats.


   Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany


Grace has a tough job, running an organization to help battered women.  But Victor, her fiance, provides a sweet balance.  Then his ex, Kelli, is found dead (suicide?), leaving two furious and miserable children behind.  So instead of telling the kids about their engagement as planned, she must offer what support she can and downplay the relationship.  We ultimately learn the source of Kelli’s problems and how her 8th grade daughter Ava has essentially been taking care of her mother for years.  Grace is almost driven to despair but hangs in there, also doing research to find out Kelli’s devastating secret. The snotty critic in me sometimes muttered “cliché” but I’m glad I tuned her out because it’s a moving story.  (Odd note: what are those upside-down question marks throughout the text?  Some kind of typographical affection, I surmised, but they distracted me often.)


Back next Monday

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