This installment: gentrification hits Brooklyn (f); superstition in Ireland in the 1850s–oh those fairies (f); and a chilling thriller about childcare gone awry (f).
Halsey Street by Naima Coster
We first meet Penelope in Pittsburgh where she’s drinking and screwing around. An artist who dropped out of RISD, she makes small drawings to document her surroundings but has left the art world behind. Then the call comes and she has to return to Bed-Stuy after 5 years to take care of Ralph, her father. At 63 he also drinks a lot and mourns the loss of his record store and his wife, Mirella, who walked away from cleaning houses and putting up with a depressed spouse, back to her native Dominican Republic. Penelope is very angry but with alcohol, sex, and a job teaching art at her old elementary school she kind of keeps it together. She finally visits Mirella and gets her to release the deed to the family home. Then Ralph has another accident, ends up in a nursing home—more calamity—but Penelope makes a sort of peace within herself. Much of the book centers around the impact of gentrification of the old neighborhood. Sometimes the book sounded a bit like one of the TV novellas Mirella’s addicted to, but all in all, passionate and atmospheric. (One quibble: periodic Spanish phrases with no translation.)
The Good People by Hannah Kent
Nora has troubles. First her daughter seems to be swept away by the eponymous folk, aka fairies. Then her grandson Micheal, now in her care, seems dreadfully changed. Then her husband keels over at the crossroads—an ominous sign, for sure. She’s convinced Micheal is a changeling and calls on Nanny, a crone with healing skills and knowledge of the fairies, to bring her true grandson back. The remedies are increasingly brutal and ends with the child’s drowning. In the mix is Mary, an impoverished farm girl hired by Nora to help. 1850s in Ireland, based in part on a true account. Full of Gaelic phrases, atmosphere, suspense, and intensity.
The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani
One of the best psychological thrillers I’ve ever read. Paul and Myriam can’t believe their treasure, Louise. She entertains the children skillfully, cleans and cooks to a fare-thee-well. Cracks appear, of course, puzzling clues but first the parents look past them. Then they start to feel trapped by Louise’s ubiquitous presence in their lives. The book starts with a shocking, heinous act, then moves through the trajectory as we learn more about how Louise got that way. A testimony to the power of denial and the desire for maintaining the status quo no matter what evidence appears. Stunning!
Back next week.