This installment: a tasty Irish-Catholic stew on CD (f); autism, with candid charm (nf); the Middle Eastern mess played out on a personal level (f); and short stories that play with gender, on the wild side (f).
Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan
The Flynn sisters come to America from Ireland. Nora looks out for younger, fun-loving Theresa, but when the inevitable fall from grace occurs, how to deal with the disgrace? It precipitates Nora’s reluctant marriage to Charlie and she takes the baby who never learns his origins. This secret shapes stern Nora and deeply hurt Theresa who ends up as a cloistered nun. Now Brian is dead, the grown family gathers, and the sisters reconnect with difficulty. Rich characterizations. In CD form, the Irish and Boston accents sing.
To Siri With Love by Judith Newman
Subtitled A Mother, Her Autistic Son, and the Kindness of Machines. I’m always fascinated by stories of people dealing with really difficult challenges. So how about this: twins, one boy just fine, the other very different. Gus can engage, kind of, but it gets exhausting discussing train schedules—one obsession of his—ad infinitum. Enter Siri, a being (?) with infinite patience. Newman is very candid. We learn about her unusual marriage—he’s 30 years older than she is and they live apart, and her speculation about how old sperm, old eggs, and reproductive technologies might have loaded the dice for Gus’s condition. She’s also quite funny and takes delight in Gus’s charms when he’s not driving her crazy. Refreshing and upbeat—quite a feat.
All the Rivers by Dorit Rabinyan
Liat is studying in NYC, planning to return home to Israel. She meets a captivating artist, Hilmi from Palestine, and their friendship ignites into love. He’s messy, passionate, romantic, and driven by making art. Of course culturally and politically they can be as at odds as their countries of origin, and things get even more fraught when her departure date looms while he’s lost in a fever of creation. Do they have a future together? A shocking denouement takes care of that. Vivid, thoughtful, no polemics—just a rich exploration of the complexities of relationship, with micro shedding light on macro.
Large Animals by Jess Arndt
Wild, intense short stories that play with gender issues and dissolute lives. (The photo of the author looks masculine to me but the bio refers to “her.”) Punchy, original language, like describing Paris as “the city whose sole monument is a comically upturned syringe…” I sometimes lost track of who was doing what to whom but just gave myself over to the stories’ exhilarating cartoon-like velocity.
Back next week.