This installment: the book about race that really worked for me (nf); a ghost story set in Havana (f); a crazy Western road trip (f); a Scandinavian comedy of manners (f); brothel life in 18th century England (f); and a tricksy thriller set in a tony prep school (f).
White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
Subtitled Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Race. Boy, do I need this book! I’ve tried others on the subject but this is the one that spoke to me directly. At first puzzled by the title; couldn’t link “fragile” with my image of bullying oppressor. But I soon learned that’s the snare of binary thinking; rather than good and bad there are many shades of gray. Racism is so deeply, unconsciously embedded in us and it’s very uncomfortable to recognize, face, and correct our assumptions. The author leads groups and shares her hard-won experience with candor and courage. Required reading for anyone struggling with the theme (as we all should be).
The Third Hotel by Laura Van den Berg
A ghost story set in Havana. Clare’s husband, an expert on horror movies, has died abruptly. Their marriage was strained. She decides to go to a film festival they’d planned to attend and there she catches glimpses of him, goes in pursuit, and eventually they briefly reconnect. Cuba is surrealistic in itself and the author captures this vividly. One of the books in which I didn’t exactly track the plot but was captivated by the journey despite.
Presidio by Randy Kennedy
In benighted west Texas, Troy comes home to help his younger brother Harlan retrieve some money. He’s a car thief and their multi-vehicle journey to the Mexican border is fraught, especially when they discover Martha, a runaway Mennonite girl, hiding in one of their purloined cars. Not a happy ending but I was rooting for this trio all the way.
The Waiter by Matias Faldbakken
In a venerable Norwegian restaurant we meet the eponymous fellow who’s been there for years and seems really on top of the game—the regulars and how to please them (and dish about them to us). Into the mix comes new customer, a young woman whom he dubs the Child Lady and she destabilizes everything. Flubs, panic, overreactions —unexpected from such a pro, but that’s human nature for you. Witty and surprising.
The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gower
A fever dream of a historical/fantasy novel starting with said creature, the poor schlub who received it (her) first, and a clever woman of the night who becomes, surprisingly, the Mrs. of the title. Jonah Hancock gets the stuffed curiosity instead of the ship and cargo he expected back. He’s a sad widower haunted by his son who never saw the light of day. Meanwhile Angelica is loose because her protector has died he she’s feeling her way reluctantly back into the trade. Displaying the preserved mermaid causes a sensation and a source of revenue for Hancock. After many wandering trails, the two band together and things take even more surprising turns. Especially entertaining: descriptions of brothel life in England, circa 1785. Who knew? Juicy.
She Was the Quiet One by Michelle Campbell
I devour these tricksy psychological thrillers like candy—a weird snack for sure. The setting: a tony prep school. Twins Rose and Del, 16, arrive after their mother has died of cancer and their rich grandma sets them up; their absent, now dead father was part of the school’s legacy. A bullying culture (what else is new?), especially in Moreland Hall where Heath and Sarah have just been appointed dorm parents, hoping to turn things around. Heath, who teaches English, is devastatingly handsome and has some murky history. Sisters sometimes say, “I’ll kill you” and here one appears to have done just that. Not so fast, despite the seemingly obvious evidence. Tension, suspense—yum!
Back in three days.