This installment: the seductive spell of a madcap life (f); good medicine! (nf); very strange short stories (f); a Japanese-American artist in NYC (f); MCauley’s latest—delightful! (f); and a bad guy who’s really good (f).
Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton
We see the handwriting on the wall early on as modest Louise falls under Lavinia’s spell and joins her rich, madcap life. An elegant apartment, a fabulous wardrobe, parties galore, but Lavinia is one sick cookie. It’s hideous manipulation and I kept wanting to tell Louise “don’t!” but if she were to heed me there would be no book. A Very Dramatic Ending for which I had to suspend disbelief, but what a look into a world that holds no spell for me, especially after this close-up.
Slow Medicine by Victoria Sweet
Subtitled The Way to Healing and boy, do our “healthcare” system—and our souls—need Sweet’s profound, hard-won perspective! She takes us on her personal journey from college where she learned about Jung from a Swiss family she roomed with, to medical school where she considered psychiatry but ended up in general medicine instead and then worked in clinics in hard-scrabble locations, and finally her amazing time at Laguna Honda, so richly portrayed in her first book, God’s Hotel. Interspersed are brilliant vignettes that show medicine—sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes a mix—as it should and shouldn’t be practiced. This book made me quiver with excitement when I wasn’t bemoaning the consumerized, computerized state of medicine today. The book, and Sweet, are treasures!
The Wrong Heaven by Amy Bonnaffons
Very strange short stories like this one: one woman is turning into a horse, via injections. Her roommate is trying to get pregnant, also via injections. They accomplish their goals but of course can no longer live together. (I heard a version of this on NPR and it’s haunted me ever since.) In another, a woman tries to win back her lover by bringing home a life-size portrait of the Dalai Lama. But in that she slept with the portrait’s previous owner and is caught out, the relationship is over. Obama gets into it too. All this sounds screwy but on the page, told with certainty, they seem to make perfect surrealistic sense. A neat trick.
Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
Yuki’s parents move back to Japan when she’s 16 but she elects to stay in NYC with her friend Odile under the casual oversight of Odile’s mother Lillian whose lover, Lou, takes up with Yuki. (Uh oh.) Odile goes off to be a model, Yuki drops out of school, gets a job at the weekly Lou works for, and moves in with him. Lou can be a doting teddy bear but is also a batterer. When their relationship explodes, she connects with an old boyfriend but then abandons him and the baby and flees to Germany. Down the line we also meet Jay, her unhappy son, whose wife is pregnant. It’s painful but fascinating to witness Yuki’s passive submission—hence the title—but also discover how she saves herself and how she and Jay reach a détente many years down the line that brings them both a sort of peace.
My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley
Decades ago David and Julie had were briefly married. Now David in San Francisco is suffering; his partner left, he has to move, and life feels stale and fraught. Meanwhile Julie in New England is having problems too. A divorce in the making, a deadline for getting daughter Mandy on a college track, and a tendency to reach for weed. David’s profession might help Mandy so he comes east. They pick up the friendship they once had and it works amazingly well. A shadow of past history creates tension, as well as Julie’s aggressive ex. I was so happy to enter this story and so glad it all worked. Solid, funny, poignant—a dream of a novel.
The Bouncer by David Gordon
I have fun with a book in which the protagonist is a “bad guy” whom you end up rooting for. Eponymous Joe works in a strip club and gets mixed up in mafia doings. He crosses paths with Donna, an FBI agent, who is pursuing terrorists. A complicated caper ensues. Turns out Joe is very smart as well as strong –ex-Harvard, ex-military. Lively action, NYC setting, very entertaining.
Back on Thursday.