This installment: a crumbling life (nf); reality TV up against Reality (f); South African neighbors at each other’s throats until…(f); how battlefield trauma cripples a police surgeon psychologically (f); magical realism in Kosovo and Finland (f).
The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
Levy finally got her life in order after years of exploration and, to put it bluntly, screwing around. But before she gave birth, she went off on assignment to Mongolia. There her baby was born dead and everything else crumbled—marriage, house and home, and journalistic career. The primary tragedy is vivid and heartbreaking. The before and after less riveting to me—all that rebellion and groping around—but I was fascinated by her long-term affair with an old schoolmate, Jen (now Jim), who really messed with Levy’s identity as a lesbian and became a toxic addiction. I do have an endless appetite for sadder-but-wiser tales, especially when so well written.
The Last One by Alexandra Oliva
I don’t watch TV so never got drawn into shows like Survivor which ensnared many of my friends. But even though I didn’t thoroughly trust some aspects of the plot line, this novel got me by the throat and wouldn’t let go. In a highly manipulated series of challenges, we watch this bunch of participants flail about, facing highly stressful events. The kicker: in the outside world: a pandemic is afoot and folks are dying like flies, but the cast and the producers don’t know it. Ironic, huh? Thrills and chills!
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Hortensia and Marion are neighbors in a South African suburb, both recent widows. They hate each other but retain a thin veneer of civility. Hortensia, originally from Barbados, is one of the few black residents in the development and an undercurrent of racism creates additional tensions. (Her husband Peter was English). An accident with a toppling crane thrusts the women together by painful necessity and thus we learn how their dissatisfying marriages and career frustrations shaped their deep discontent. And yes, at the end even bring their long battle to a close. Atmospheric and psychologically layered.
The Hollow Men by Rob McCarthy
Harry, a police surgeon, is pulled in to mediate in a tense hostage situation—not his area of expertise. It goes bad and now Harry has to use his skills to stabilize the teenager perpetrator, Solomon, close to death. He checks on his patient in the hospital, discovers suspicious activities that compromise Solomon’s recovery, and starts to do some sub-rosa investigation which uncovers foul doings in high places. One fascinating aspect of Harry’s personality is how his traumatic experiences as an army medic have tamped down his ability to feel—hence the book’s title. Which also characterizes the villains. Tough stuff, and quite intriguing.
My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovci
Magical realism in Kosovo and Finland, where Bekim, whose family fled there during the war, struggles with being gay. He picks up men in bars, meets the eponymous feline –another hookup–who moves in and takes over. Along with a boa constrictor as a “pet.” This sounds utterly ridiculous but it’s a world unto itself and I just suspended disbelief and let the convoluted tale unfold. In another narrative, we learn of a miserable marriage that sounds like a bad fairy tale and when the time is right, we discover the connection. Reading this was like watching a mysterious foreign movie. I didn’t always get it but was often entranced and fascinated along the way.
Back next week.