This installment: reality tv hits the Middle East, hilariously (f); a dumped off dog becomes a consolation (f); a new take on an old myth (f); phantasmagorical short stories set mostly in Florida (f); a memoir about domestic violence (nf); and a novel on the same subject (f).
The Two-Plate Solution by Jeff Oliver
Subtitled A Novel of Culinary Mayhem in the Middle East. As ridiculous as its subject, reality TV, in which terrorists invade a shoot in the desert and the producers leap on the dramatic potential. Turns out one of the guys is a fantastic cook and all sorts of alliances spring up. Very broad humor. I particularly enjoyed the crazy challenges and the absurdities of new gastronomic conceits.
The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
In this case it’s a Great Dane. A writer’s long time (mostly) platonic friend has committed suicide and his third wife can’t keep the dog. So despite a ban on pets in her small NYC apartment, she takes on the beast and discovers surprising connection and comfort despite her initial resistance. Lots about the craft of writing and the nature of loss. Thoughtful.
Circe by Madeline Miller
I thought I knew The Odyssey because I’ve told parts of it in an epic study group and have always reveled in this particular section. But there’s a back story that Miller focuses on brilliantly and it took my breath away. Why does Circe turn men into swine, and what was it really like between her and that wily traveler who washes up on her shores? She was dissed by other gods, spurned in love, and traumatized—no wonder. And she was the agent of dreaded Scylla’s transformation from nubile girl to devouring monster. Miller expands the story into a future that produces a child and creates a surprising alliance with Penelope and Telemachus after Odysseus’s death. The language is rich yet direct and immediate. Fascinating.
Florida by Lauren Groff
That’s one phantasmagorical state with its sinkholes and all that wildlife oozing around the edges. Groff conveys this vividly in this collection of stories. Little girls abandoned yet surviving in a cabin on an island. Snakes, god help us, and man’s inhumanity to man as played out by trying to help a very messed up girl—it doesn’t work. Some stories venture way beyond the state in question (to France, to Brazil) but the subtle menace and surrealism don’t let up. Elegant yet stripped-down.
Goodbye, Sweet Girl by Kelly Sundberg
Subtitled A Story of Domestic Violence and Survival. Kelly’s Idaho upbringing was miserable, so she escaped via marriage to Caleb who really seemed like a nice guy until periodic rages overtook him and landed on her and their son. It took seven tumultuous years to take the leap to freedom, shot through with the complexities of practicality and love for her husband despite. Candid, moving, and revealing.
Lost in the Beehive by Michele Young-Stone
By chance this novel came on the heels of the previous book and dropped me back into the murky world of domestic violence yet again. Here Gloria meets Sheff in the bin where they’ve both been sent to overcome their same-sex proclivities. A nightmare, yet he becomes her best friend until he offs himself. Then she ends up with Jacob, gets pregnant, and he keeps her on a very short leash until it all explodes and she gets away. Hard stuff but very compelling.
Back next week.