This installment: a father and daughter, much too close (f); Auster’s new tour de force (f); Gay on body size and trauma (nf); a sweet, quirky, sad kid’s book (f); and a graphic novel about our excesses (f).
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
14 year old Turtle lives in a crumbling house in Mendocino with her dad Martin. Mom drowned when she was young under murky circumstances. She’s resistant to education but a crack shot, one of the backwoods skills Martin schools her in. He’s a deep reader, a philosopher, and a very warped individual, as we soon discover, fiercely possessive of his daughter in every way. She connects with two local boys in the woods and things get very scary and dicey. Incredibly atmospheric, suspenseful, sad, and worth it.
4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
This is more than a book. It’s an immersion. 850 + pages and worth the investment. We always wonder “what if” and here it plays out four ways, as the same fellow, Ferguson, takes alternative paths through life. Auxiliary characters stay somewhat consistent but his relationship to them is different in each portrayal. For instance, there’s intense, delectable “cousin” Amy —sometimes like a sibling, then a lover, then yearned for but always out of reach. From 1947 on we experience the zeitgeist in depth—history and politics played out richly. Also since Ferguson is a would-be writer, lots of literary and academic material. The omniscience of the narrator is periodically disconcerting, as we learn exactly how long a particular Ferguson will live, ahead of time. It’s also a challenge to grok which Ferguson we’re encountering since chapters cycle through each and I never figured out the numbering clues. I couldn’t stop reading (which gobbled up an entire weekend) and hope to take another crack at it in the fullness of time—so much to digest. Amazing!
Hunger by Roxane Gay
Subtitled A Memoir of (My) Body. A brave, intense exploration of the relationship of body size to trauma on a very personal level. She was a good 12 year old girl and thought he loved her. Instead he lured her into the woods and there she was gang-raped. Then she started out-of-control eating and her fat became her armor. Very short chapters, each a heart-to-heart with herself and her readers about what it felt like, how she coped (and didn’t) and where she is now. A testament to the power of truth, expressing very uncomfortable, disturbing material that when exposed to light brings healing.
Kepler’s Dream by Juliet Bell
Ella’s single mother needs stem-cell treatment for cancer and as a last resort Ella’s shipped to the scary grandmother she barely knows. A sprawling adobe house in the desert, free-range peacocks, and lots of grammar correction. Luckily Miguel, a factotum, connects her up with horses and his daughter but it’s still pretty weird, especially when the rare book of the title disappears from her grandmother’s library. The girls play detective, the book turns up, and true family connections emerge from such grim beginnings. Note: this is a kid’s book (for whatever that means); I believe good reading is good reading.
Trashed by Derf Backderf
Subtitled An Ode to the Crap Job of All Crap Jobs. Not a book I’d be drawn to but it came highly recommended by another graphic artist I admire, so via this graphic novel I plunged into a world that’s really disgusting. Strapped for cash, our college-bound protagonist becomes a garbageman and that’s how we learn how crazy, dangerous, and corrupt the world of trash pickup is. (Council members and others with pull get special services.) Colorful characters, for sure, inside dope, and occasional thoughtful excursions into the nature of this environmental nightmare we don’t like to look at.
Back next week.