This installment: a gay writer buries his parents (nf); chefs’ tattoos (nf); CD version of a psychological thriller based in Tangiers (f); an elegiac novel (f); teen synesthesia (f) and a wild Hispanic family drama (f).
Bobby Wonderful by Bob Morris
I loved his Assisted Loving—True Tales of Double Dating with my Dad. This one’s subtitled An Imperfect Son Buries His Parents, and Morris doesn’t shy away from exposing his imperfections. Mostly wanting to live his life as a writer/performer with a new marriage and resenting his attentive brother’s guilt-tripping. His mother went down hard, fighting all the way. His father was ready to end it when he got more debilitated but lingered, depressed and kvetching, for six years after her death. There are moments of mortification, of tenderness and absurdity; some experiences combine them all. Candor, humor, grief—what else can you ask for?
Knives and Ink by Isaac Fitzgerald and Wendy MacNaughton
Subtitled Chefs and the Stories Behind Their Tattoos (with Recipes). I’m fascinated by tattoos and here we can gawk up close and better yet, find out what they mean to their bearers. Many are very poignant tributes to those who inspired them or challenges they faced. Lots, not surprisingly, portray ingredients (many pigs, for instance). The drawings are deceptively simple and the first-person text provides inside dope. The recipes tend to be elaborate —more fun to read about than to cook (in my book).
Tangerine by Christine Mangan
A psychological thriller based in Tangier where Lucy shows up without warning to visit her old college roommate Alice who came from England and was very shy. At Bennington these orphans were almost pathologically close. When a guy destabilized the duo, tragedy ended their college careers. Now agoraphobic Alice, married to a fellow Brit who does mysterious work, is holed up in their flat, and Lucy hopes to reclaim their relationship and “save” her. Many dark happenings in the exotic, threatening locale and it doesn’t end well, especially for Alice. On CD the voices of each women are well delineated, Alice refined and naive, Lucy always with an edge. Steamy and suspenseful.
Underground Fugue by Margot Singer
Esther’s back in London to tend to her dying mother. She’s in a dark frame of mind, escaping a deadened marriage, but small brushes with Javan, the next door neighbor, offer some relief. He’s troubled by his son’s erratic behavior—Amir is supposed to be at college but is off at odd hours doing who knows what. When terrorists attack the transportation system, things get very fraught indeed. No neat ending but the two offered each other a much needed healing connection and can now move on. Elegiac and thoughtful.
A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass
Mia, 13, has synesthesia and it messes up her life inordinately. Math and Spanish are especially challenging, as numbers clash and blaze with color and words don’t match up from one language to the other. Her beloved grandfather has died and her rescue cat, named Mango, seems to have his eyes. Then when Mango fails, her condition, both gift and curse, temporarily abates and leaves her feeling thoroughly unmoored. Finally finding the right therapist who connects her with other syntesthetes enables her to reclaim herself. A pitch perfect teen book that conveys the complexities of being different with a direct, refreshing voice.
A House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea
Big Angel’s very old mother has just died. This complicates his plans for a blow-out 70th birthday party which may be his last. But everyone in this sprawling family is already there, so on with the gathering. His half-brother, Little Angel, part gringo and a linguistics professor, arrives from the northwest and the two aren’t close. Another brother, Yndio, is even more problematic—he’s gay. And oh the women of the clan, an explosive bunch. Lots of crazy action in San Diego, lively sprinklings of Spanish. Lusty, funny, heartfelt and atmospheric. (Sometimes I had trouble sorting out all those characters, but who cares.)
Back next week.