This installment: a mid-century NYC memoir of messy Bohemian life (nf); literary camp (f); fantastical short stories (f); a memoir of mental illness—and love (nf); and a modern-day morality tale (f).
Art and Madness by Anne Roiphe
Subtitled A Memoir of Lust Without Reason. She hung out with artists and writers in NYC in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and became a handmaiden to one of them, putting her own dreams on hold. Until, of course, the ill-considered marriage collapsed. Much of that milieu reflects my own growing-up, so it was especially fascinating. She shares vignettes from various years but not in a chronological march; more like a mosaic that illuminates the events with shifting perspectives. Vivid and sobering—what we do in the name of “love.”
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
That’s the last name of our protagonist, and indeed, Less is less. He’d made a splash with his first book, subsequent ones less so, and now he’s on a downward slope, especially after his lover decamps and his latest oeuvre is stalled by writer’s block. So he launches himself around the world on a series of workshops and appearances that yield botched encounters everywhere he sets foot. Hilarious literary camp.
Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages
Delicious short stories with many fantastical elements. At a drive in, very young Lizzie bonds with Maleficent— Sleeping Beauty is so boring. A young woman is drafted to be her magician father’s assistant and claims the heritage she didn’t realize was in her blood. And what’s it like for an astronaut bound for a limited mission to Mars when she realizes she’s pregnant and can’t return to earth. In her notes on the stories Klages describes many as “alternate history-science-fantasy, a swell genre border-crossing mash-up” and that says it all.
My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward by Mark Lukach
What a sweet couple these two were, very young and entranced. Giulia, from an Italian family, drove herself hard at work but they also had fun. Until she became gripped with overwhelming anxiety that turned into protracted psychosis. Thus started a terrifying, baffling journey in which there were no clear answers and lots of heartbreak. Finally she emerged from the illness, they had a son, and then it came upon her again. This time even scarier because of their child’s vulnerability. Some nightmare encounters with medical professionals and institutions, some good ones, and ultimately they have negotiated ways to cope if and when it reoccurs. Incredibly honest and very well-written.
Who Is Rich? by Matthew Klam
Oh the snares of a summer arts conference in seaside New England. Especially when Amy reappears. She and Rich got it on the year before, and now they’re at it again, both married (of course). She, a student, paints; her husband is filthy rich. He’s a cartoonist/illustrator with financial worries. (Yes, there’s the double entendre of the title…) Guilt grows. He flubs a few feeble suicide attempts. In this atmosphere where almost anything goes, it’s a giddy, tortured stumble zigzagging between pleasure and pain—often literally as Accidents Happen. A modern-day morality tale with mordant wit. Plus sketches.
Back next week.