This installment: a thriller with a serial killer/Dante connection (f); Africa’s Fuller on the Lakota (f); Iran-America-Amsterdam and home is still elusive (f); a graphic memoir of love and loss—stunning! (f); and Alexie’s latest—magnificent! (nf).
Unsub by Meg Gardiner
A flat-out thriller with Caitlin taking up her dad’s pursuit of a serial killer who disappeared for 20-years and has now resurfaced. Father and daughter both in law enforcement but now he’s retired and she enters the hunt at great risk. Bay Area setting, lots of crazy, grisly action, and Dante’s Inferno plays a significant if hidden role. Kind of predictable, a little like watching a James Bond movie, but gripping for sure.
Quiet Until the Thaw by Alexandra Fuller
This an odd, spare novel about Lakota Indians. Rick Overlooking Horse (that’s his name) has returned to the old ways and finds himself drafted as a tribal elder. You Choose Watson (that’s his name), a half-breed, has a checkered career which ricochets from prominence to disgrace. Very short chapters peppered with Lakota words. The action spreads over decades, from Custer’s Last Stand to contemporary uprisings. A deadpan delivery with flashes of wit plus legends. I didn’t embrace the book completely but found it intriguing. Quite a departure her memoirs from about growing up in Africa.
Refuge by Dina Nayeri
Nilos was brought up primarily in America but her father stayed in Iran. Their infrequent meetings are frustrating and confusing. A successful dentist, he is addicted to opium, married again, and now wants to shed his third, much younger wife. Nilos lives in Amsterdam with her French husband but is haunted by unfinished business and a yearning for the home she left so long ago. She gets involved with a group of refugees who band together for support and there she finds some comfort in the food and culture she misses. Iranian political shifts are woven throughout and there’s a fascinating look at its seemingly capricious divorce court proceedings. Atmospheric and evocative.
Last Things by Marissa Moss
Subtitled a graphic memoir of love and loss—right up my (melancholy) alley. Moss’s husband Harvey got diagnosed with ALS. She created this in part to “sort it all out in words and pictures, since that’s how I think.” There had been lots of love and function in their family until it struck and then Harvey started to shut down, both physically and emotionally, spending what strength he had left to work on his art history book. Moss wrestles with the medical and domestic burdens, the confusion and demands of their three school-age sons, and Harvey’s need to control even when his decision-making abilities were compromised. Swimming every morning helped keep her sane. So poignant, so honest, so brave—a shimmer inside the darkness.
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie
What an amazing memoir! His mother Lillian made quilts to support the family and as Alexie’s wife remarks, the structure of the book is very quilt-like—short chapters and poems that have an almost rhythmic sense of repetition to bring the story home in all its complex facets. A very hard growing up with health challenges from the start, deprivations and brutality on the rez, and eventually getting away and making good. But the primary focus is on Lillian, a fierce, driven survivor who couldn’t say she loved him in words but showed it—and many other powerful emotions—in the course of her life. Her ghost still haunts him. Every sentence felt just right and I didn’t want the book to end.
Back next week.