I read quite a bit last month, but nothing that rose to the level of what I would normally commend to you. Here are some thumbnail sketches of the unsuccessful candidates.
This was fun to do, and somewhat enlightening; I think I'll make it a regular thing.
Life with Sudden Death: A tale of moral hazard and medical misadventure
Michael Downing (Counterpoint, 2009)
The two different books stuffed between these covers don’t cross-illuminate as much as one might hope, though the common chapter titles are a nice touch. The first half is a memoir of a Catholic boyhood, with bells on: Downing is the youngest of nine, and he was only three when father keeled over, dead of heart disease. His mother was a saint, of the usual difficult sort, and the memoir is a series of misadventures, amusingly told but disheartening.
In the second part, the family’s potential disposition to heart disease comes under the eye of the cardiac-industrial complex in Boston's Longwood Medical area. A genetic test leads to a defibrillator implant, which leads to a serious infection, followed by concerns about the wires that lead to the heart. Would Downing have been better off not taking the test in the first place? Maybe so: he quotes one surgeon as saying, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything is a nail.” Ouch.
I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah’s Witness Upbringing
Kyria Abrahams (Touchstone, 2009)
Same song, different verse. Abrahams had a father in residence, but her mother is cut from the same religion-addled, child-abusing cloth as Downing’s. Abrahams married young to get some distance from her unhappy home life, only to come up with several other ways to be unhappy. Having been taught that attending a birthday party is as big a sin as adultery, Abrahams is not equipped for life in the World, with predictably dismal results, at least as far as the memoir runs. While I have sometimes wondered what life was like inside this particular sect and community, in the end, I didn’t really want to know.
When You Are Engulfed in Flames
David Sedaris (Back Bay Books, 2009)
This book of witty essays is rejected as review material because it fails the suitable-for-all-audiences standard, (though no doubt most of you are less touchy than I imagine.) These essays extend familiar Sedaris territory--his vices, his life in France, his dysfunctional family of origin, (which, to my relief, he makes genuinely funny.) You know if you like David Sedaris--enjoy.
Mother of God, a novel
Michael Downing (Simon and Schuster, 1990)
Downing’s second novel, Mother of God, was too hard for me, or I just didn’t like the characters. If you’re interested in his fiction, start with Breakfast with Scot, which is charming and funny.
December's email edition, 2009