Behold the Dreamers – by Imbolo Mbue

“Behold the Dreamers” is a first novel about immigration and the American Dream. The novel tells the story of two families, the Jongas and the Edwards.

In 2004, Jende Jonga arrived in America under slightly false pretenses, obtaining a temporary visa with the understanding that he intended to return to his home country of Cameroon in three months. He had no such intentions, but desired to stay in America forever, escaping his impoverished life in Limbe Cameroon, and attaining the American dream. Jende’s girlfriend, Neni, and their six year old son, made their way to America two years later. Neni’s father would not allow them to marry because Jende was from a poor family. Within a week of Neni’s arrival in New York, Jende and Neni are married. When the reader meets Neni and Jende, the couple is living in an apartment in Harlem and struggling to make ends meet. Neni is working as a home health aid and going to school at night and Jende is working a variety of jobs, including as a livery driver.

Jende’s cousin, Winston, a successful Wall Street lawyer, arranges for Jende to interview to become a chauffeur to a wealthy investment banker at Lehman Brothers (remember them?). Jende succeeds in getting the job, earning a whopping $35,000 a year, and we meet the Edwards family. Clark and Cindy Edwards appear to be the perfect couple, wealthy, beautiful and living the American dream. They have two children, 10 year old Mighty and Columbia Law student, Vince. The couple has a spectacular Manhattan apartment and an even more spectacular summer home in the Hamptons.

Jende drives Mr. Edwards to and from work and appointments, including certain regular appointments of a tawdry nature at the Chelsea Hotel. All the while Lehman Brothers is imploding and Clark is doing all he can to hold it together. Cindy is living the life of the bored wealthy socialite, but all is not well. Vince wants to quit law school and move to India and Cindy has her own misgivings about the life she leads. Neni becomes well acquainted with Cindy when she goes to work for her during the summer in the Hamptons.  Their relationship is full of surprises.

In the meantime, Jende has hired an immigration lawyer to help him obtain citizenship, but the process is not going as he desires and haunts him every day. His family back in Cameroon is aging and has financial needs. Lehman Brothers implodes, the Edwards family is splitting apart and Jende loses his lucrative job. He and Neni, who has given birth to a second child, struggle through the days. “…bad news has a way of slithering into good days and making a mockery of complacent joys.”

After months of poverty, stress and disillusionment, Jende and Neni must decide whether to fight to stay in America or go back to Cameroon. The decision is gut wrenching. But in order for you to know how it all turns out, you need to read this subtly provocative first novel. You can reserve “Behold the Dreamers” at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11195333__Sbehold%20the%20dreamers__P0%2C2__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold. If you prefer an electronic version, click on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11221951__Sbehold%20the%20dreamers__P0%2C1__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold

The Ninth Hour – by Alice McDermott

The Ninth Hour is an utterly charming novel about faith, dissent, good works and love. The novel begins when Jim decides to take his own life by releasing gas into his lungs, leaving pregnant Annie on her own to make her way with her not yet born daughter. It is Annie’s good fortune (if there is such a thing as good fortune in these circumstances), that Sister St. Savior, on her way back to the convent after an “afternoon in the vestibule of the Woolworth’s at Borough Hall, her alms basket in her lap”, walked by the Brooklyn tenement “with the terrible scent of doused fire on the winter air.”

“It was Sister St. Savior’s vocation to enter the homes of strangers, mostly the sick and the elderly, to breeze into their apartments and to sail comfortably through their rooms…” With the help of Sister St. Savior and her convent, Annie is able to go on with her life.

Sister St. Savior arranges for Annie to work in the laundry at the Little Nursing Sisters convent for $18 a week, breakfast and lunch. She brings her daughter Sallie with her and Sallie grows up in the convent. Annie befriends young Sister Jeanne, to whom she remains close throughout her life, and develops relationships with Sister Illuminata (master of the laundry) and Sister Lucy (gruff do gooder). The nuns also introduce Annie to Elizabeth Tierney, mother to a gaggle of children, who becomes her closest friend. Through the convent Annie meets Mr. Costello, the milkman, whose invalid wife is in the constant care of the nuns.

Sallie, Annie’s daughter, at some point in young adulthood decides to work with the nuns in caring for the sick. She spends time with Sister Lucy going to various households and decides to become a nun. She is assigned to a nursing convent in Chicago. On the overnight train to Chicago, Sallie encounters a crass woman, a grifter and a child abusing poor mother and her abused child. The experience causes her to realize that she lacks the empathy to care for the less fortunate and upon arriving in Chicago she buys a one way train ticket and immediately returns home.

Sallie marries Patrick Tierney and the reader learns the story of Red Whelan, who served as Grandfather Tierney’s “substitute” in the war, and old aunt Rose, whose vocation it was to take care of Red and who is still living at the time of the tale.

The novel tells of each of the nun’s pasts and their struggles, the importance of love and family, and the begrudging mutual need of the wealthy and the poor. “Love’s a tonic, not a cure.”

The story is told by Annie’s grandchildren, piecing together their past. Sister Jeanne, who carries a secret, helps Sallie’s children put together their history and understand their parents. As he was dying, their father reminded them of his love for Sallie, their “mother, who thought to be a nun, but then thought better of it…A fatherless girl, a convent child in white wool. The girl he always knew he would marry.”

This is a wonderful novel, filled with real human characters, interesting storylines and great writing. Go and reserve it at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11263313__Sthe%20ninth%20hour__P0%2C4__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold or in electronic version by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11269850__Sthe%20ninth%20hour__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold

In The Midst of Winter – by Isabel Allende

“In the midst of winter, I finally found there was within me an invincible summer.” Albert Camus

“In the Midst of Winter” is an extraordinarily enjoyable novel, beautifully written, about three people brought together for a few days due to a snowstorm. Through a compelling mix of history, mystery, romance and humor, Allende emphasizes the resilience of the human spirit, as her characters transform from their histories of tragedy to their futures of love, hope and humanity.

Lucia is 62 years old, originally from Chile and teaching on a one year contract at New York University’s Center for Latin American Studies. She is living in the basement apartment of Richard Bowmaster’s Brooklyn brownstone. Richard is also a professor at New York University and arranged for Lucia to teach at NYU and to live in the apartment. Lucia is divorced, has a daughter, Daniela in Miami and is secretly in love with Richard Bowmaster.

Richard is Lucia’s boss at NYU. He leads a solitary existence and has rejected Lucia’s advances. When we meet him he is rushing one of his cats to the veterinarian during a blizzard. As he is returning home, he rear ends a Lexus, which is being driven by a Guatemalan refugee, Evelyn. Evelyn works as a nanny and helper for a wealthy family in Brooklyn. She is in the country illegally, driving the Lexus without the boss’s knowledge and is horrified when the accident occurs, refusing any help from Richard. Richard throws his business card in Evelyn’s car as she drives off.

Later in the evening of the accident Evelyn shows up at Richard’s door but is unable to communicate. Richard calls Lucia, saying “A hysterical Latin American woman has invaded my house and I don’t know what to do with her. Maybe you could help.” Thus begins three evenings that the three of them spend together through the snowstorm.

During these days and nights, Evelyn, Lucia and Richard tell each other their stories. Evelyn tells her story of growing up amidst violence and gangs in her home of Guatemala, culminating in her escape and her job working for the wealthy, mysterious and slightly sinister Leroy family.

Lucia tells her story of being raised by her single mother in Chile and seeking asylum in Venezuela when her life is endangered after being accused of being an opposition sympathizer by the government. She meets a man and moves to Canada but ultimately moves back to Chile. While in Chile she married, had a daughter, suffered breast cancer, divorced and had a lover.

Richard had studied political science, specializing in Brazil. He went to Brazil in 1985, fell in love, married and had a child. His entire personal life unraveled through drinking, drugs, womanizing and immense tragedy. He returned to New York to take a teaching position at New York University.

While the three are revealing themselves to each other they are also engaged in an adventure on the snowy roads of New York, trying to figure out what to do with the surprise they found in the trunk of the Lexus. This adventure is intermingled with their stories throughout the novel.

At times you have to suspend belief and reality to go along with the sort of unbelievable adventure Richard, Lucia and Evelyn are experiencing. That said, the stories are engaging and highly relevant in today’s environment, the characters are likeable and sympathetic and the hopefulness and generosity of spirit which the story exudes is a nice change of pace. This book will be released at the end of October and you should read it. You will be able to reserve the book at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11269085__Sin%20the%20midst%20of%20winter__P0%2C3__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold or if you prefer the electronic version, click on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11276967__Sin%20the%20midst%20of%20winter__P0%2C1__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold

Little Fires Everywhere – by Celeste Ng

“Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer; how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.” This is the first line in Little Fires Everywhere and the rest of the novel explains how the Richardsons ended up losing their fancy Parkland Rd., Shaker Heights home.

The novel revolves around the Richardson family and by extension to the lives of their Winslow Road tenants, Mia and Pearl Warren, and the custody battle of the Richardsons’ friends, the McCulloughs. The lives of the three groups intersect in unlikely ways.

Mia and her daughter Pearl arrive in Shaker Heights with everything they own in Mia’s beat up VW, and they rent half of a duplex from Elena Richardson. The Richardsons are the perfect family. Mrs. Richardson is a reporter for the Sun Times and Mr. Richardson is a successful lawyer. They have three children, four of whom would appear to be perfect–Lexie, a beautiful and popular high school senior, Trip, a good looking high school junior, and Moody a thoughtful and intelligent high school sophomore. The fourth child, Izzy, is another matter. She is irreverent, strong and opinionated.

Mia Warren is an artist, a photographer with an eye for scene, and an ability to sell her art through an agent in New York. Mia and Pearl never stay in one place for too long. As Pearl explained to Moody: “We move around a lot. Whenever my mom gets the bug.” Mia intends, however, to stay in Shaker Heights so that Pearl can finish high school.

Moody Richardson becomes obsessed with Pearl and Pearl spends most of her free time at the Richardson house, effectively becoming a member of the Richardson family. Lexie also befriends Pearl, and Pearl becomes romantically attached to Trip. In the meantime, Izzy becomes attached to Mia and helps her with her photography, while Mia becomes a housekeeper for Mr. And Mrs. Richardson. It’s all very incestuous.

Mrs. Richardson’s best friend, Linda McCullough, is unable to have children, but has had the good fortune to be given the care of an Asian infant who was abandoned at a fire station. But in a change of heart, the infant’s mother has decided she wants the baby back and of course, the mother and Mia are friends. Who is Mrs. McCullough’s attorney in the ensuing custody battle? Why Mr. Richardson, of course.

Mrs. Richardson is enraged that Mia has taken the mother’s side in the custody fight. When the Richardson children discover a photograph of Mia hanging in the Cleveland Museum of Art, taken by a famous photographer, Mrs. Richardson has all she needs to put her journalistic skills to work, dig into Mia’s history and discover the past life she is hiding.

The novel tackles privilege, interracial dating, teen sex, racial issues and jealousy and alienation. Unfortunately, none of the characters are likeable or sympathetic and the storytelling is mean spirited, smug, humorless and  immature. The references to Shaker Heights are kind of fun at first but after a while become annoyingly predictable and the blatant foreshadowing throughout the book is simply irritating. The novel seems to be getting some positive press and the only thing I can think of is that it is intended for teens and not adults.

If you still want to read this second novel by this former Shaker Heights resident, you can reserve it at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11263312__Slittle%20fires%20everywhere__P0%2C4__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold

I Was Told To Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad – by Souad Mekhennet

“I was told to come alone. I was not to carry any identification and would have to leave my cell phone, audio recorder, watch, and purse at my hotel in Antakya, Turkey.” These were the conditions under which Souad Mekhennet, an investigative journalist at the time for the Washington Post, met with Abu Yusak, the ISIS leader who oversaw the ISIS hostage program, in 2014. Thus begins the fascinating journey of Ms. Mekhennet’s story of investigative journalism in the world of Islamic militants across Europe and the Middle East.

Souad Mekhennet is a Muslim woman of Moroccan and Turkish descent, born and raised in Germany. She was born in 1978 in Frankfurt and has two older sisters, one of whom suffers from brain damage. She attended a prestigious German journalism school, Henri-Nannen School in Hamburg. “I was one of the youngest students they ever admitted, and the first child of Muslim guest workers.”

Mekhennet was deeply affected by the reporting of Woodward and Bernstein and slowly evolved into a highly skilled investigative reporter for the New York Times and then the Washington Post, as well as various German outlets. She became absorbed with journalism’s obligation to take the world inside the minds of Islamic militants after 9/11 and specifically after having had dinner with Maureen Fanning, whose husband was a firefighter who died at the World Trade Center. At that dinner, Fanning struck a chord when she said “‘Nobody told us there were people out there who hated us so much…Why didn’t we know this? Politicians didn’t tell us. You’re journalists, but you never told us.'” “She was questioning whether we were doing our jobs, and I found her criticism legitimate.” Mekhennet wondered, “Why aren’t we doing a better job of telling people like Maureen Fanning what the jihadis think of them?” This interaction has driven Mekhennet throughout her career.

In the memoir Mekhennet describes meeting with Muslim militants throughout the world, including in Iraq, Germany, Algeria, Lebanon, Pakistan, Egypt, France, England and Syria. She relays a harrowing experience about being arrested in Egypt. Each story and each exchange with a terrorist and the related politics is gripping and keeps the reader on the edge of her seat. She even relays a personal story about family members lost to terrorism. The journalistic experiences she describes begin when she is 19 years of age (1997) and end with her experiences through 2016.

Equally as interesting as the travels and meetings are Mekhennet’s introspective observations about being Muslim, as well as her interactions with Muslims, the terrorists and nonMuslims. Mekhennet thinks back at various times to discrimination which she experienced and the resultant fear and isolation she felt as a Muslim in a nonMuslim country. “I sometimes wonder what would have happened if an Islamic State recruiter had found me in those dark moments.” At various times she is believed to be a spy, she is used as an unknowing pawn by intelligence agencies and she is suspected of being a jihadi sympathizer. Throughout she maintains her professionalism as a journalist, but periodically questions the openness and bigotry of western society.

The memoir concludes with some thoughts about culture, tolerance and acceptance, ultimately acknowledging that in the end we are all the same. “If I’ve learned anything, it’s this: a mother’s screams over the body of her murdered child sound the same if she is black, brown, or white; Muslim, Jewish or Christian; Shia or Sunni….We will all be buried in the same ground.”

The books is must read and can be reserved at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11257248__Si%20was%20told%20to%20come%20alone__P0%2C1__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold

Sing Unburied Sing – by Jesmyn Ward

“Sing Unburied Sing ” is a brilliantly evocative novel about race, family, love and addiction, with a touch of magic realism and spiritualism.

Thirteen year old Jojo and his sister, Kayla, live with their mother, Leonie, their Father, Michael and their grandparents, Pop and Mam. Jojo (Joseph) and Kayla (Michaela) have never met their paternal grandparents, even though they live in close proximity. Grandfather Joseph will not accept them.

We first meet Jojo on his birthday, when Pap takes him out to slaughter a goat and Jojo becomes physically ill from the experience. Jojo’s mother, whom he calls Leonie, returns from a drug riddled outing with a pathetic little cake made for a baby shower and very little else. Jojo’s father, whom he calls Michael, calls from prison to say he is being released in a week (but notably not to wish happy birthday to his son).

Early in the novel, Pap explains to Jojo that “there’s spirit in everything. In the trees, in the moon, in the sun, in the animals…But you need all of them, all of that spirit in everything, to have balance.” Jojo and Leonie have a sense of spirituality. Jojo has the ability to understand the animals and the spiritual quality to see and converse with ghosts. Leonie can see and converse with her dead brother, Given, but only when she is high (which is a lot of the time). Mam can heal with herbs and plants based solely on her sense of what works. However, unfortunately, during the course of the book Mam is dying of cancer and even her skill cannot save her.

After Jojo’s lackluster birthday, much of the balance of the book is the trip that Leonie, Jojo, Kayla and Leonie’s friend, Misty take to pick up Michael from prison and to return home. Michael is incarcerated at Parchman, coincidentally enough the same prison where Pap was imprisoned years earlier simply for being his brother’s brother. In those days Parchman was especially brutal and the best days consisted of physical labor. While in Parchman, Pap met a boy even younger than he by the name of Richie. Richie suffered more than most while in Parchman.

The story moves back and forth between the trip to and from Parchman, Pap’s experience in Parchman and recollections of Richie, and Jojo’s experiences. The story is told in part by Leonie, in part by Jojo, with interludes from Richie.

Throughout the lengthy drive to Parchman, we get a good sense of the relationship between Leonie and her children. Leonie’s parental emotions and behaviors are complex, moving from love to hatred to violence to jealousy. Jojo appears to be more of a parent to Kayla than Leonie or Michael. Leonie and Misty spend a great deal of time high, yet Leonie’s attitude toward the people they encounter on the trip is one of superiority, suspicion and disdain. After Michael is released, they go to his parent’s house to introduce his parents to their grandchildren but the introduction does not go well.

The characters in this novel are complex. It is a story of intense emotion and conflict, both internal and external. Ward does an excellent job of evoking all of these emotions without telling you how to feel. This is the second good novel I have read in 2017 and you should read it too! You will be able to reserve it at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11290568__Ssing%20unburied%20sing__P0%2C2__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold

Stay With Me – by Ayobami Adebayo

“Stay With Me” starts out strong. Yejide and Akin are Nigerian, young, in love and newly married. There is an immense amount of family pressure on them to have a child but Yejide is unable to get pregnant. She even goes so far as to climb the Mountain of Jaw-Dropping Miracles, where she is part of a ceremony with a goat and is guaranteed she will become pregnant.

Both families constantly interfere. At one point, Yejide even talks herself into being pregnant. But after 4 years of marriage and no baby Akin does the unthinkable, and takes a second wife. “I was barren and my husband took another wife.” Things go rapidly downhill from there – both in the marriage and in the quality of the novel.

Yejide runs a beauty salon and Akin is a successful banker and they are financially successful. Yejide does ultimately become pregnant, three times, but there are significant costs associated with those pregnancies. The book is told in part from Yejide’s perspective and in part from Akin’s perspective. After all is said and done, both Akin and Yejide question the sacrifices they made in order to have children. “I no longer believed that having a child was equal to owning the world.”

The novel devolves into a horror story. The characters are miserable, their deceptions are diabolical and everyone (especially the reader) suffers. Throughout the novel there are interesting interludes about the political climate in Nigeria, but these interludes are simply not enough to offset the misery of the story and the torment that is the characters’ lives. The novel was short listed for the Bailey’s Prize, so obviously not everyone agrees with me. On the plus side, the novel is blessedly short. You can reserve the book at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11263154__Sstay%20with%20me__P0%2C2__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold

A Horse Walks into a Bar – by David Grossman

A Horse Walks into a Bar is the story of Dov Greenstein’s stand-up routine, showcasing one evening in Netanya Israel. It would not be at all accurate to portray Dov’s routine as comedy.

The novel begins with Dov taking the stage and immediately insulting his audience. Pretending to believe he was in the city of Caesara, he exclaims “‘Oh, wait a minute…this isn’t Caesara, is it?…Looks like my agent f****d me again.'” The audience roars with laughter.

The routine continues along the line of insults and jokes and the energy waxes and wanes. Dov’s childhood friend, Avishai Lazar, a retired District Court Judge, is in the audience at Dov’s urging. Dov and Avishai have not seen each other since Dov was 14. Dov is now 57. Peculiarly, and not at Dov’s urging, a short woman from Dov’s childhood is also in the audience. Her presence seems to unsettle him and throws his routine into unexpected and extremely personal territory as he progressively seems to unravel on stage.

Dov and Avishai were lonely children who found each other through a math tutor. Dov kept Avishai amused and engaged, but as it turned out, Avishai did not know much about Dov at all. Avishai learns what he did not know through the very personal on stage routine that evening and ponders the reaction of the audience to the story. “I have no doubt they would have gotten up and left long ago, or even booed him off the stage, if not for the temptation that is so hard to resist–the temptation to look into another man’s hell.”

Through Dov’s routine, Avishai muses about his life and his relationship to Dov. Although resistant to attend the show, and tempted to leave throughout, Avishai stays and finds an unexpected empathy with Dov. The routine ends in exhaustion.

The book describes the comedian’s ability to manipulate the audience and the changing moods of the audience in a way that makes the reader feel the changes. But the book is less about stand-up comedy and the fickleness of audiences than it is about Dov’s personal story and the complexities and politics of life in Israel.

The book is thoughtful and expresses emotion in a way that makes you feel the experience along with the characters. The novel won the 2017 Man Booker International Prize and is a worthwhile, rewarding read. You can reserve this book at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11238745__Sa%20horse%20walks%20into%20a%20bar__P0%2C2__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold

Forest Dark – by Nicole Krauss

“…in Israel no one can ever agree on the way the world appears, and despite the violence of the never-ending argument, the basic admittance of discord had always been a relief to me.”

Forest Dark is about two very different people, completely unconnected, searching for some sense of something in Israel. Jules Epstein, a wealthy, loud, opinionated and boorish retired lawyer, is recently divorced. He is struggling with who he is, the personalities of his children and what comes next. “On the eve of the first anniversary of his parents’ death. Epstein decided two things: to take out a $2 million line of credit on his Fifth Avenue apartment, and to go on a trip to Israel. …Israel was a place he’d returned to often over the years, drawn by a tangle of allegiances.” Epstein’s residence of choice was the Tel Aviv Hilton.

Krauss never shares the name of the second person, although this reader can only imagine that the second person is loosely (or maybe not loosely) based on the author herself. This second person is an author, a mother of two and unhappily married. She leaves her family behind for a trip to Tel Aviv after she receives a call from her father’s cousin, Effie, telling her that Eliezer Friedman, a professor of literature and former member of the Mossad, had something he wished to discuss with her. The author’s residence of choice was the Tel Aviv Hilton.

The book moves back and forth between the experiences of Epstein and the author. Epstein is befriended by a Rabbi, Menachem Klausner. Rabbi Klausner takes Epstein to Gilgul for Shabbat, where Epstein experiences a highly spiritual environment, and also encounters the Rabbi’s beautiful daughter, Yael.

Rabbi Klausner is organizing a reunion of the descendants of David, and invites Epstein to attend, insisting that he is a descendant. Epstein spends much of the story giving away his wealth, including $2 million to plant a forest in memory of his parents in northern Negev. When Yael needs money for a movie she is making about David, Epstein is all in, but for a minor issue. At the end, Epstein seems to just wander away.

Our author arrives in Tel Aviv and meets up with Eliezer Friedman. Friedman is very mysterious, but tells her a tale about Franz Kafka and his attachment to Palestine. He appears to ask our author to write an ending to an unfinished Kafka novel, although that is not exactly clear. In the process of this mystery, our author and Friedman’s dog are whisked away by the Israeli army to a tiny house in the desert, left to write (or something) and promptly forgotten. Friedman simply disappears.

Throughout the novel, the author delves into the difficulty of writing, the disappointments of literature, the challenges of marriage and the complexities of family and children. In her effort to dig deep and search for meaning and explanations, the musings often feel trivial and border on incoherent in parts. Although the book has its moments, it seemed to me pretentious and self-indulgent. I could not figure out exactly what she was trying to tell me. I suggest a pass on this one but if you want to read it to get a feel for the history and customs of Israel, you can reserve it when it comes out in September by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11266876__Sforest%20dark__P0%2C2__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold

A House Among the Trees – by Julia Glass

“A House Among the Trees” is a story of the fictional Morty Lear. Morty Lear is a famous author of children’s stories, best known perhaps for his novel “Colorquake”. Colorquake is a story about Ivo, whose “mother kept a perfect house, a house among the trees.” Ivo is “utterly beguiling”, an artist, a painter of fantastic creatures, all of which come alive off the page. Everyone loves Ivo and Morty Lear is renowned. By the way, Morty Lear is not his real name–try Mordecai Levy.

The thing is, when we meet him, Morty is dead, having fallen off the roof of his house in the trees (Connecticut) trying to remove a limb. And all sorts of things are happening. Morty’s assistant, Tomasina (Tommy) Daulair has been with Morty (and for a while Morty and his lover Soren) for more than 25 years, in Morty’s house among the trees in Connecticut. Tommy has a difficult relationship with her brother, Danilo ( Dani), who as it so happens was the inspiration for Ivo and is just perfectly resentful about Ivo’s wild success; not to mention that Dani is, of course, a failure at virtually everything he does.

Before he died, Morty had agreed to have a movie made about his life. The famous (and very handsome) young actor, Nicholas (Nick) Greene, has agreed to play Morty. Nick has made some arrangements to spend time with Morty in his house and, with Tommy’s approval, spends a few days and nights at the house despite Morty’s death.

While alive, Morty had nurtured an engaging, although obviously platonic, relationship with Meredith Galarza (Merry–nobody’s name is their name), a museum curator , leading her to believe that her museum would receive most of Morty’s collection. But alas, such was not to be, as his collection was directed into Tommy’s hands, to be sold off to establish a halfway house for runaway boys. Ugh!

So Nick visits the house in the trees, the paparazzi shows up and oh by the way, Dani and Merry somehow connect and they show up too. All is well in the end.

I am a Julia Glass fan. I loved “Three Junes”. But there is simply too much going on in this book. Glass can’t seem to decide if she wants to write about loss (Morty, family), regret (Tommy spending 25 years of her life with Morty), family dysfunction (lots of that here), the competitive world of art, or the cynicism of fundraisers and their very disdain for the donors (“Merry’s primary task is to condense and focus all her verve and vigor on anyone who might become a benefactor. She becomes a heat seeking laser… Sadly, the artists are all beside the point…”). Or perhaps Glass wanted to focus on gay rights and AIDS issues, feminism and antifeminism (“it seems she can never quite shake off the instinctive relief she feels when a male authority gives her the sign of professional approval.” Ugh again!). Perhaps Glass wanted us to understand the loneliness of celebrity (“All celebrity does is arrange and spotlight your foibles as if they were mannequins in a shopwindow, tart them up for all to see” ). As a result of addressing so many issues, the characters seemed to me to be unsympathetic and unlikeable, and the book seemed cold and forced.

Oh, one more thing, the book actually seems to be inspired by Maurice Sendak and his book “Where the Wild Things Are.” All that said, if you are a Julia Glass fan you will probably want to read this book anyway. You can reserve it at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11278560__Sa%20house%20among%20the%20trees__P0%2C4__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold

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