Friday, August 2, 2019

Apparently My Brain Thinks Size Doesn't Matter

I have a bit of a bad habit, when buying things online, of not paying attention to measurements. Height. Weight. Quantity. I have no good excuse - I feel like there's something slightly wrong with my processing ability on computer screens, so I feel like I'm reading everything over and over but somehow I still manage to miss things, but I have no proof of this. Maybe I'm just careless. It's usually not a huge problem. I ordered a ceramic house and a little vase from artist friends online and both were surprisingly, adorably tiny when they arrived. No problem, they were still lovely.

I had a doors and windows calendar that I really liked last year, so I ordered the new version this year. Turns out it was, um, not full-sized. Eve killed herself laughing at my tiny calendar. The day squares were a little smaller, but I still made it work. It doesn't match my picture in size like the other one did, but oh well.

Near the end of the school year, I was exhausted. I was still recovering from a winter of sickness and pain, working in a hot library with years of yuck oozing out of the old carpets was making me feel somewhat unwell, and we were all crawling to the finish line. Matt was away for a few days and instead of going out for groceries and dog food, I indulged in grocery delivery for only the second time ever and ordered dog food from Amazon, although I usually support our neighbourhood independent-owned pet store. I ordered Lucy's regular food and a bag of the oral care stuff, which is her regular food but in giant pellets which are harder to chew so good for her teeth, and which she for some reason thinks is a fantastic treat even though, like I said, still her regular food. The oral care stuff seemed a little expensive, but Matt had only recently discovered it so I didn't know what it should cost, and we only give her a couple of pieces a day, so I thought maybe that's why it was more expensive.

The package was delivered and Eve opened it in the dining room and yelled for me to come look, again killing herself laughing.

So. Oops.

"We only give her four pieces a day!" Eve said. On the bright side, we won't run out of food before we run out of dog. And when my lovely neighbour needs to borrow dog food for her chocolate Lab, I have the perfect solution.

I'd like to say that I learned my lesson, at least for a while.

But later that week, I realized we were out of envelopes.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019


Our cleaner is upstairs vacuuming. Eve is working on a history summative on the couch, and Lucy is lying on the back of the couch growling because of the cleaner. I just shushed her and she gave me this look that says "SORRY for caring about your SAFETY".

A couple of weeks ago I helped with the book fair at my Wednesday school - this would be my twelfth or fourteenth or somewhere around there. At one point there was a lineup of students waiting to pay and as I was getting out a poster for one I said in conversation with the V.P. "do you know how many times I've said 'the posters are five dollars each' in my book fair career?" A little girl in the line said very seriously "HOW MANY?"

I walked around Dow's Lake looking at tulips with a couple of friends on Friday, then walked around the mall for three hours with Eve on Sunday and walked Lucy when we got home and could still walk on Monday, so I think I'm pretty close to back to normal. This doesn't mean my feet are pain free, but I can walk without limping or being in agony, which is a win at this point. One of those frustrating wins that is just getting back to baseline rather than making any advances. Well, that's not true, it's an advance that came after a regression. Now I'm confused, but overall I'm counting it as a win.

My keyboard is disgusting but I'm resisting the urge to clean it without turning off my computer, because I did that once and accidentally changed the keyboard to Swahili or possibly some alien language, and had to hook up a whole other keyboard for a while until it went back to normal. But once I turn my computer off it takes forever to start up again, and my keyboard is really disgusting. Okay hold on, folks, we're doing this.

Hello? Okay. Whew.

Last Friday we were planning to leave for Toronto in the afternoon. Matt came home at lunch and picked up Eve from school on the way. I came down when I was almost ready and he asked what time I wanted to leave. I said "I don't know, whenever we're ready". He said "one-thirty?" I said "whatever, we're driving, it doesn't have to be on the hour or the half hour. Have you even packed?" He said "Well I can go pack in ten minutes." I said "so go pack! What the hell, can you not get ready without a deadline?" and then it dawned on us "oh my god, you can't get ready without a deadline, can you?" When you spend your life on an itinerary that includes frequent air travel, apparently "when we're ready" doesn't really cut it.

I discovered a really good bagged chopped salad with sesame dressing (I have come to the end of the fantasy that I am going to buy greens and ingredients and make my own salads). I ate it for dinner, and I packed it for lunch, and I thought it was going to change my life. I was going to eat it every day, with protein, and lose a million pounds, and feel amazing, and the salad people would hire me to make a commercial and sell their amazing salad.

None of that happened. I bought it two more times. The first time was great. The second time I suddenly found even the thought of it completely revolting.

Cleaning lady is gone. Lucy is looking very smug because she thinks she made her leave. 

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Invitation to My Small Pity Party

This winter has been really difficult - mainly physically instead of mentally, which I guess is kind of a nice change? Just after my fibroid surgery I was offered a surgery leave at a school that was a longer commute, and I accepted it just before I got the worst flu of my life. We were supposed to go to Florida for March Break to visit my mother-in-law and her husband at their summer house. I ordered Matt and Eve to go without me and said I'd be fine.

Narrator: She was not fine.

In retrospect, this was not the smartest. My parents are nearby, and my mom sent over chicken soup. But she sent it with my dad, who, being a lot like me, assumed I wanted him to come in, leave the soup on the counter, and leave without checking on me. He was right. I did want that. But I was so delirious with fever that I thought I was doing inventory in a really cool warehouse for most of one day, and too weak to lift my phone at one point, so it probably wasn't a great idea. My sister, when she heard, was not impressed.

It's okay. I survived. Matt and Eve got upgraded to first class because, I don't know, they clearly missed me so much, and Eve felt terribly guilty (not too guilty to eat her warmed-up cashews, fortunately). But just as I was barely recovered, we started five week-ends of travel, to Elmira to see Angus and watch baseball, to Vegas for a friend's fiftieth birthday, to my sister's for Easter, and then more Angus and more baseball. This was all great, but didn't give me any down time. At the same time, the bone spur inflammation in my foot got worse so I was hobbling around in pain and off balance for months.

It takes a toll on a girl, ya know? I'm mostly enumerating this because this week I was so happy that the sun was shining and it was book fair week, and I was hanging out with the super-fun and funny principal and V.P. at my Wednesday school who are just so lovely and have the same twisted sense of humour as me, and we were selling books and stupidly-shaped erasers and five-dollar posters to excited kids, and then I'd come home and be weepily exhausted and unable to face cooking dinner, and I couldn't figure out why. Until I figured out why, and Hannah comfortingly confirmed my theory.

I have a great life. I have privilege out the wazoo. I get frustrated with myself when I can't work a stupid part-time job and at least do the bare minimum at home. Turns out my body doesn't care that I need to demonstrate my love and gratitude by cooking and cleaning and that I'd like to demonstrate my love of fitting into my jeans by walking around the park once in a while. I finally found a good chiropodist and my foot is slowly improving thanks to being horrifyingly jackhammered with a taser wand once a week. Sorry, the technical term is "extracorporeal shockwave therapy". I wonder what would happen if they used it intracorporeally - bet it would make a good horror movie. I've been able to properly walk Lucy a couple of times in the past week. Other than that, I guess I just need some rest.

So I've learned my lesson. This week-end we're.... going to Toronto.

Oh well. Store-bought quiche and peanut butter sandwiches for dinner next week.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Thrills and Agony

Yesterday we drove across the border to watch Angus's team play two games at SUNY Canton. He's had a great year academically, but the team has really struggled and his last outing as pitcher was dismal. He's doing better at shaking it off than in the past, and things will reset in the fall, and it's not the end of the world, but he's exhausted and ready to be home and we're ready for that too. We were there for support rather than entertainment or enjoyment (Angus was likely not going to play at all until the next day), and for the prospect of seeing him for five minutes between games and an hour afterwards.

Things went as expected for the first few hours. It was cold. Really cold. Really fucking cold. We sat huddled in our chairs in winter coats with sleeping bags over us and the wind froze our faces. The other team was mean. We're used to loud, good-natured heckling, but this was something else. Later one, one of our players said that he was so pissed because they had been saying rude things about his sisters - it's a thing, apparently, to look at the other team's players' Instagram accounts and chirp about their families. Did you know this was a thing? I feel simultaneously naive and outraged. There's unsportsmanlike and there's next-level assholery. Two of their coaches got tossed, so there's that at least.

We lost the first game 5-3, which is fine. The first game was seven innings, the second was nine, and about halfway through the second I went to the car to warm up for a bit. We hadn't expected Angus to pitch, and then suddenly Matt texted me that Angus was warming up and we were up by one. For a cowardly moment I almost stayed in the car. It's bad enough when he pitches at the beginning of the game and things go badly - this seemed like an unbearable amount of pressure, and watching him at times like this doesn't feel like I'm watching anything related to how hard he's worked at this, or statistics, or physics - it feels like we're in the grip of capricious forces that just want to fuck with us. Part of me just wanted to wait and be told what happened once it was over. (I've heard that extreme circumstances bring out the best in some people. It would seem that I am not one of those people.)

So I trudged my frozen butt out out from the parking lot and up the hill overlooking the diamond. I paced around like an expectant father in a hospital waiting room in the fifties. I swore a lot.

The rest of this story is triumphant and anticlimactic all at once. He pitched the last inning, went three up three down. We won the game (I'm not even sure what the score was). He got the save. We were dazed and jubilant. The other parents were sweet and gracious (especially the ones whose sons were pitchers). We went back to the hotel and I made giant Caesar salads in immense metal trays for dinner just like a real team mom.

On the way home, Eve texted me that she'd made some really great avocado toast, after screwing it up badly (too much salt, not enough lime, something, I don't know) the last couple times, so she was really excited. Nice that it was a banner day for our family all around.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Still February

I'm still feeling kind of shaky. I'm having trouble figuring out if I'm depressed or if this is just life. Feeling extremely mortal, which isn't necessarily bad. I wrote down a quote once that I can't find now (by this I mean I don't feel like going through my university journals and dying of cringe) - oh, looks like it was from the Bible: "Let us know the brevity of life, that we may grow in wisdom". I understand that knowing that life is relatively short is part of what makes it sweet. If we had all the time in the world, then time would mean nothing. On the other hand, if I can't stop thinking about dying, I don't get a whole lot of living done. As with so many things, balance is key. And I'm feeling a little tippy.

It's so hard, understanding the passing of time even though it's so obvious. Now just feels so... NOW-ish, you know? It's so hard to imagine that things will change materially. When I had babies I would tell myself not to panic about them growing fast - tomorrow they would be almost exactly the same as today. Every time we eat too much and feel uncomfortably full we can't believe we'll ever want to eat again. And every January I get such a passion for cleaning and organizing, and I can't understand how I let things get so untidy and out of control because I can't believe that I ever won't feel like that again. And then a few weeks go by and things get a little busier and suddenly I can't be arsed to care about the shit piling up on the dining room table and the downstairs storage closet is close to organized but not quite finished and all that drive and energy is just gone, and here I am again. So much time goes by, and part of it is linear and part of it is circular. That's okay. I've made six trips to Value Village in the past few weeks, and the storage closet really was a disaster. I went through mountains of the kids' old artwork and threw out a bunch and kept the ones I could still remember them making. 

Eve turned sixteen. It seemed normal that Angus could drive at that age, but it seems bizarre to me that she can. I don't know if it's because she's a girl or because she's my youngest or because she's a foot shorter than he was. 

None of this is terribly insightful or new or well-articulated. I'm just trying to force myself to keep writing. But I'm also trying to go to bed earlier instead of sitting at the computer for hours at night, which is what I'm doing now. So I will leave this without an elegant finish and go slog through a few more pages of The Magic Mountain. 

Thursday, February 7, 2019


I feel a little strange. I felt good through most of December, then happy but exhausted through the Christmas holidays, then surprisingly chipper through the first part of January, then anxious about my fibroid surgery, then relieved that it was over. Now I feel like winter depression might be creeping in. This week has been tough. Husband is away and the weather has felt intentionally malicious - more snow and extreme cold, followed by a one-day thaw and a bunch of rain that puddled up everywhere because all the drains are covered with ice, and the promise of quickly freezing again and turning the city into a bone-breaking ice rink. Every day there's been some kind of weather warning. Most mornings have been not quite as bad as anticipated, which is nice but would be nicer if I could stop anxious-ing about it all night. There was one morning I could have slept in, but I worried that Eve would fall and break herself trying to get to the bus, so I got up and drove her. It wasn't that bad out, and then I felt like a kid-coddling loser. A very sleepy kid-coddling loser.

It's funny dealing with the younger classes as the school librarian, because I remember the mixed blessing that was library time as a mother. The kids loved going to the library, but trying to keep track of the library books in our swimming-in-books house and trying to remember to send them back on the right day in my swimming-in-chaos brain was a constant battle. There's one girl in grade one whose book has been overdue since September. I keep sending notices and getting no reply. The replacement cost is only five bucks, but I half think they've chosen to just withdraw from the whole pain-in-the-ass situation and honestly, I get it.

I'm having a bit of a harder time with Angus being gone. I think it's just the time of the year, when everything seems frozen and difficult and sad. I'm cleaning out the basement and I keep finding photographs and drawings and things he wrote, and in one way I remember it all so clearly and in another way it feels like it might have been someone else's life. Then I text him and it's a little bit better. It's weird to realize that whether you treasure every moment or not, they still go by, and you're washed up on the shore of the future.

Also, it's Eve's sixteenth birthday today. And I have a dentist appointment. Onward.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Books Read in 2018: Five Star Books

Five Star Rereads

The Book of Lost Things by John ConnollyHigh in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness. Angry and alone, he takes refuge in his imagination and soon finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a world that is a strange reflection of his own -- populated by heroes and monsters and ruled by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book, The Book of Lost Things.
Taking readers on a vivid journey through the loss of innocence into adulthood and beyond, New York Times bestselling author John Connolly tells a dark and compelling tale that reminds us of the enduring power of stories in our lives.

I first read this in August 2011, and reread in May of this year. I really like Connolly's regular series - dark mystery/thrillers with a magic realism-style layering of the supernatural - but this is something really wonderful. It reads like an instant classic to me, and I imagine I will reread it many times. The themes are timeless - coming of age, finding one's courage, loss, division, love, death - and the writing voice has the requisite gravitas and beauty to carry them. It's very dark and very sad, but not nihilistic.

Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith - Michael Marshall Smith’s surreal, groundbreaking, and award-winning debut which resonates with wild humour interlaced with dark recollections of an emotional minefield.
Stark lives in Colour, a neighbourhood whose inhabitants like to be co-ordinated with their surroundings – a neighbourhood where spangly purple trousers are admired by the walls of buildings as you pass them. Close by is Sound, where you mustn’t make any, apart from one designated hour a day when you can scream your lungs raw. Then there’s Red – get off at Fuck Station Zero if you want to see a tactical nuclear battle recreated as a sales demonstration.
Stark has friends in Red, which is just as well because Something is about to happen. And when a Something happens it’s no good chanting ‘Duck and cover’ while cowering in a corner, because a Something is always from the past, Stark’s past, and it won’t go away until you face it full on.

In a kind of twisty way, this book goes well with the previous one, and not because I also read it first in 2011, although that's kind of funny and weird. Before rereading, I remembered I had liked it, but the only thing that stuck in my mind was a futuristic setting, the protagonist climbing over some kind of weird structure, and someone - well, I won't say that, it would be a spoiler. It was fun to read again, and it corresponds with The Book of Lost Things because of Stark's dialogue between his past and future selves, and the incredible power of stories. It's inventive, has some wonky humour, and it's surprising and sad and sort of kind in the way that very good science fiction is. Now that I've read pretty much everything else by this author, I can see signs of this being a first novel, but the voice has only grown more assured, not changed substantially. 

Five Star Fantasy

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart TurtonThe Rules of Blackheath
Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at 11:00 p.m. 
There are eight days, and eight witnesses for you to inhabit. 
We will only let you escape once you tell us the name of the killer. 
Understood? Then let's begin...
Evelyn Hardcastle will die. Every day until Aiden Bishop can identify her killer and break the cycle. But every time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest. And some of his hosts are more helpful than others...
The most inventive debut of the year twists together a mystery of such unexpected creativity it will leave readers guessing until the very last page.

Holy freaking crap this was cool. It's very rare to find an inventive, intricate plot like this with writing that adds layers of insight and inspiration. The way the narrator deals with being in different hosts and battling their core personalities was one of the most compelling parts of the story. I love the feeling of not knowing what's going on but being able to feel that it's something special, and then not being let down by the culmination. I stayed up way too late finishing this the night before New Year's Eve. It was totally worth it. 
Homecoming by Susan Palwick - Homecoming, by Susan Palwick, is a dark fantasy novelette about  a young girl on the cusp of womanhood who yearns to leave her village and go to sea with her best friend, a boy about her own age, despite natural and supernatural dangers. 

Actually a novelette (99 cents on Kindle!) by one of my favourite authors. Beautiful writing, beautiful story. Do yourself a favour and read it. 

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley #1 New York Times bestseller Maria Dahvana Headley’s soaring sky fantasy Magonia is now in paperback!
Since she was a baby, Aza Ray Boyle has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live. So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.
Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found by another. Magonia.
Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—but as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war between Magonia and Earth is coming. In Aza’s hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?

Probably would have been four stars on a different day, but the worldmaking really blew me away. It was kind of like John Green meets Philip Pullman. I do foresee a love triangle in the sequel, which, bleah, but still. 

The Lie Tree by Frances HardingeFaith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy - a proper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men. But inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist mysteries: an unattended envelope, an unlocked door. She knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing. She knows that her family moved to the close-knit island of Vane because her famous scientist father was fleeing a reputation-destroying scandal. And she knows, when her father is discovered dead shortly thereafter, that he was murdered.
In pursuit of justice and revenge, Faith hunts through her father's possessions and discovers a strange tree. The tree bears fruit only when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father's murder - or it may lure the murderer directly to Faith herself.

I discovered Hardinge a few years ago and, because the stories seemed such timeless classics, was a bit surprised and wholly delighted to learn that she was still writing. This year (2019) was the first year in the past few that I didn't begin by reading a Hardinge book, only because I didn't have one at hand. This book was my first read on 2018 and was full of marvels and wonders. Much of Hardinge's work features young girls in dire circumstances who go on to discover their considerable powers and do amazing things, with magic thrown into the heady mix. I wish I had been able to read these as a middle-grader or young teenager.

The Anomaly (The Anomaly Files #1) by Michael RutgerNot all secrets are meant to be found.
If Indiana Jones lived in the X-Files era, he might bear at least a passing resemblance to Nolan Moore -- a rogue archaeologist hosting a documentary series derisively dismissed by the "real" experts, but beloved of conspiracy theorists.
Nolan sets out to retrace the steps of an explorer from 1909 who claimed to have discovered a mysterious cavern high up in the ancient rock of the Grand Canyon. And, for once, he may have actually found what he seeks. Then the trip takes a nasty turn, and the cave begins turning against them in mysterious ways.
Nolan's story becomes one of survival against seemingly impossible odds. The only way out is to answer a series of intriguing questions: What is this strange cave? How has it remained hidden for so long? And what secret does it conceal that made its last visitors attempt to seal it forever?

Surprise! Michael Rutger is also Michael Marshall Smith AND Michael Marshall, and no, I don't know why he needs to be ALL of the Michaels, but I'll happily read any and all Michaely stuff he cares to generate. Again, five stars might be stretching it a bit, except that, like The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, I find it a rare and remarkable thing when a tight, terrific plot is clothed with praiseworthy prose, and Smith's or Marshall's or Rutger's voice just really strikes a chord with me - it's how I think I would write if I wrote thrillers, or how I would want to. 

Five Star Mystery

Snap by Belinda Bauer - On a stifling summer's day, eleven-year-old Jack and his two sisters sit in their broken-down car, waiting for their mother to come back and rescue them. Jack's in charge, she said. I won't be long.
But she doesn't come back. She never comes back. And life as the children know it is changed for ever.
Three years later, mum-to-be Catherine wakes to find a knife beside her bed, and a note that says: I could have killed you.
Meanwhile Jack is still in charge - of his sisters, of supporting them all, of making sure nobody knows they're alone in the house, and - quite suddenly - of finding out the truth about what happened to his mother.

But the truth can be a dangerous thing .

A mystery is never just  mystery where Belinda Bauer is concerned, except in the larger sense that life and human relationships and coincidences and fate are a mystery. So this isn't just a great mystery novel, it's a great novel, period. 

Five Star Fiction

Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson - Everyone knows there are different kinds of teachers. The good ones. The not-so-good ones. The boring ones, the mean ones, the ones who try too hard. The ones you’ll never remember, and the ones you want to forget. But Ms. Bixby is none of these. She’s the sort of teacher who makes you feel like the indignity of school is worthwhile. Who makes the idea of growing up less terrifying. Who you never want to disappoint. What Ms. Bixby is, is one of a kind.
Topher, Brand, and Steve know this better than anyone. And so when Ms. Bixby unexpectedly announces that she is very sick and won’t be able to finish the school year, they come up with a plan. Through the three very different stories they tell, we begin to understand just what Ms. Bixby means to Topher, Brand, and Steve—and what they are willing to go to such great lengths to tell her.
John David Anderson, the acclaimed author of Sidekicked, returns with a story of three kids, a very special teacher, and one day that none of them will ever forget.

This was incredible. Sad but not depressing, intense but not melodramatic, heartwarming but not cheesy. Will be looking for his other book. 

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf - A spare yet eloquent, bittersweet yet inspiring story of a man and a woman who, in advanced age, come together to wrestle with the events of their lives and their hopes for the imminent future.
In the familiar setting of Holt, Colorado, home to all of Kent Haruf's inimitable fiction, Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis's wife. His daughter lives hours away in Colorado Springs, her son even farther away in Grand Junction, and Addie and Louis have long been living alone in houses now empty of family, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk with. 
Their brave adventures - their pleasures and their difficulties - are hugely involving and truly resonant, making Our Souls at Night the perfect final installment to this beloved writer's enduring contribution to American literature.

Someone recommended this to me just with the title, so I had no idea what to expect. It was so lovely - quiet and simple, and yet plunging right to the heart of human grief and loss and yearning for connection. 

A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell - A Reunion of Ghosts is the shared confessional of three sisters who have decided to kill themselves at the end of the 20th century, honoring the dark legacy that has haunted their extraordinary family for decades
How do three sisters write a single suicide note? 
In the waning days of 1999, the Alter sisters—Lady, Vee, and Delph—finalize their plans to end their lives. Their reasons are not theirs alone; they are the last in a long line of Alters who have killed themselves, beginning with their great-grandmother, the wife of a Jewish Nobel Prize-winning chemist who developed the first poison gas used in World War I and the lethal agent used in Third Reich gas chambers. The chemist himself, their son Richard, and Richard’s children all followed suit.
The childless sisters also define themselves by their own bad luck. Lady, the oldest, never really resumed living after her divorce. Vee is facing cancer’s return. And Delph, the youngest, is resigned to a spinster’s life of stifled dreams. But despite their pain they love each other fiercely, and share a darkly brilliant sense of humor.
As they gather in the ancestral Upper West Side apartment to close the circle of the Alter curse, an epic story about four generations of one family—inspired in part by the troubled life of German-Jewish Fritz Haber, Nobel Prize winner and inventor of chlorine gas—unfolds. A Reunion of Ghosts is a tale of fate and blood, sin and absolution; partly a memoir of sisters unified by a singular burden, partly an unflinching eulogy of those who have gone before, and above all a profound commentary on the events of the 20th century.

This won't be for everyone. It reminded me of All My Puny Sorrows, and I know my book club was pretty sharply divided over that one. My family (my parents and sister and me, and my husband and kids and me) has a habit of dealing with serious subjects with twisted humour, so books that deal with suicide and dark family legacies and still manage to be hilarious are right up my alley. There was also a major Baader Meinhof phenomenon going on soon after I read it, in which I stared at Collette for a full thirty seconds when she started talking about the chemist who developed the poison gas used in the gas chambers and I couldn't figure out why I knew exactly what she was referring to, and everyone thought I was having a stroke. 

An Ocean of Minutes by Thea LimAmerica is in the grip of a deadly flu pandemic. When Frank catches the virus, his girlfriend Polly will do whatever it takes to save him, even if it means risking everything. She agrees to a radical plan—time travel has been invented in the future to thwart the virus. If she signs up for a one-way-trip into the future to work as a bonded labourer, the company will pay for the life-saving treatment Frank needs. Polly promises to meet Frank again in Galveston, Texas, where she will arrive in twelve years.
But when Polly is re-routed an extra five years into the future, Frank is nowhere to be found. Alone in a changed and divided America, with no status and no money, Polly must navigate a new life and find a way to locate Frank, to discover if he is alive, and if their love has endured.

I usually like my time travel stories to be a little more Hollywood-ish, and I'd been having trouble maintaining focus on straight fiction lately, so I thought this might be a tough read for me, but I loved this so much. I usually have trouble reading on vacation, but I devoured most of this in Mexico and then finished it on the plane even though my glasses were not the best for reading and it was extremely awkward. I can't even articulate why it seemed so perfect to me - it may just have been the right book at the right time. It was a beautiful love story and a clear-eyed examination of what can happen to a beautiful love story under the intrusions of pitiless circumstances. Every word seemed perfect for its purpose, and the story was so plausible and sad and vivid. I was outraged that it didn't win the Giller Prize, which was ridiculous because I hadn't read any of the other books that were in the running. Still. Loved it. Gave it to three people for Christmas.