Books: Reading Pythonga 2013

by anneMoore on July 13, 2013

My sister Mary Beth settled into the porch hammock each day, steadily making her way through Michael Ondaatje’s “The Cat’s Table,” a book I’d loved and given her earlier in the year.

Ah, Pythonga: There’s nowhere better to give yourself over to a book. It’s quiet, the lake shimmers, there’s few chores. Breakfast and dinner are served in or beside the dining hall; lunch is packed — or caught — and bought to a beach, where we share the midday meal (and sometimes too much to drink) with friends and family. The lake and its awesome beauty, those shared meals: the magic of Pythonga.

Speaking of magic, Susan Nussbaum’s “Good Kings Bad Kings” is that rare piece of fiction that takes us to an uncomfortable place — a state facility for disabled children — and holds us. Interested, moved, humored, shocked. If that’s not impressive enough, the story is told by a chorus: residents, staff, and a ditzy employee of the for-profit business that’s been hired to manage the home. More amazing: this is Nussbaum’s first novel. (She is a playwright.)

Be patient: it takes time to see where this story is going. Eventually, there’s more than one endearing romance, a whole bunch of fights and a pencil stabbing, rape, death, and a street-style protest.

I loved this book, especially its sweet, spot-on ending. Even the author’s acknowledgements are worth a read; just lovely. (This one’s for you, Lucie.)

Another good read, from a dentist in Cairo. (You can’t make this stuff up.) Allaa Al Aswany’s “The Yacoubian Building” is another chorus, centered on one apartment complex. It’s difficult to follow. That’s a small quibble, because these individual voices become full-bodied characters, with hopes and dreams and terrible disappointments. If you’re wondering what it is to live in contemporary Cairo, this is your book. Corruption, class stagnation, the lure of Islam and terrorism, forced abortions, homosexual hate-crimes. That said, its ending charms; it’s a balm. I didn’t see it coming.

Finally, I liked and then I didn’t Benjamin Lytal’s “A Map of Tulsa.” An East Coast college student returns to Tulsa for the summer with no plans to work. He will read, and study. (Huh? His parents are schoolteachers.) Ok, never mind. The girl he pursues is a knockout, and a wonderful character: heiress, dropout, painter, singer. All good, and mildly erotic. If it had ended when their affair did — when he leaves  to return to school — I would have admired this, a first novel, very nicely written. But it goes on, and on, devolving into a deathbed vigil.

I’ll be back in Pythonga at the end of month. I have a stack — and dibs on the hammock.

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