Novel Ideas: Salman Rushdie’s The Golden House

Salman Rushdie —The Golden House. Jonathan Cape. September 2017

Salman Rushdie’s thirteenth novel, The Golden House, begins by introducing the Golden family to readers as a family of emperors. It quickly clarifies that the family’s patriarch, Nero Golden, “[isn’t] really a king”, and subsequently none of his three sons are in line for an actual throne. Nonetheless, on the night of President Obama’s inauguration, as the family moves into a secluded neighbourhood in New York’s Greenwich Village (from Mumbai, which remains a mystery for about the first 20 pages) their decadence, their wickedness, and their ultimate downfall — the latter taking place as Trump becomes victorious — is illuminated. After all, “a man who [takes] the name of the last of the Julio-Claudian monarchs of Rome…[is] publicly acknowledging his…forthcoming doom” while simultaneously “laughing in…[its] face.”

Our narrator is the family’s neighbour, René, a young aspiring filmmaker, attempting to create his cinematic masterpiece on the Golden family. Many comparisons have been drawn between Rushdie’s new novel and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: a narrator reports on the glimmering world of a mysterious man (in this case, a man and his sons), and inadvertently provides insights into his own character. Unlike Gatsby’s Nick Carraway, however, René clues his readers into this. The novel is written as a chronicle of René’s acquaintance with the Golden family, as well as the progresses made on his film. And so, the two merge at points, as René closes scenes with “Cut” or “Black out”, includes directions or set descriptions, sometimes even excerpts of his scripts, thus shifting the form of the novel. Through these points – through inevitably bringing his readers’ attention to his ongoing script and the fact that there are moments in which he embellishes, edits, and adjusts the Goldens’ narratives – René indicates his centrality in the novel and his influence over what is shared and how it is shared.

René’s political contemplations woven into the narrative, from his excitement at Obama’s triumph to his dread and anger at Trump’s, provide the most explicit insights into his character. René stands as one of many figures Trump supporters oppose: an elite liberal intellectual (as they would say) someone who cites Greek mythology and classic cinema, art history and literature, out of touch with most things beyond his fancy New York City bubble. Which is something he openly admits. Discourse following Trump’s election is concerned with (among others) how American went from President Obama to Trump — how it went from electing its first black President to electing a shamelessly bigoted racist. But “all the daily death of black America” and “the fury of white America at having to put up with a black man in a white house”,  “[the] discontent of a furiously divided country, everyone believing [themselves to be] right, their cause [to be] just” were bubbling up during Obama’s terms. They were pulled up to the surface and detonated when Trump entered the presidential race.

While the American political backdrop is written as René’s observations and examinations, the Indian political backdrop is intertwined closer to the plot line. The discrepancy is perhaps a result of the ways in which the respective characters, Nero Golden, his sons, and René, are affected by said political ongoings. René is a figure least affected in Trump’s America: a white, straight man from a wealthy family. So Trump’s reign, rooted in hatred towards immigrants, people of colour, the LGBTQ community, and women hardly weaves into his own narrative. And as such, the politics remains a form of contemplation. Nero Golden, on the other hand, profits off of political and economic fraudulence in India, hence his narrative’s connection to the larger Hindu-Muslim conflicts, as well as to the pervading corruption. It is, after all, Nero’s role in a Muslim terrorist attack in Mumbai that sparks his family’s move to America. Though initially I’d found Rushdie’s incorporation of Indian politics more engaging than that of American politics, revisiting the novel allowed for a new reading.

Two weeks after Trump’s victory last November, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote the following in a New Yorker piece: “Now is the time to call things what they actually are, because language can illuminate truth as much as it can obfuscate it… Now is the time to talk about what we are actually talking about.”

Adichie’s call for action is simple: to name the problem honestly, to leave behind the seemingly optimistic words used to describe the critical, at times fatal, subjects — “alt-right” for “white supremacist”, “climate contrarian” for “climate change denier”, etc. She asks that we be clear about the severity of an issue by making our language as reflective of it as possible — only then can we begin to tackle it. In many ways, René’s contemplation — in addition to creating room for political reflection for readers — does what Adichie asks for: he is clear with the turmoil America faces. From “the frothing hatred of the homophobes” to “the blue collar anger of everyone who had been Fannie Mae’d and Freddie Mac’d by the housing calamity” to “the young men shot for walking in a stairwell while black”, René’s political observations and examinations face America’s grave, historically-rooted problems with honesty and sharpness. In other words, with a willingness to talk about what he’s actually talking about. And in that, Rushdie does what political fiction often aims to: he illuminates the injustices and the confusion, prompting readers to think critically about the political sphere in which they live.

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Ten Independent Publishing Houses To Check Out

Image by And Other Stories

On the lookout for some interesting reads? Well look no more! Below are ten of my favourite independent publishing houses who curate and publish some of the most daring and experimental works.

Archipelago Books

Seeking to fill a gap in the literary world, founder Jill Schoolman established the press in order to delve into literature outside the Anglosphere. With such a vast literary world beyond the “West”, Archipelago aims to illuminate, as Schoolman says, “other ways of seeing and being”. And it, in its ten years of translation and publication, has done so with the works of Scholastique Mukasonga, Marie Vieux-Chauvet, and Meng Hao-Jan.

And Other Stories

Focusing primarily on contemporary international fiction, And Other Stories is another publisher that values translated fiction. Its titles range from Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home – a novel that meditates on class and families – to SJ Naudé’s The Alphabet of Birds – a short story collection, translated from Afrikaans, that focuses on death, loss, and the subcultures of gay, expat, and artistic communities.

Sundress Publications

A non-profit, woman-run publication, Sundress is a publication group that includes Wicked Alice, Pretty Owl Poetry, and Rogue Agent. Alongside working with its member publications, Sundress publishes chapbooks and full-length books that often defy and challenge concepts of genre, as well as an anthology of the best online literary works.

Dancing Girl Press

Based in Chicago, Dancing Girl Press focuses on writings by women. Its chapbooks have intricately handmade designs and explore the relationship between the visual and the literary. Its titles include Anne Graue’s Fig Tree In Winter, Rebecca Valley’s The Bird Eaters, and Azia Archer’s Atoms and Evers.

Horse Less Press

Publishing chapbooks, pamphlets, and full-length books, as well as running an online literary journal, Horse Less Press focuses on imaginative and innovative poetry collections. My personal favourites include Nikki Wallschlaeger’s Houses and Sara Woods’ Sara or The Existence of Fire, both of which are moving and challenging with exquisitely written imageries.

Fitzcarraldo Editions

Publishing contemporary fiction and long-form essays, this London-based press focuses on works in translation as well as in the English language. Its titles include Alejandro Zamba’s My Documents to Ben Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry. With each publication, Fitzcarraldo aims to introduce ambitious and innovative writing to the literary scene.

Pushkin Press

Established in 1997, Pushkin publishes everything from novels to children’s books, from classics to contemporary. The press is home to writers from around the world, including Antal Szerb, Gaito Gazdanov, and Edith Pearlman, and has easily become home to some of the most acclaimed and compelling writers.

Salt Publishing

Based in the UK, Salt works to discover and publish contemporary British literature. Publishing everything from fiction anthologies and novels to children’s poetry, Salt is best known for Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse, Luke Kennard’s The Harbour Beyond the Movie, and Wyl Menmuir’s The Many.

404 Ink

Established by freelancers Laura Jones and Heather McDaid, 404 Ink entered the literary world just last year. Known mostly for its publication of Nasty Women – a collection of essays, interviews, and writings that discuss the lives of women in this politically chaotic and deeply disparate world – 404 Ink aims to bring to light innovative and trailblazing writings.

Portobello Books

We have Portobello Books to thank for 2016’s Man Booker International Prize winning novel The Vegetarian. First established in 2005, Portobello is known for its fiction in translation, working with writers from all six continents. Portobello also has a non-fiction strand, publishing investigative journalism, travel writing, memoir, and reportage. Having received some of the most impressive literary awards, the press is renowned for the originality and individuality it brings to the publishing scene.

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Novella’s Fall Book Preview

Novella’s given you, our faithful readers, a preview of upcoming movies and TV shows coming this fall. Now it’s time to shine our spotlight on books!

Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing (pub date: Sept. 5th)

Tracing the past and the present of Mississippi, Ward’s upcoming novel follows a family – Jojo, his younger sister Kayla, and their mother Leonie – as they move toward the state penitentiary after hearing about the release of the children’s white father from prison. Exploring the love and limitations of family in the face of racism and poverty, Sing, Unburied, Sing parallels the likes of Toni Morrison.

Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere (pub date: Sept. 12th) 

Set in an idyllic Cleveland suburb, Ng’s latest novel centers on two mothers and their children: Elena Richardson, who parallels the suburb’s composed order, and Mia Warren, who resists the said order. Soon a divisive custody battle — a result of the Richardson’s family friends’ endeavor to adopt a Chinese-American baby — creates animosity between the two women. Described as witty and wise, Little Fires Everywhere traces the nature of secrets, art, and, above all, motherhood.

Sam Sax’s Madness (pub date: September 12th)

Sax’s debut poetry collection challenges notions of masculinity, sanity, heterosexuality, and normality. Writing about sex, hysteria and lobotomy, and his own experiences with mental health, Sax uses peculiarities in of the language to parallel and contemplate the peculiarities of the human mind.

Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead (pub date: Sept 5th)

Smith’s second poetry collection, like his previous work, discusses race, sexuality, power, and politics. It begins with imagining an afterlife for black men shot by the police and traces desire and mortality in relation to the body. A poet and an activist, Smith’s work has been celebrated for its innovative and political voice.

Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach (pub date: October 3rd)

Set in Brooklyn in the 1930’s, Pulitzer-winner Egan’s novel follows an 11-year-old Anna Kerrigan, her father, and a nightclub owner named Dexter Styles, whom Anna learns is critical to her family’s existence. Eight years later, America is in the Second World War and Anna’s father is missing. A chance meeting with Dexter, however, helps Anna trace the complexities and, ultimately, the truth of her father’s disappearance. Egan’s first historical fiction, Manhattan Beach explores the oppositions within and dualities of human existence.

Jermey Dauber’s Jewish Comedy: A Serious History (pub date: Oct. 31st)

Divided into what Dauber refers to as the seven strands of Jewish comedy, the book delves into the ways in which Jewish comedy has approached persecution and diaspora. Examining comedic archetypes along with major Jewish comedians (Philip Roth, Sarah Silverman, Jon Stewart), Dauber’s work has been described as funny and crucial scholarship of Jewish history.

Han Kang’s The White Book (pub date: Nov. 2nd) 

The White Book, described as “the most autobiographical and the most experimental to date” by Portobello Books, is Korean writer Han Kang’s third publication in English. Starting with a list of white things the author saw in Warsaw (where she completed her writer’s residency), the book centers on Kang’s older sister, who’d died two hours after birth. Paralleling and intertwining imagery of the city and a new life cut short, Kang creates a genre-defying piece of literature, reflecting on life and death and survival.

Hallie Lieberman’s Buzz: The Stimulating History of the Sex Toy (pub date: Nov. 7th) 

Lieberman writes about the history of vibrators, tracing the changes in the ways in which it has been used and perceived. Starting with the lubricant in Ancient Greece all the way up to vibrators in present day, Lieberman discusses sex toys within the context of various attitudes towards sexuality, feminism, and LGBT issues, presenting sex toys in a new, less clandestine light.

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Novella’s March Reading Guide for the Avid and the Curious

Take a big breath. Listen, you can dive into your local — but most likely Indigo — bookstore and browse their many but not-diverse-in-any-way-that-matters and suspiciously vanilla sections of suggested — apparently we’re to take Heather’s word for it — readings for days and still not come up with a gem you’ll cherish for years to come for a couple of reasons: a) books organized with the organizational skills of a five-year-old with a corporate mindset aren’t conducive to a good search; b) if you do make it down to a smaller independent bookstore, you’re busy deciphering Joseph or Karen or some Edward’s handwriting in the staff-recommended section, which is, not to mention the efforts at trying to also decipher their personalities and to see whether the mildly indie sounding playlist also belongs to J., K., or E., distracting; c) I have a personal problem with the databaselessness of BMV and their knack for ugly stickers and surprisingly short list of books; and d) new and contemporary books are often pushed aside when the reader in search looks at and is tugged by the poised and attractive cover of a Penguin Classic. If you’re thinking, ‘That’s what online book lists for!’ first, yes, you’re right, but second, they usually peddle the same stuff over and over again. The best way, in my not so humble opinion, to find a book that you didn’t know you were looking for is to spend an hour or two at a used bookstore. But who has time for that these days?

This list of ten books for March is less ‘You have to read these’ and more ‘Consider these books and books that are like these ones in spirit.’ You can easily find excellent essays or stories written by these authors online — I’ve included some links below for you convenience. Read those first before hitting the bookstores. Once there, maybe go straight for the titles mentioned here, or venture with them in mind. Ignore my haughtiness and really try this. It usually works. A reading guide must be a “DIY: Axe” to the frozen sea within us.

Anything by Rebecca Solnit

By this time, you’ve probably been ‘told’ to read Solnit’s excellent Men Explain Things to Me (2014) and frighteningly prescient and necessary Hope in the Dark (2004). Which, if you haven’t, you should. And more to the point, if you have, do continue with Solnit’s essays on diverse subject matters ranging from urban planning and politics to the economy, environment, and the arts. A good place to start is The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness, a collection of her essays. Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlasthe latest in Sonlit’s series of atlases that reimagine American landscapes, is another excellent choice.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Perhaps this is my arrogance raised to a preternatural height speaking but I think the number of people who know George Saunders’s name are much higher than the number who have read and appreciate his works. Which is really a shame because Saunders truly tests our capacity for empathy and thereby extends, frustratingly and beautifully, its boundaries beyond what once seemed possible. Which, I must say risking being redundant, is really something we need today. If not convinced, turn to this. His debut novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, based on the story of Abraham Lincoln and the death of his child, Willie Lincoln, is told from multiple perspectives — including those of the ghost forms of Hans Vollman, a once stupendously well-endowed printer, and a once closeted and now multi-limbed Roger Bevins III. This stylistically unique and often hilarious novel is a good place to continue or start your relationship with Saunders’s works.

A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women by Siri Hustvedt

Siri Hustvedt’s new collection of essays is concerned with subjects ranging from art, the workings of the human mind, and writing to our capacity for and nature of imagination. One of the pleasures of reading Hustvedt, aside from her intellect, writing, and persistent curiosity, is the pleasure of reading someone who is incredibly well-read; her sources include Kierkargaard, Kant, Niels Bohr, and many more.

Autumn by Ali Smith

Dubbed ‘the first great Brexit novel’ by the New York Times, Ali Smith’s latest, Autumn, deals with loving and unusual friendship in tumultuous and uncertain times that was the political climate leading up to the Brexit vote and is still very much the case throughout the world. Daniel and Elisabeth, the central characters, meet when Elisabeth decides to take on the role of family for the dying, 101-year-old man. As an innovating novelist and a chronicler of our times, Smith depicts the two coexisting yet antithetical worlds of their friendship in the elder-care facility and the turmoil outside.

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

In Vivek Shanbhag’s novella, we meet a nouveau riche family in Bangalore, India, whose dynamic shifts and turns as its members adjust to a new life, a new perspective. The novella not only harkens back to the best of classic family novels — those of Edith Wharton and Tolstoy — but reaffirms the medium’s capacity to suck in and unsettle readers like a series of short, hard punches. Ghachar Ghochar is the first English language translation of the already acclaimed author’s works.

Why I am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto by Jessa Crispin

In a zeitgeist increasingly dominated by think pieces focused on ‘validating’ individual experiences and once again bringing to light the undertows of a TV show or a celebrity-instance, Jessa Crispin’s manifesto is refreshing and vital to not only thinking about feminism but making its principles and values into reality. The founder of Bookslut writes against a kind of social-media squabbling feminism that creates “not a more egalitarian world, but the same world, just with more women in it.” Crispin shows us a path to the radical space of feminism over the various obstacles and distractions generated by the mainstream.

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

Yoshinobu Mikami, a classic disgruntled investigator, and is wife’s search for their missing child, Ayumi is at the heart of Hideo Yokoyama’s international best seller, Six Four. But like the best of them, darkness or evil lies not solely on the circumstances surrounding the main case. In the process of unravelling the mystery, Mikami tugs at the undertows of the bureaucratic system and complicated and nuanced power relations that shape life, as it does elsewhere, in Japan. The crime is intriguing but the glimpses into the grid of unseen dynamics that flow underneath our daily lives is truly captivating.

Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh

Don’t read these stories before dinner. In fact, don’t read them before lunch or breakfast either. Try to find a sweet spot between meals where your mind is far from foods because Ottessa Moshfegh, to my and, soon, your, pleasure, writes often about throwing up — the physical act and the quiet, more frequent than one would like to admit, involuntary expulsion of our deepest, darkest, dirtiest thoughts and desires. The scenes come alive and it’d be a shame if you went without your food. But if you had to choose, choose to read this over a meal because stories like “Mr.Wu” and “The Beach Boys” will make you forget about everything outside of their worlds.

The Snows of Yesteryear by Gregor von Rezzori

The Snows of Yesteryear is the type of book one reads on a train going across the beautiful and sad landscapes of a romanticized Europe in between tea and cookies in the afternoon and champagne in the evening. Though the memoir often deals with hardly romantic or picturesque scenes of life, Rezzori’s beautiful writing conveys a feelings of comfort not unlike nostalgia for an imagined past. But behind the quiet misdirection of the narrator and beyond the windows overlooking a quaint town, treaties are signed, enemies are made, and wars rage on. Rezzori’s is a chronicle of the adventures and mishaps of innocence and growing up in times of warfare disguised as a memoir. Since the romanticized plains and mountains of the old countries are far, try it while on TTC. It’s definitely not the same but the writing is still very much excellent.

Citizen — An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

It’s hard to talk about Claudia Rankine’s book-length poem Citizen because it’s difficult — for many and different reasons for many and different people — to talk about race and what constitutes a person in America today. Short-listed for the National Book Award in 2014, Citizen is also an examination of the poetic form and its powers and limits in the world today. It rings true and beautiful and disabuses the reader of idyl perspectives. You can read an excerpt of it here.

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Novel Ideas: Fall Reading Guide

Say Goodbye to Summer and Hello to Fall (and the Autumn blues and family drama à la Thanksgiving) with These Ten Incredible Books. 

the-nix
Knopf

Nathan HillThe Nix (Knopf, Aug. 30th 2016) FICTION

In Nathan Hill’s debut novel, The Nix, Samuel Anderson-Anderson, a stalled writer, embarks on a long and winding journey in order to save his estranged mother who has committed a serious and much-broadcast crime. The panoramic novel spans from 1940’s Norway to 1968 Chicago riots to 2011, and explores the relationship between mother and son. And to oversell: there’s word that Meryl Streep and J. J. Abrams are to team up for a TV adaptation of the novel. It’s not everyday that a debut novel gets such a star treatment.

nutshell
Penguin Random House

Ian McEwanNutshell (Penguin Random House, Sept. 13th 2016) FICTION

An unborn baby is the chilling voice behind Ian McEwan’s latest novel, Nutshell. As Trudy plans the murder of her separated husband, John, with Claude, John’s brother (Hamlet, anyone?), the unborn baby bears witness to details of his father’s possible future from an unexpected inward vantage point. McEwan inverts literature’s long-standing trope of desperate and lost messages from fathers to sons and creates a chilling narrative of murder and revenge.

hag-seed
Hogarth Shakespeare

Margaret Atwood ­— Hag-Seed (Hogarth Shakespeare, Oct. 11th 2016) FICTION

Multiple award-winning author Margaret Atwood retells Shakespeare’s The Tempest in her much anticipated Hag-Seed. It revolves around Felix’s fall as an artistic director and his return as a vengeful mastermind behind a nearby prison inmates’ production of The Tempest. It’s full of enchantment, mischief, and grief, the stuff of Shakespeare’s and Atwood’s best.

shakespeares_kitchen_pb
The New Press

Lore SegalShakespeare’s Kitchen (The New Press, 2007) FICTION

Fall is an obstinately academic season and as such calls for a good academic novel. In Shakespeare’s Kitchen Lore Segal takes the reader to a quiet unnamed university town in Connecticut where Ilka Weisz — neé Weissnix in Segal’s seminal 1985 novel, Her First American — finds friends, love, gossip, death, and the persistence of communal memory. Those familiar with Segal’s earlier works will no doubt also find Segal’s narrative Easter Eggs.

monstress
Image Comics

Marjorie LiuMonstress (Image Comics, issue # 7 on Oct. 12 2016) GRAPHIC NOVEL

Marjorie Liu, writer for Marvel’s X-Men and Black Widow series, describes her series Monstress as “Game of Thrones meets Miyazaki meets steam punk meets Godzilla.” The original fantasy epic centers around Maika, who has survived a cataclysmic war, and her attempt to control her psychic link with a powerful ancient monster. Liu imbues the long male dominated medium with fresh approaches and strong female leads. Monstress not only partakes in comics’ long-standing history of using the Supernatural as the Outsider but also expands its boundaries.

the-making-of-donald-trump
Melville House

David Cay JohnstonThe Making of Donald Trump (Melville House, Aug. 2016) NON-FICTION 

Whether you love him or hate him, Donald Trump is a fact of our cultural and political life today. David Cay Johnston’s The Making of Donald Trump, a culmination of over thirty years of covering Trump, chronicles Trump’s rise to power, history of litigations, and ties to organized crime. Backed by solid documentation, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist makes a searing and entertaining case against the Republican presidential nominee.

the-mothers
Riverhead Books

Brit BennettThe Mothers (Riverhead Books, Oct. 11th 2016) FICTION

In a small black community in Southern California, Nadia Turner, whose mother’s suicide looms over the seventeen-year-old beauty, becomes pregnant with a pastor’s son. The teenage romance and its secrets have consequences that span over their adult lives. Brit Bennett’s debut novel is to be published in October but it has already garnered much attention and many followers brandishing much-sought-after galley copies. From its first pages, Bennett’s lyrical prose justifies the hype, grabs your attention, and does not let go.

Eyes-on-the-street
Knopf

Robert KanigelEyes on the Street (Knopf, Sept. 20th, 2016) BIOGRAPHY

American-Canadian journalist and social activity Jane Jacobs is best known for her seminal work on urban planning, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), and her legendary opposition to Robert Moses’s destructive urban projects in Greenwich Village. Robert Kanigel’s Eyes on the Street, new comprehensive biography of Jacobs, chronicles her life from her childhood to contrarian teenage years to a grass roots organizer and author. Kanigel has penned a book that shows Jacobs as the provocative, iconoclastic, mischievous, and complicated economic and urban planning theorist that she was.

running-in-the-family
McClelland & Stewart

Michael OndaatjeRunning in the Family (McClelland & Stewart, 1982) MEMOIR

There is nothing like other families’ history of instability and unhappiness to get one prepared for Thanksgiving’s headaches and disappointments. Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family is a fictionalized memoir that often tells stories that belong to the author only at an arm’s reach — stories of family and far removed relatives and their lives and deaths recounted by unreliable narrators. The book transports the reader back to Sri Lanka in the 70’s. The pleasure is in accompanying Ondaatje through the tremendous history of his sprawling family and also on his personal journey to reclaim his cultural and family roots. You will never forget Lalla, a shamelessly hilarious matriarch, or Mervyn Ondaatje, the author’s flamboyant dipsomaniac father.

a-manual-for-cleaning-women
Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Lucia BerlinA Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories (FSG, 2015) FICTION

Lucia Berlin wrote stories based on her own turbulent life. As such, the stories are full of incident —a child pulls out all of her grandpa’s teeth; an inflatable bra explodes midair; an alcoholic hides from her sons; an emergency nurse finds a battered jockey. Berlin’s humor is understated and her descriptions are detailed. It is only later, perhaps even after the story’s ended, that the one can fully appreciate the darker side of her humor and the details’ sinister links with troubled pasts of failed marriages, dysfunctional families, illness, and long term effects of loneliness. The collection is now available in paperback.