Saturday, January 18, 2014

Words By Friends

Gillian Marchenko's Sun Shine Down is the lyrical and heartfelt story of a mother's hard journey away from shock and denial at her newborn's Down's syndrome diagnosis toward acceptance and love. Marchenka's struggles after her daughter's birth are exacerbated by the brutally cold reception her child receives from doctors and nurses at the Ukraine hospital where Polly is born.

"That's what you get for assuming you could have three normal children," scolds a nurse. A visitor prays for the baby to be healed from her Down's syndrome. The doctor orders Marchenko to stop crying after her cold and abrupt announcement of Polly's diagnosis. While passages of Sun Shine Down resemble poetry in their attention to feeling and telling detail, the raw emotion of Marchenko's resistance to her new role prevents any glossing over of the very real challenges of special needs parents. Highly recommended for any parent or lover of good writing.

Bix Skahill's profane and hilarious Babes in Gangland may not be the book for everyone, but I laughed out loud so many times, I must recommend this book for those readers looking for a comic walk on the wild side. Raymond Chandler meets the Farrelley Brothers in this send-up of hard-boiled detective novels set within the fantasy gross-out town of Marrowburg, with dancers at Stripping Through History wearing oaken diaphrams and a mobster tough guy who gets reincarnated as a foul-mouthed baby. The idea of a stripper dancing while impersonating "the earthy, ersatz Bella Abzug" and a travel agent booking "the Bridal Yurt at the fabulous Trump Leper Colony and Casinos on St. Barts" were two one of the many moments that had me snorting with laughter at this outrageous and clever book. Behind the jokes, however, there is a genuine crime novel with all the twists, ridiculously gory deaths and double-crossing dames that you expect from a writer who understands and apparently loves the genre enough to lampoon it to all the way to this bizzaro and shadowy world, "where freaks were a dime a dozen, literally, at Freaks R Us" and it's "SRO for the SOL."

Great news for fans of Julia Buckley mysteries! Last month Julia signed a contract with Berkley Publishing for a new mystery series, as yet unnamed, but no worries, she has plenty of other current titles good for a cozy armchair read on a snowy day.

I am fond of Julia Buckley's Madeline Mann because (ahem) I have a namesake character, but the high school setting and literary references of The Ghosts of Lovely Women make for the most and satisfying reading.

Julia Sweeney is not a friend, but she is a neighbor and in her latest book If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother, she writes lovingly about our little village of Wilmette with feelings I share wholeheartedly. The book is a collection of pieces about becoming a mother before becoming a wife and partner, about adoption and family, about death and grief, about careers and love, about the struggles and joys of living in L.A. and the costly bliss of living on Chicagoland's North Shore. 

"We live in the quintessential small town," Sweeney tell her husband as they watch our tiny Memorial Day parade. "No, we live in a town, where if you have enough money, you can buy the small-town experience," he replies in a sentiment that is surely echoed over and over again as the scout troops and preschools march with their homemade banners down our shady streets.

Sweeney will be reading Sunday, January 18 (that's tomorrow!) at the Wilmette Library and you had better believe I will be there, to cheer her on and thank her for her praise of our elementary school teachers: "enthusiastic and dedicated to the point of parody" which is probably my very favorite kind of enthusiasm and dedication.

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