Occasionally, something is just plain awful.
‘The drummer wanted a Mind Eraser.’
-David Goodwillie, King’s County
Theo and Audrey, the main characters of King’s County, play an ongoing game of ‘best first line of an imaginary book’ . ”Audrey was better at it-she was funnier-but Theo had his moments.” The Mind Eraser comment was not only funny, it was true….the drummer had asked Theo for one.
A Mind eraser: the idea of a mental vacation is oh-so-alluring, and while a Mind Eraser-a 1980’s-era cocktail that’s essentially a Black Russian with bubbles-might be just your thing, my go-to is a good book and a sandy beach.
I started the summer with Madeline Miller’s excellent Circe, an unusual take on the life of Western literature’s first ‘witch’, where several characters familiar from Greek mythology behave in utterly unexpected ways. (Spoiler alert: Odysseus behaves like a jerk. Penelope is much more than just a long-suffering faithful spouse.) I enjoyed it so much that I dove right into a little more mysticism-the Calabrese type- in The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, by Juliet Grames. A semi-biographical account of Grame’s own family, the tale begins in post- WWI Calabria, a land of deep superstition and deeper poverty. The title character, based on her grandmother, emigrates to the US with her extended family. The book is equal parts fascinating, hilarious, and horribly sad. I couldn’t put it down.
I had started King’s County, but was finding it slow going, when John brought home The Book of V, by Anna Solomon, a tantalizing interweaving of the Biblical story of Esther with 2 more modern tales. As with Circe, the author takes liberties with accepted interpretations. She also keeps you guessing. I started it at the beach one Sunday, and finished it by the next morning. Back to King’s County, the action picked up and sucked me right into the story of young creatives in Brooklyn. The characters are complex and imperfect, but somehow still very likeable. I found myself rooting for them to make it. A missing person case and hints of long-ago scandal are just gravy.
Now I’m on to Beneath the Same Stars, Phyllis Cole-Dai’s fictionalized account of the 1862 US-Dakota War. So far, the author seems to treat this culturally complex subject as just that: complex, and multi-faceted. Neither side is vilified. Neither side is sainted. I hope it stays the course-too many tales of native tribes of the American West fall into easy tropes: The Marauding Heathen or the Noble Savage. In any case, I’ll probably finish it today and be looking for another, which I’ll more than likely find at Providence’s Books on the Square. BOTS treats books like Pour Richard’s treats wine and spirits, as a deeply personal subject worthy of study and regard. When I ask them for a recommendation, I’m virtually assured to love it, because the staff knows the books and knows me.
So if you still want the Mind Eraser, it’s equal parts vodka and coffee brandy over ice, topped with a generous slug of seltzer. But I’ll be curled up on my beach chair, traveling the world through the pages of a book.