Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Shorts

Maybe the Moon by Armistead Maupin
published 1993
303 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Maybe the Moon, Armistead Maupin's first novel since ending his bestselling Tales of the City series, is the audaciously original chronicle of Cadence Roth -- Hollywood actress, singer, iconoclast and former Guiness Book record holder as the world's shortest woman. All of 31 inches tall, Cady is a true survivor in a town where -- as she says -- "you can die of encouragement." Her early starring role as a lovable elf in an immensely popular American film proved a major disappointment, since moviegoers never saw the face behind the stifling rubber suit she was required to wear. Now, after a decade of hollow promises from the Industry, she is reduced to performing at birthday parties and bat mitzvahs as she waits for the miracle that will finally make her a star.

In a series of mordantly funny journal entries, Maupin tracks his spunky heroine across the saffron-hazed wasteland of Los Angeles -- from her all-too-infrequent meetings with agents and studio moguls to her regular harrowing encounters with small children, large dogs and human ignorance. Then one day a lanky piano player saunters into Cady's life, unleashing heady new emotions, and she finds herself going for broke, shooting the moon with a scheme so harebrained and daring that it just might succeed. Her accomplice in the venture is her best friend, Jeff, a gay waiter who sees Cady's struggle for visibility as a natural extension of his own war against the Hollywood Closet.

My thoughts -

This is the first novel I've read by Maupin, and wooah, do I get it. I get why people fall in love with his work. There were so many reasons why this novel should not have worked - I mean, it's characters are just about every stereotype you can think of, and it's "issues" practically smack you in the face. But somehow it transcends all those pieces that shouldn't work, and transforms into this somewhat magical, definitely emotional, and wholly unforgettable reading experience. I haven't read Maupin before, but I certainly will again.

Finished - 8/31/14
MPAA rating - R for language, adult situations
My rating - 4/5

In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke
published 2009
326 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

This is the way the world ends...

It was a fairy tale come true when Mark Dorn—handsome pilot, widower, tragic father of three—chose Jiselle to be his wife. The other flight attendants were jealous: She could quit now, leaving behind the million daily irritations of the job. (Since the outbreak of the Phoenix flu, passengers had become even more difficult and nervous, and a life of constant travel had grown harder.) She could move into Mark Dorn's precious log cabin and help him raise his three beautiful children.

But fairy tales aren't like marriage. Or motherhood. With Mark almost always gone, Jiselle finds herself alone, and lonely. She suspects that Mark's daughters hate her. And the Phoenix flu, which Jiselle had thought of as a passing hysteria (when she had thought of it at all), well . . . it turns out that the Phoenix flu will change everything for Jiselle, for her new family, and for the life she thought she had chosen.

My thoughts -

I was unsure about the novel for most of the time I spent reading - it seemed purely superficial, lacking some sort of depth that could truly draw me into the story. While the situation was eerily prescient for our current times, I just couldn't quite connect with Jiselle's life. And then the author gave this book the absolute perfect ending - for THIS story - and it all came together. I'm extremely happy I stuck it out until the end, because it wound up being a thoroughly rewarding experience.

Finished - 9/2/14
MPAA rating - PG-13 for scary elements and some violence
My rating - 4/5

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
published 2010
370 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. Cells descended from her may weigh more than 50M metric tons. 

HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave.

The journey starts in the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s, her small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia — wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo. Today are stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells, East Baltimore children and grandchildren live in obscurity, see no profits, and feel violated. The dark history of experimentation on African Americans helped lead to the birth of bioethics, and legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

My thoughts -

I think much of my reaction to this book has to do with my current profession - dealing with poor people trying to access health care, and navigating the touchy waters of privacy and medical disclosure, the majority of this book was completely appalling to me. I am thankful the medical profession has made strides to improve over much of what was done to Henrietta, but her story was a very sad one for me. While I understand the need for cells and tissues for research, it's tough for me to accept that this is the way they were collected for so many years. What an important story - it should probably be required reading for every medical student in the country!

Finished - 9/10/14
MPAA rating - PG-13 for language and adult situations
My rating - 4/5


bermudaonion said...

I agree that Lacks story needs to be told but I felt like the author harassed the family to get it - she just wouldn't accept no.

Literary Feline said...

I've had The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on my shelf since it first came out, but still haven't read it. I am glad to hear you liked it.

I read another of Laura Kasischke's books and really liked it so I'm especially interested in In a Perfect World.