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June 21, 2012 Edition
When spinster Sibyl Allstonís mother and sister go down with the Titanic, sheís left alone with a distant father and a brother who is away at university. Sibyl consoles herself with mediums and Ouija boards while her brother gets himself expelled for bad behavior and returns home to add to the familyís misery. Sibyl and Harlan used to be close, but now Sibyl canít get a word out of him about what caused his expulsion. She enlists the help of her fatherís psychologist friend in deciphering her brother, but instead finds herself dabbling in opium dens, trying to solve a mystery involving her father, and falling in love for the first time.
What is life after all, but a series of moments remembered, strung together by forgotten transitions? Here are the moments in the lives of three generations of Poppers, from the time four-year old Alexanderís father tossed him into the lake while urging him to sink or swim, to Uncle Mose, who is surely dead, but whose death no one can remember. Does this sound boring? Itís true that nothing really happens here, but reading this is like watching life in fast motion, and readers catch the important bits that let them understand family jokes and sorrows as they flow by.
When land developer Dharmen Shah says jump, people do. Except for retired schoolteacher Masterji, who, despite being offered a considerable sum to vacate his crumbling apartment in Vishram Towers, refuses. Though his neighbors are ecstatic at the buyout - they look forward to sending money to relatives, buying a new home, caring for a disabled child, or simply living more comfortably Ė Masterji is not ready to move. As the deadline for accepting the offer nears, neighbors turn on one another, working to convince the holdout that the new Shanghai apartment building must be built Ė and that they all must leave.
The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan meet, is an easy place in which to lose oneís life through inattention, through starvation and dehydration, through love that defies tribal laws. It is the last that leaves five-year old Tor Baz orphaned in the desert with a dead camel and his parentsí cairns for company. Rescued by rebels, then quickly orphaned again, Torís feet are set on the path he will live on, journeying from one tribe to another, learning from men who act as father to him before they, too, are swept away. Though billed as a novel, itís also easy to read as a collection of short stories linked together by Tor and his travels. Published four decades after it was completed, this shows the area from an insiderís perspective in all its honor, fierceness, and glory.
Somewhat friskier than the skits on A Prairie Home Companion, this satire of old-time mysteries is written with fans of the show in mind. Guy Noir is a detective whose current case has him facing, among others, gangster Joey Roast Beef, who wants to know what Guy and his friend Naomi Fallopian have up their collective sleeve. What theyíve got is a get-rich-quick scheme designed around a weight-loss program involving tapeworms Ė Guy himself has lost an admirable amount since swallowing the pills. Unfortunately, the cure has some side effects, none of which are particularly family-friendly, but which lead to some very funny scenes.