The holidays are so exhausting.

I wish I could sleep on my back without my arm falling asleep (or having to sit up “Elephant Man-style,” as Mr. Halfstory claims).  The above is our ridiculous dog, whose lack of stress mocks us daily.  And yes, that is laundry in the background.

I’m happy to say I’ve finished two books!  State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett, whose previous two books I found underwhelming, and The Submission, by Amy Waldman.   Marina, the protagonist in State of Wonder is somewhat broken and lost.  She finds purpose and herself in Amazonia while searching for a dead colleague and her former mentor and bad-ass doctor, who happens to be researching fertility in Brazil.  I kept wondering how Patchett researched this novel.  Either she went down there and waded through the muddy, snake-infested river herself or she has one heck of an imagination (and brave friends willing to share experiences).  The descriptions are lush and vibrant; you can feel the jungle pulsing with bugs, snakes, strange plants.  I think, given my horror of all things slithery, I would last 30 seconds before fever set in and something horrible bloomed on my forehead.  Anyway…the characters are fascinating, the setting surpasses any plot, which is good, because the plot grows wild and a little contrived.  By the time it gets too crazy, though, you’re caught up in the jungle, like the vines grabbed hold and won’t let go.  Wait.  That’s not a vine.

The Submission fits into the post-9/11 genre.  A committee has been formed, several years after 9/11, to review anonymous submissions for a World Trade Center Memorial.  The winner, once he is chosen, turns out to be a man of Muslim origin.  The fact that he is an American and is a non-practicing Muslim doesn’t seem to matter.  I loved how thoroughly Waldman examined all sides of this premise; no shading was left undiscovered, no one was 100% sympathetic, even Mohammed Khan, the winning architect.  There were several heinous, small-minded people, all wielding power.   And you really can’t predict the outcome.  Check it out.

I hope you all had safe and warm holidays.  Here is a synopsis of mine: my mom “forgot” her hearing aids and didn’t label any gifts, the baby wouldn’t go to sleep even though we passed him around like a plate of hor d’ouevres, one of the women was trying a new anti-depressant and therefore could not stand up, none of the brownies were cooked in the middle, the beef stew was all right, but the dog in the picture liked it best, Filipinos apparently can’t pronounce the word “clafoutis,” we ran out of rice and tape, my sister was sick and couldn’t make it but secretly I think she just wanted sleep, my step-dad brought 6 gallons of salad dressing, my daughter blotted her way through 8 boxes of tissue without actually blowing her nose, and my mom-in-law made applesauce cakes with raisins, asked me to pass them out as people were leaving because she was going to bed, which I promptly forgot to do.  I then hid them at 1am in the back of my car, and just today left them for some homeless people in the City.  Hey, they fared better than the beef stew.

But seriously folks, several friends are battling some fairly serious illnesses right now, so I’m mostly thinking about them.  Send some good thoughts our way and I will transfer them over, minus the cynicism.