Criminals and Mommies


Oh, to be five years old.  One of my students, after I handed her the book she’d chosen to borrow, shouted “I LOVE Hallowe’en!”  “Well,” I responded, “first, try not to shout, and, you know, this book is about Hanukkah.”  I always feel obligated to tell them this because, a) most of them cannot yet read, and b) most of them really dislike getting home and not having it the way they wanted.  She just looked at me and shouted, “Well, I LOVE Hanukkah!”

I wish I was that flexible.

Long ago, while in the middle of a rant, probably holding a sopping wet twin, Mr. Halfstory said, “Do you even like me anymore?  This is your life, you know.”  The only thing that drove me crazy about that was the low, calm voice he used.  For fire/tiger folks like myself, that’s tantamount to setting a lit match on a puddle of gasoline.  But I was holding a twin and I regrouped.

It’s getting better.  I no longer have to make every bed in the house before taking the teens to school.  My mom-in-law has taken to wearing possibly the most obtrusive perfumey stuff since soap-on-a-rope (and in great, wafting quantities), but she can be an otherwise ok roommate, which is worth an aromatherapy candle.  Even poor Mr. Halfstory has benefitted from my hard-won priority shuffling: sometimes I drive the 70 mile round trip distance to the girls’ hitting lessons so he can watch recorded Premier League Soccer, a game I only occasionally weigh in on because I like UK accents.

Ok, so my teeth are ground down to stumps but it’s not like I need to masticate raw meat for the cubs anymore.

I found a fabulous book by Derek B. Miller, whomever he is, named, uninterestingly, Norwegian by Night.  Set in contemporary Oslo, it follows Sheldon, an American Korean War vet who lost his son in the Vietnam War and is (because his wife is also dead) living with his granddaughter, whom he raised, and her husband, a native Norwegian (Oslegian?).  As it happens they all live downstairs from three Serbians, one of whom kills his wife and is looking to leave with his ten-year-old son.  But…not on Sheldon’s watch.  And not on Sigrid, the female detective who figures out Sheldon’s game plan.  Throw in an old man who sometimes cannot separate his own battle memories with those of his son’s – and his guilt over his son’s death –  and you are left with an acerbic and witty literary chase.  Not only does Miller give you true Norwegian personality insight but he gives you a thrilling hunt, as Enver, the killer, tracks his son to justify his war crimes and Sheldon tries to evade memories long enough to make effective life-saving choices.  I hope Miller writes more; I’ll be waiting.

Then, handed to me by the lovely Aisling, I read The Mermaid of Brooklyn, by Amy Shearn.  Judging by the cover, I figured this book was a palate-cleanser, the breezy sorbet to my normal mind-churning choices.  But it had some heft.  And it took a few surprising and unpredictable turns.  Also, it is the kind of book for someone who, like me, was a stay-at-home mom for a while, and, while feeling both lucky and trapped, ended up feeling alien and incompetent.  Add to this a husband who hinders rather than helps, and the reader has a nice set up for a smart woman’s story.  It helps that Shearn is hilariously observant of all the modern Brooklyn (translation: affluent) foibles and the current preciousness that is rampant among families-with-loads-of-choices.  Definitely a woman’s book, though.  Mr. Halfstory would chuck it out the window and flip over to ESPN.