Books: 441

By E.B. Boatner April 19, 2012

Categories: Books, Our Affairs

The Healing
Jonathan Odell
Doubleday
$26

Healing’s double threads bind an 1858 Mississippi slave plantation to the arrival in 1933 of a mute child on the doorstep of Gran Gran, an ancient woman still living on that plantation property. Odell weaves the story of young Granada (now an elderly recluse), once pampered pet of the plantation owner’s wife, then “fallen” to mere assistant of Polly Shine, bought to heal master’s cholera-stricken slaves. Seeing Granada’s abilities, Polly Shine inexorably draws them out. A tremendous plot, but the heart of Odell’s book is Story: If another owns your name and story, then who are you? Polly, without an albus-ex-machina, restored stories and lives to her fellow slaves–and Granada; now Gran Gran summons old stories that a lost girl might claim her own.

Riding Fury Home: A Memoir
Chana Wilson
Seal Press
$17

By anyone’s standards, Karen (Chana) Wilson led a hellish childhood. After her first suicide attempt, mother Gloria was sent to an institution for repeated electric shocks then returned home; father Abe decamped for a year’s work abroad; 10-year-old Karen waited and listened every night, to remove the last burning cigarette from Gloria’s lips, to pick her up later off the bathroom floor, then went to school every morning. But as even traumatized children will, Karen grew up, went to college, became Chana, discovered women. And now the story becomes breathtakingly interesting. Gloria pulls out of her decades-long morass, gets clean, gets an education–gets a girl. Lots of girls. Both become counselors. Their reunions, recriminations and epiphanies can only be comprehended by reading Wilson’s book.

Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality
Hanne Blank
Beacon
$26.95

“Forever” happens only in romance novels and campaign debates. “Heterosexuality” hasn’t always meant “straight,” nor “straight” always had to do with sex. Blank says “heterosexual” sprang from the pen of Karl Maria Kertbeny on May 6, 1868, writing to Karl Ulrichs creating language concerning areas of the Prussian Penal Code that harshly punished certain sexual behavior. Wry, witty and thoroughly researched, Blank’s text shows the power mantras like “always” wield. She offers the word doxa, or, simply, “what everyone knows.” How they know it is crucial. I say, “Emily is a slut.” A few more echo me, and Emily is a slut, even if Miss Dickenson sits scribbling poetry in her room. Listen for, “It’s always been…” “ Everyone knows that…” in the coming debates.

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