Here are a couple of engrossing reads for the holiday weekend. No pilgrims, no arguments over who washes the turkey pan, not so much as a hand-turkey elementary school art project in either of these, I promise. Either will get you through a long layover in the airport, the shame of being seated at the “kids’ table,” or a light case of tryptophan stupor. One may even act as a cautionary tale and keep you from over-gorging.
The first is Jami Attenberg’s The Middlesteins, a family tragicomedy (what better time of year for that, right?) involving a mom, Edie, who’s in danger of eating herself into an early grave. Her husband, Richard, has despaired of saving her, and leaves, so it falls to her daughter, son, and daughter-in-law, as well as a talented Chinese chef to attempt to save her. I found it both funny and heartbreaking, with a slight lean to the latter.
Robin’s mother, Edie, was having another surgery in a week. Same procedure, different leg. “At least we know what to expect.” Robin and her downstairs neighbor, Daniel, were toasting the leg at the bar across the street from their apartment building. It was cold out. January in Chicago. Robin had worn five layers just to walk across the street. Daniel was already drunk by the time she got there. Her mother was getting cut open twice in one year. Cheers.
The second, for something completely different, is Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. Hamid also wrote The Reluctant Fundamentalist which was recently made into a movie. This one has an unusual format: the life story of a self-made Indian water tycoon, told in the second person, is hung on the skeleton of a self-help book, with chapter titles like Get an Education, Don’t Fall in Love, Be Prepared to Use Violence, etc.
This book is a self-help book. Its objective, as it says on the cover, is to show you how to get filthy rich in rising Asia. And to do that it has to find you, huddled, shivering, on the packed earth under your mother’s cot one cold, dewy morning. Your anguish is the anguish of a boy whose chocolate has been thrown away, whose remote controls are out of batteries, whose scooter is busted, whose new sneakers have been stolen. This is all the more remarkable since you’ve never in your life seen any of these things.
non-turkey photo credit: Hurst Photo via Shutterstock/Salon