In the first half of the book, Pasha, an intentionally depressive poet, because without depression there can be no decent poetry, arrives from Odessa to spend a summer month in Coney Island with his Russian Jewish family. Pasha trips on the sand at the beach, gets lost on the subway, but doesn’t seem to mind, argues with his sister, and is babied by his Mama. Every character is funny and wonderful and this young author’s style is reminiscent of her Russian forebears, Chekhov and Tolstoy, in that there is infinite amount of talking and pondering while almost nothing of consequence happens. There are even several laugh aloud moments, but by the time Part II rolls around, and the story turns to Frida, Pasha’s niece, the desire for a plot, or even anything resembling a plot, overrides lovely sentences and exquisitely rendered scenes of Russian immigrants lost between two worlds. If you are the kind that loved War and Peace this will be a delicious little morsel. On the other hand, if Russian novels feel a wee bit tedious, Panic might not be worth the effort.
(Click on photos to see full size.)
To prepare for our fermentation lab in Soil to Plate I made three jars of Meadville starter for the two groups of students that make sourdough bread. Other groups make yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and yeast bread.
Here are the students kneading.
And their loaves.
Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell ** (of 4)
I love Sarah Vowell’s hip hop style of writing and she is hooked on an interesting fellow. The Marquis de Lafayette arrived in the American colonies at the age of nineteen as an anti-British militant on loan from France. He was useful, too, for an American army that George Washington was having a very difficult time organizing into anything more than a rabble with pitchforks and guns that don’t shoot straight. Lafayette remains a friend of the newly founded country for decades and decades. Unfortunately, and I cannot imagine why she chose to write this way, Vowell never bothered to break her monologue into chapters or sections. The whole thing is one long stream of consciousness, which periodically is rather enlightening, sometimes entertaining, and more frequently, breathlessly disorienting.
So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell **** (of 4)
This is a tale both microscopic in scope and biblical in scale. The scene is 1920s Illinois before the age of machines and corporations when farmers depended upon themselves, their neighbors, their children, wives, an itinerant hired hand or two, and their dog. Cows were milked by hand and fields were reaped by horse, man, and sweat. Yet, while this black and white idyll of American farmsteading remains in our collective imagination, what happens when the ten commandments are violated. In this case, page by patient page we observe rippling repercussions when one man covets his neighbor’s wife, a woman not pleased to be imprisoned on a rural Illinois homestead.