Ayelet Waldman suffered from severe mood swings for years. She went through a lot trying to get a diagnosis — she was even misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder for a few years — and she dutifully participated in therapy and tried almost every medication out there. That worked to varying degrees, but it was all taking a toll on her life and her marriage.
In the midst of this, Waldman heard about an experimental treatment in which people microdose with LSD. At about 10% of a typical dose, people who microdose don’t feel any of LSD’s trippy effects and instead begin to experience…nothing. The doses are too minuscule to cause any discernible mood alteration. And yet, the little research that does exist on microdosing points to its usefulness in treating mood disorders and illnesses like PTSD.
A Really Good Day is part memoir, part investigation on the LSD and drug laws in the United States. Waldman, a self-described nerd and chicken when it comes to breaking the law, chronicles the events that led to her finally receiving a little blue vial of diluted LSD in the mail from “Lewis Carroll.” As a former lawyer who often represented clients accused of drug-related offenses, Waldman had personal experiences with drug laws that gave her book some unique insights.
In 1994, Jhumpa Lahiri was a college student in Boston studying Renaissance architecture. She and her sister decided to treat themselves to a trip to Florence, Italy during Christmas break. She writes of the experience:
What I hear, in the shops, in the restaurants, arouses an instantaneous, intense, paradoxical reaction. It’s as if Italian were already inside me and, at the same time, completely external. It doesn’t seem like a foreign language, although I know it is. It seems, strangely, familiar. I recognize something, in spite of the fact that I understand almost nothing.
That feeling never left, and throughout the following years, she tried her best to become fluent in Italian. As anyone who has tried to achieve fluency knows, that’s almost impossible without full immersion — and even then, achieving true fluency in another language gets more difficult as one gets older. So in 2012, Lahiri took a yearlong leave from her teaching duties in the United States and moved to Rome with her family, determined to finally become fluent. She read books in Italian at a painstakingly slow pace, stopping constantly to look words up in the dictionary, and in her journal, she jotted down her thoughts in Italian as well.
Let me just preface this by saying that I am a legit Morrison stan. (For real: I met her in New York years ago with two other Morrison stans I’d just met. We were geeking out and she laughed at us and said, “Y’all are crazy.” Best moment ever.) I was so, so, so excited when I heard that she was releasing God Help the Child, her latest novel. I pre-ordered the book months ahead of time. I love her. She kind of reminds me of my grandma.
So I feel terrible for saying this, but y’all: this book is a hot mess.
God Help the Child is about childhood trauma and how it can shape a person’s life. It’s told from different perspectives, but at the center of it all is a woman named Bride. She’s been paying for the sin of being born with blue-black skin her entire life: both of her parents have lighter skin, and Bride’s father left shortly after Bride was born, convinced his wife had cheated on him. Her mother resented her and always treated her harshly, trying to toughen Bride up for a world that was sure to be unkind to her. (In the book’s opening, her mother even admits, “I even thought of giving her away to an orphanage someplace.”) Bride grew up desperately wanting her mother’s love, and although she’s now a successful, beautiful woman who has found a way to use her skin color to her advantage, she’s haunted by something she did as a child in her need for her mother’s affection.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I have a major soft spot for pachyderms. All those news stories about violence against elephants kill me, so when I read the premise of Tania James’s new book, The Tusk that Did the Damage, I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that it would probably make me cry. Set in South India, The Tusk that Did the Damage weighs the costs of the ivory trade from three different perspectives: a poacher, a documentary filmmaker, and a elephant whom locals fear and refer to as the Gravedigger.
The Gravedigger witnessed the murder of his mother when he was a young calf; he’s captured and sold into captivity and suffers PTSD-like symptoms for the rest of his life. He alternately nods or lashes out violently when he’s overcome by the memories, and most of the handlers who work for his owner liken those actions to those of a madman. Once the Gravedigger breaks free of captivity, he’s known for killing people and then burying them in the gentle way that elephants do (hence his name).
A family of three leaves everything behind in Mexico to move to the United States. Arturo and Alma Rivera’s teenage daughter, Maribel, was in an accident that resulted in brain trauma; she will be attending a high school in Newark, Delaware equipped for her special needs. Her parents, once loving and close to one another, are now dealing with a strain in their relationship. On top of struggling to meet their daughter’s new needs, they are now at a loss. Everything about their new home — from the language to the weather to the food — is foreign to them.
The Riveras eventually find their own little niche in the community. While her daughter is at school and her husband is at work picking mushrooms in nearby Pennsylvania, Maribel’s mother becomes good friends with a Panamanian neighbor and begins taking English classes as at a local immigrant center. She’s still terribly anxious about keeping her daughter safe — not unfounded, considering an early scene in the book — but some of her unease is beginning to fade.
Enter Mayor Toro, the neighbor’s shy teenage son. He’s attracted to Maribel as soon as he sees her, though it’s hard to get close with Alma Rivera watching her daughter like a hawk. Even when he learns about Maribel’s disabilities, he’s intrigued by her: she often stares blankly at him, but the two obviously enjoy each other’s company and a friendship starts to blossom. Not quite trusting strangers around their disabled teenage daughter, the Riveras lay down rules; teenagers being teenagers, Mayor and Maribel start finding ways to sneak around those rules. It’s innocent teen infatuation, but some of their choices lead to disastrous consequences.