Friday, July 12, 2024

Miami Satire, Major Memoirs: Mitch Kaplan’s Latest Book Picks

Two debut novels with Florida connections and major memoirs from the worlds of entertainment and public health are at the top of Books and Books founder Mitch Kaplan’s current summer reading list.

LITERARY FICTION

Pink Glass Houses by Asha Elias

Author Elias describes herself in her official bio as a “reluctant socialite,” and it’s that patrician, upper-crust world in which she has set her debut novel, Pink Glass Houses. There is a literal glass house in Elias’ satirical account of a gleaming but hollow place: Contemporary Miami Beach, where Elias lives and which she skewers like only a local can. The narrative swirls around Sunset Academy, the island’s most prestigious private school, where moms vie for PTA supremacy. These include Charlotte Giordani, the alpha of the parent community; Melody Howard, a transplant from Kansas with a background in nonprofit management and a different way of looking at privilege; and Carol Lawson, a Jamaican American and a judge whose actions trigger a white-color crime investigation into Sunset Academy that threatens its continued existence. Elias, who carries a degree in print journalism from the University of Miami, tells the story with rotating first-person voices, immersing herself into all of her characters’ headspaces—and offering us all an exclusive, scandalous peak behind their privacy hedges. (Elias will discuss the book at an appearance at Books & Books in Coral Gables on July 30.)

Oye by Melissa Mogollon

Here’s another acclaimed debut novel from a writer with local roots: Melissa Mogollon grew up in Florida, holds an MFA in fiction, and now teaches at a boarding school in Rhode Island. Inventively structured as a series of one-way phone calls initiated by Luciana, the youngest daughter of a large Colombian American family, Oye is set in Miami, where is a monster hurricane is barreling toward the region (imagine that), and Luciana’s eccentric grandmother, Abue, is refusing to evacuate. With Luciana’s older sister and mother unwilling to intervene or confront their matriarch’s obstinacy, these roles fall on Luciana; in the process, Abue discovers a shocking medical diagnosis that further complicates their relationship. Funnier than this description would suggest, Oye is a coming-of-age marvel whose author exhibits a lived-in understanding of the mindset and vernacular of Gen Z. (Mogollon will discuss the book at an appearance at Books & Books in Coral Gables on July 10.)

MEMOIR

The Friday Afternoon Club: A Family Memoir by Griffin Dunne

A household name in Hollywood and literary circles, if less so among the general public, actor and producer Griffin Dunne has worked steadily in film and television since the 1980s, the decade of his most iconic parts: “An American Werewolf in London” and “After Hours.” This is the period of his life, up until age 34, in which Dunne has set The Friday Afternoon Club, a memoir full of colorful Hollywood anecdotes revealed through an acerbic, outsider’s tone of voice that one critic compared to Holden Caulfield’s. Among the yarns he spins are those of Sean Connery saving him from drowning when Dunne was 8, and Dunne’s allegedly being groped by Tennessee Williams. But the book doubles as a true-crime account of the tragic killing of Dunne’s 22-year-old sister Dominique, at the hands of her ex-boyfriend. The murder trial that followed became a media spectacle that launched a crime-writing vocation for Griffin’s famous father, Dominick Dunne; for Griffin, perhaps it took a book like this, more than 40 years later, to fully unpack it all.

On Call: A Doctor’s Journey in Public Service by Dr. Anthony Fauci

Thanks to a six-decade career bookended on either side by deadly epidemics—AIDS on one end, COVID-19 on the either—Dr. Fauci’s story has a built-in, full-circle narrative arc, and I’m sure there will be a biopic made about it someday starring Tony Shalhoub or Geoffrey Rush. For now, we have his new memoir and a likely best-seller, which includes stories from the doctor’s childhood in Brooklyn, on through his work on Ebola, SARS, anthrax and the West Nile virus, and his contributions to shaping health care decisions with seven presidents. His work under the Trump Administration, of course, was a fractious and combative one. His book is frank in its assessment of Trump’s leadership during COVID, but Fauci is no polemicist—he also offers sharp criticisms of the CDC and other aspects of the public-health infrastructure that allowed something like COVID to spread. Considering On Call, it’s worthwhile to remember, as COVID’s latest variant ripples through the country and especially Florida, that navigating the unforeseen is seldom smooth, even among the brightest minds.


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John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of bocamag.com, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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