These two novels and a book of essays by Minnesota authors are worthy of residing under the Christmas tree.
by Jennifer Rock & Michael Voss (Wise Ink, $15.95). Don’t be put off by the wink-wink title of this corporate thriller, second in the authors’ series subtitled “A B.S., Incorporated Novel,” which debuted in 2016 with “B.S., Incorporated.” It makes sense after you read this ode to corporate life, including in-house love, harried and overworked middle-managers, news releases that hide the truth and the latest (pointless) team-building experience that involves a pirate theme and wearing eye patches. And then there’s the Boss from Hell.
Protagonist Will Evans, BSI’s communications director, and his co-worker and lover, Anna Reed, saved the company in the first book. In the new story, they are facing even more pressure as BSI enters into a joint venture with a Canadian firm. It does not go well. As Evans spends a lot of time in the Canada plant, things go out of control quickly. (There’s a hilarious scene in which scuttling little bots lose their minds and run all over the place, crashing into one another.)
Everyone in the company is devastated when one of the much-loved founders dies in a phony version of a sweat lodge, and the other founder is unconscious. Enter temporary CEO Lyle Kirkland, a little guy with a Napoleon complex who’s plotting to make himself very rich at the employees’ expense.
When Anna figures out there’s a conspiracy, she and Evans call in a few trusted co-workers to bring Kirkland down. That doesn’t leave much time for Anna to wonder about her relationship with Evans, which gets sidetracked when they work so much. Is she tired of the corporate rat race? And Evans, when he isn’t fending off a flirty Canadian co-worker, wonders why he can’t be more open with Anna.
Rock and Voss, both veterans of corporate America, own a Minneapolis communications agency. Readers who’ve worked for big businesses will know they feel your pain.
by Anne Marie Ruff (OpenBooks, $19.95). We see them often on television — confused and frightened immigrant women whose husbands or sons are accused of terrorism they knew nothing about. What if the confused and frightened woman is Kathryn, an American whose Pakistani-born Muslim husband is the bomber?
That’s the intriguing premise of Anne Marie Ruff’s new novel.
Kathryn and Rashid fell in love while dancing and having fun in the United Arab Emirates. When they married, Rashid’s family welcomed Kathryn and she tried hard to learn their ways. The couple had two children and Kathryn assumed Rashid was happy in their American lifestyle. But when Rasid’s father is killed by an American drone while attending a wedding in the tribal region, his family and tribe demand revenge and he has to carry it out.
” ‘In my culture, revenge is a personal thing, he said, beginning to slur his words. ‘When a man kills, he knows that he may look the dead man’s family in the eye, just before they kill him. That’s a deterrent.’
“‘What are you saying?’ she whispered. ‘What do you mean?’
“‘My family expects revenge.’
” ‘We’ she paused, flaring her nostrils, ‘we are your family.’ ”
Rashid loves his wife and sons but he cannot fight his mother and brothers and centuries of their culture. He plants a bomb under a Los Angeles freeway, makes it look as though he was killed in the blast, and vanishes. After that, the narration moves between Kathryn, devastated and furious, and Rashid. Their sons, who Kathryn never told the real story about their father, grow up and leave home. When the boys learn the truth, the question is whether the family can heal.
Although the book explores cultural differences that devastated a family, the title offers hope. As Rashid’s father says, we all live beneath the same heaven.
Anne Marie Ruff is a journalist, novelist, radio broadcaster, editor, teacher and actor. She has spent much of her life traveling the world, asking questions in search of stories worth telling. Her first novel, “Through These Veins,” follows the development of a cure for AIDs and draws on her reporting about the environment, biodiversity, biotech and AIDs research in Thailand, Ethiopia and Turkmenistan.
“Astonishing Tales!* by Matt Geiger (Henschel HAUS, $16.95). Do you notice the asterisk at the end of this book’s title? It refers to a sentence near the bottom of the jacket that says “Your Astonishment May Vary.”
Geiger, who lives in Wisconsin, won the 2018 Midwest Book Award. He calls this book “Stories and Essays,” but never says which is which. Not that it matters. His storytelling is amusing, often focused on something that happened to him, or the antics of his daughter, who ages from 2 to 4 in the book.
There’s no doubt Geiger makes interesting, sometimes weird, connections.
A visit to a two-headed calf, for instance, leads to musings about whether he’s Sherlock Holmes or Watson. Learning that he has an unusually high amount of Neanderthal DNA, he imagines the ages-old power of love, first between a Neanderthal and a human, and into the 21st century, when a man and woman join together despite different beliefs and languages, mingling their DNA. He wonders about feet. And looking at the myth of Santa Claus when his daughter was 3, he explains, “I can’t honestly tell my daughter he loves all children, but I can look her in the eye and swear that he loves her. I’ll tell her he loves her because he knows her, and therefore he knows she is worthy of love.”
These essays/stories are not really astonishing, and Geiger knows that. They are wise, gentle and deeply human.
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