Returning from the story collection Do the Windows Open?(1996) and novel, The Unprofessionals(2003), Hecht’s married, childless photographer is still stuck in her mid-40s. Diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and counting the Nantucket days until she can see her psychiatrist again, she quietly frets the summer away over the course of seven expertly heartbreaking tales. The narrator has mastered her issues, but only to the point that her horror-of other people’s meat eating, of their bodily flaws and of almost everything else about them-surfaces in only the mildest passive-aggressive forms; what goes on beneath that surface is what comprises the book. “Over There” chronicles two visits to an elderly hard-of-hearing neighbor: its tacit comparison of the narrator’s ways of accommodating her illness with her neighbor’s accommodations of old age is exquisite. “Being and Nothingness” records the narrator’s use of an Emerson biography and of taking the flag down as an antidote to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Elsewhere, she intervenes in a gay actor-waiter acquaintance’s health regimen, and instructs her intractable Jamaican “cleaner helper” Norma on the dangers of radiation-and on how to dress for her job. A life that consists entirely of neurotic avoidance produces a peculiar pathos, and Hecht nails it unfailingly.
Twenty-four-year-old Lissette Delgado was beaten, raped, and then strangled with a towel. Marijuana is found in her apartment and her wardrobe is suspiciously beyond the means of a high school teacher. Lieutenant Conde is pressured by “the highest authority” to conclude this investigation quickly when chance leads him into the arms of a beautiful redhead, a saxophone player who shares his love for jazz and fighting fish.
This is a Havana of crumbling, grand buildings, secrets hidden behind faded doors, and corruption. For an author living in Cuba, Leonardo Padura is remarkably outspoken about the failings of Fidel Castro’s regime. Yet this is a eulogy of Cuba, its life of music, sex, and the great friendships of those who elected to stay and fight for survival.