Arts & Culture


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Ryan G. Van Cleave spotlights three perfect-for-the-beach books

Marriage of a Thousand Lies

by SJ Sindu

We make an effort to focus the selections for this column on writers with a strong connection to our area, and Sri Lankan author SJ Sindu—a recent graduate of the Florida State University creative writing program—hits that mark, now that she’s going to be teaching at Ringling College this fall. I’m the one who hired her, after all, and while she has all the necessary teaching credentials, degrees, and qualifications, I was quite taken by her debut book, Marriage of a Thousand Lies.

It’s a tragic tale set in contemporary Boston about Sri Lankan-American families struggling to cope with the tension of community, identity, and desire. Lucky and her husband have a fake marriage to placate their conservative families. Both are gay and date on the side. When Lucky’s grandmother suffers an accident, Lucky returns to the home of her childhood and reconnects with an old flame and former best friend, Nisha. And poor Nisha is about to get saddled with an arranged marriage to a man she’s never met before.

What’s interesting is how believable and powerful the central conflict in the story is portrayed—the profound psychological and emotional toll for everyone involved is clear. Sindu presents a situation, too, where American culture can be as oppressive and patriarchal as the South Asian society these women left.

Don’t let the -isms fool you. Yes, this is about ethnocentrism and individualism and conservatism and much more, but on the other hand, it’s simply the story of Lucky, told from her outsider perspective. If you like stories about forbidden love and parents who try but just don’t understand their children, this book is worth a good long look.

Keep an eye out for Sindu to be doing readings from this book come fall. It’ll be well worth the visit to see her in person.

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Blindsided: The True Story of One Man’s Crusade Against Chemical Giant DuPont for a Boy with No Eyes

by James L. Ferraro (with Laura Morton)

If you like the stories behind the movies Erin Brockovich or The Rainmaker, then this book is going to resonate with you. It’s the story of a decade-long courtroom battle fought right here in Florida, about a boy born with no eyes after his pregnant mother was doused with a chemical fungicide at a local you-pick farm. Miami Beach attorney James “Jim” Ferraro—whose business The Ferraro Law Firm is well-known for Mass Tort and Federal Tax Whistleblower practices and have won billions in settlements for their clients—took on the chemical giant DuPont to find justice and hope for this horror-stricken family.

This book will pull at your heartstrings while increasing your awareness of the potentially dangerous chemicals that are so much a part of our daily lives.

Murder Is Chartered: A Susan Wiles Schoolhouse Mystery

by Diane Weiner

There must be something mysterious in the water around here because not only do I get constant requests to review more mystery books, but I keep finding more and more Florida writers of mysteries, just like Coral Springs author Diane Weiner. A 30+ year veteran teacher of public schools, Weiner uses her own background to effectively create the heroine of this story, a retired schoolteacher and amateur sleuth named Susan Wiles.

The book starts fast, with Wiles driving home at night on a mountain road when SMASH, she hits something with her Prius. In the road is the body of her school’s assistant principal, Melissa Chadwick. Wiles’ detective daughter arrives and tries to help keep things from getting out of hand. Whether it’s an accident or murder, Wiles has to know. She puts on her sleuthing cap and gets to work.

There’s a lot to like about this story and this character, who struggles with type 2 diabetes as well as the guilt of being part of this apparent crime. Weiner’s books are—as she says in an interview— “a good, clean mystery” that’s suitable for teachers, kids, or grandparents. In a day where most movies and books seem interested in testing the boundaries of propriety, that’s to be admired.

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