My Korean Deli
Risking It All for a Convenience Store
Ben Ryder Howe
Henry Holt: 320 pp., $25
No one in Ben Howe's Boston family can remember the last person who "worked with their hands." When Howe marries into a large Korean American family, his life becomes a series of contrasts. In an effort to save money, Howe and his wife, Gab, a highly disillusioned corporate lawyer, move into the basement of Gab's mother's house on Staten Island. From here, Howe commutes to his job — he's an editor at the tony Paris Review, working for George Plimpton. Howe's portrait of the septuagenarian Plimpton is priceless: "pale as New England fog, and usually covered with gashes and scrapes, as if he's just emerged from a rosebush." Some of the wounds are merely "bad Wasp skin"; some from living in a "tall man's goofy world." Gab and her mother, Kay, persuade Howe to buy a Korean deli. "Marvelous," says Plimpton. "Can I work there?" "How exciting!" says Howe's mother. Deli life is stressful, but turns out to be the perfect antidote to editorial burnout. Howe's combining of the Upper East Side's old world with immigrant survival skills conveys what is absolutely the best of New York. Delightful.
Drinking With Miss Dutchie
Thomas Dunne Books: 288 pp., $23.99
"Her absence is the greatest presence in my life," writes Ed Breslin of the dog who saved him from so many of his demons. In April 1994, Breslin brought Miss Dutchie, a lab puppy, home as a present for his wife, Lynn. The love that this larger-than-life Irishman had (and has) for the dog he and his wife lived and played with for 12 1/2 years transformed him. Not only did Miss Dutchie's distaste for cigarette smoke help him quit, but her flair for fun chased away an old and lumbering darkness in his soul — perhaps the result of being one of 12 children and not getting enough affection, perhaps the result of a career in the collapsing world of publishing. It was a darkness that 34 years of therapy could not dispel. But from the moment Breslin turned his considerable tenderness on this little wailing puppy, life was different. Breslin writes with an elegant simplicity, still raw from Miss Dutchie's death (he begins this memoir just four weeks after he and Lynn are forced to euthanize his ailing "girlfriend"). The book is a sweet, sad tribute to that purest of all relationships.
A Woman on Wall Street
Atlas & Co.: 352 pp., $24
Just finished with freshman year in college, Nina Godiwalla leaves her tight Zoroastrian community in Houston for a summer internship she's talked her way into at J.P. Morgan in Manhattan, an organization known for its old-boy prestige and pure snootiness. Armed with four cheap suits and two pairs of Payless shoes, she throws herself into the fray. From the start, Godiwalla is exposed to the hazing culture of investment bankers in training; the excess, the subtle and not-so-subtle racism, the colleagues who "police each other" and will do anything to shine in the eyes of their division bosses. Godiwalla is determined to succeed and win her father's respect. She struggles to fit in, and after college and the two-year analyst program, she is offered a spot in the highly coveted Corporate Finance division. But by the time this offer is made, Godiwalla has had her Devil-Wears-Prada moment. The last thing she wants is to turn out like the people she has been trying so hard to please. It's a fine moment when she realizes her own true worth. The writing is a bit bumpy, but the story is told with alarming detail and considerable humility — it's a tale that will help the reader hone his or her ambition down to a finer, more human point.
Salter Reynolds is a writer in Los Angeles.