Bookworm: ‘The Helpers’ is worth pinching into

‘Razzmatazz’ is irreverent, wild, and profane

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Correspondent

“The Helpers: Profiles from the Front Lines of the Pandemic”

  • By Kathy Gilsinan
  • c. 2022, W.W. Norton
  • $24.95, 288 pages

Just a little pinch. That’s what they tell you when you get a shot in the arm. Just a “pinch,” a half-second of pain and you can handle that, right? Still, nobody likes getting a shot. Nobody enjoys the sore arm afterward or anything else about it. Those things aren’t fun but neither, as in the new book “The Helpers” by Kathy Gilsinan, is a pandemic.

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Some people saw it coming: the sister of The Patient was a doctor herself, for instance, and she was aware. The Vaccine Developer, who spent most of her time studying a headline-making disease from years ago, was alarmed, too. They recognized that the virus running rampant in China was trouble in the making.

"The Helpers: Profiles from the Front Lines of the Pandemic" by Kathy Gilsinan.

The CEO knew it, too: the headquarters of his company, “one of only a handful in the world” that made ventilators, was near where the first U.S. death from the virus occurred. If they could get the parts, his factories could manufacture more machines but not the “tens of thousands” of ventilators that the country needed. This dilemma led him to a car company.

Because he’d dealt with emergencies for most of his working life, The Paramedic recognized the urgency of it all, and he headed with a team from Colorado to New York to help. He still had 9/11 on his mind and regretted that he hadn’t offered a hand then.

As the patient load went “from two to nearly 700 in two weeks in the middle of March” that year, The Nurse watched it and she was exhausted. She lived with her parents and grandmother in a Bronx apartment, and she had to avoid carrying the virus home.

As The Chef tried to figure out how to feed her poor community in the shadow of Breonna Taylor’s murder, The CEO brought his former VP of manufacturing out of retirement, and The Vaccine Developer lost sleep over a preventative. Meanwhile, The Paramedic wasn’t feeling well, The Nurse tested positive, and The Patient’s mother lay in a coma...

"The Helpers: Profiles from the Front Lines of the Pandemic" author Kathy Gilsinan.

For going on three years now, Covid-19 has saturated our lives and killed more than a million American parents, children, and grandparents.

Now’s the time to read “The Helpers.”

Here, author Kathy Gilsinan specifically names her subjects – depicted are real people and real lives, and nearly all of them are everyday folks who pounced on the problems endemic to a pandemic. The few who weren’t “helpers” nevertheless help by displaying the inner workings of caregiving in chaos, and it all reads like a thriller, with heart-stopping moments of terror mixed with a backstory, heroes who rush to save lives, a surprising bit of adventure, and a little light toward the end of the book. Yes, there’s death here, and frustration, and Gilsinan doesn’t skip the naysayers in an account that’s familiar but fresh.

More than a million Americans. Are you keeping a wary eye on this fall? Then this is a book you’ll want to read. For you, “The Helpers” is worth pinching into.

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“Razzmatazz: A Novel”

  • By Christopher Moore
  • c. 2022, Wm. Morrow
  • $28.99, 400 pages

Your good luck charm is never far away.

A pair of socks, a coin, guitar pick, rub it with your thumb, hold it in your pocket, wear it all day, and you know what happens: life is smoother, problems melt away, and just things get easier. How it happens is hard to say, but that really doesn’t matter. You just know it brings you luck, and as in the new novel, “Razzmatazz” by Christopher Moore, you’d do anything to keep it close.

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For far too long, Sammy “Two-Toes” Tiffin was down-on-his-luck.

Because of a foot injury, he couldn’t fight in the War so he was stateside, bartending at Sal’s, hanging around drag king joints and lady-lover clubs, and living in a San Francisco brownstone in a closet-sized room with a single bed. There was just enough space in the place for Sammy and his girl, Tilly – whom everybody called The Cheese except to her face – to give one another the old razzmatazz now and then.

“Razzmatazz: A Novel” by Christopher Moore

So, when Eddie Moo Shoes said his Uncle Ho had a job with big money involved, Sammy really couldn’t say no.

Many years before, Ho had come to America from China as a “paper son” of descendants of ancient Chinese fighters; branded on his forearm, his destiny was to be a member of a fierce tong. Alas, Ho was a gentle, peaceful soul, so he was instead sent to care for the girls in the tong’s brothel. Eventually, Ho and one of the brothel’s slave girls escaped, but not before stealing a magic statue. Now another tong wanted the statue.

And so, Sammy’s job was to retrieve the statue and save Moo Shoes’ uncle’s life, but there was another, pressing job to do first. Someone was killing San Francisco’s cross-dressing lesbians, one by one, and many of Sammy’s friends and associates were terrified.

"Razzmatazz: A Novel" author Christopher Moore.

He had to find the killer. And he wouldn’t even have to do it alone.

If you are not familiar with author Christopher Moore’s works, pick up a copy of “Razzmatazz,” read the first few pages, and you’ll totally get it: there are very few parts of this book that are tame in any way. You can trust your eyes on that.

“Razzmatazz” is a soup of every noir movie set in Chinatown that you’ve ever seen, every 1940s cross-dressing cliche you’ve read or heard, mixed with a couple of dragons and an alien thrown in for fun. And, curiously, that’s exactly what coalesces: a big, clever, sprawl-across-the-floor novel that’s fun. Moore, in fact, says in his afterword that there are bits and pieces of real history written into this story, but it’s otherwise a “silly and absurd” novel that’s purely intended to entertain. You can trust your eyes on that, too.

Be warned, though, that this book isn’t for everybody. It’s irreverent, wild, and profane on any regular page but it’s also LOL, if you aren’t easily offended. If that sounds like a dream to you, then try “Razzmatazz.” It’ll work like a charm.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.