Form: composite novel

Reading List: The Women of Brewster Place

Reading List: The Women of Brewster Place

From NPR.org:

“As Jones says in her Foreword, The Women of Brewster Place is a ‘composite novel.’ Think Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey or, much later, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried — novels where separate stories about disparate people intersect. This form can be heavy on melodrama and Naylor doesn’t always dodge that pothole. But it’s her ardent inventiveness as a storyteller and the complex individuality she gives to each of her seven main characters that make the novel so much more than a contrived literary assembly line.

“Naylor’s various women have all wound up on Brewster Place, a dingy street in an unnamed city that dead-ends into a wall. Naylor herself was born in New York and grew up in Queens. With the streetwise knowledge of a native daughter, Naylor opens the novel by, almost mythically, surveying Brewster Place, the kind of tired New York apartment building that’s housed shifting populations …

“Among her ‘women’ are Mattie Michael, a single mother who’s the moral center of the book, Kiswana Browne, a neighborhood activist, and a lesbian couple who argue, as we’d say these days, about the issue of embracing difference. Theresa is loud and proud while her partner, Lorraine, wants to live beyond categories; she says she ‘just wants to be … a lousy human being’ …

“Deftly, Naylor gathers all these individual stories into one climactic narrative that works through the reader via a word-by-word sense of horror and outrage. The power to decide who, in fact, can be permitted the ordinary chance to be ‘just a lousy human being’ is itself still the subject of furious argument in this country. The Women of Brewster Place, born of the details of a particular time and community, also turns out to be one of those, yes, universal stories depicting how we, the fallen, seek grace.”

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Just read the first chapter and I think this is one of the authors I would gladly kill someone to be able to write like. Had no idea this gem existed – until now!

Check out vendors and more information about this book on Goodreads.

Book News: Of Women and Salt

Book News: Of Women and Salt

This just out – and also on my reading list 🙂

From Los Angeles Review of Books:

“IN HER WRENCHING DEBUT novel-in-stories, Of Women and Salt, Gabriela Garcia meticulously weaves a mesh of parallels between Latinx mothers and daughters. The novel opens, by way of preface, with Carmen appealing to her daughter Jeanette to get sober so they can actually start communicating with one another. ‘Maybe there are forces neither of us examined,’ she says. ‘Maybe if I had a way of seeing all the past, all the paths, I’d have some answer as to why: Why did our lives turn out this way?’ Early on, we learn that Jeanette, too, has wanted this connection but has been unable to ask: ‘[E]ven as a child, Jeanette understood that another narrative she couldn’t access had shaped her life. She didn’t have the vocabulary to say, I want to know who I am, so I need to know who you’ve been.‘”

“… The 12 intertwined stories transport us through time and place, providing glimpses into different moments not only in family histories but in women’s individual life-stories. The first three episodes illustrate something of the connections and disjunctures: from Cuba just before the start of its war of independence against Spain, where a suitor reads Carmen’s grandmother, María Isabel, Cirilo Villaverde’s canonical novel of Cuban race and class conflict, Cecilia Valdés, we shift to Miami, where Carmen’s daughter, Jeanette, witnesses an ICE raid and takes in the child left behind, Ana, then to the detention center where Ana’s mother, Gloria, is sent. At times, these spatial and temporal shifts gesture toward story lines to which we do not return. Slowly and cumulatively, the juxtaposed narratives bring home to the reader the links among seven central women characters — links that are often obscure to the characters themselves.”

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I’ve always had an interest in Cuba, although I have never been there. But generally, this sounds like something to check out.

Book News: A Composite Novel ‘Dripping with the Power of Place’

Book News: A Composite Novel ‘Dripping with the Power of Place’

This looks interesting …

From Boston.com Book Club:

“‘The Northern Reach’ is the most sweeping novel we’ve tackled to date, as the book darts back and forth between time periods, spanning more than a century. At the novel’s center are three families of the coastal town of Wellbridge, Maine — the Baineses, Martins, and Moodys. To be certain, their tales are not all happy ones. The families intertwine as they cobble together a living, and it’s never simple in this coastal town with long winters and glorious summers.

“Since we’re on the verge of what will hopefully be a glorious summer, it’s a great time for this read. While the book is a novel, it too is cobbled together. The New York Times calls it a “composite” novel, as it is 11 loosely connected stories, which is an interesting perspective that helps break up the text.

Publishers Weekly says that Winslow has “an ear for dry New England wit.” You’ll find that dry wit in moments like a mom dismayed at her daughter’s decision of who to marry, or a scene after a funeral where family members drunkenly dig up a recently buried body to put a lucky rabbit’s foot in the coffin; a scene that is partially narrated by the deceased.

“This is a novel dripping with the power of place. Author and Knopf executive editor John Freeman — who was the former editor of Granta and president of the National Book Critics Circle, and edited several collections, including the recently released ‘There’s a Revolution Outside, My Love,‘ with Tracy K. Smith — offers high praise of ‘The Northern Reach.’ Freeman says, ‘If Johnny Cash had sung of New England, he might have envisioned these sweeping, haunted, hilarious and sad tales of WS Winslow’s…This is a devastating book by a major storyteller.'”

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Check out the book’s Goodreads page for more information on where you can get it, reviews, etc.

What Short Story Cycles Really Are Good At

What Short Story Cycles Really Are Good At

“This problematizing of textual unity within the short-story cycle revolutionized the novel, the short story, and American letters in the twentieth century. The absence of textual harmony in the cycle initiated new, pervasive narrative techniques and interests. The cycle’s privileging of openness and cyclicality over closure and teleology depicts the construction of contingent, provisional identities. Because a story represents only one moment in a sequence of moments, the construction of identity in the cycle is dynamic and resists static fixity. For these reasons, it has been an ideal form for portraying ethnic, racial, and regional identities, which so often treat the conflicts between autonomy and belonging.”

– from ONE STORY, MANY VOICES: PROBLEMS OF UNITY IN THE SHORT-STORY CYCLE, a PhD thesis by Jennifer J. Smith (2011) [emphasis mine]

To the point, I think. And a guiding star for my own writing, I wish.

Not To Tell Another Lie

Not To Tell Another Lie

“We’re sorry, but your profile is not what we are looking for.” The voice at the other end of the phone line sounded almost meditative, like crushing the hopes of other people had become so routine that it conferred a strange trance-like state on its owner.

“On behalf of Dymo I wish you good luck with future applications,” the voice continued, rounding of with a tone of expectation. Expectation of consent.

“Okay,” Carrie said.

“Once again, we’re sorry. Goodbye,” the voice said.

Carrie hung up. Then she went back into the living room, walking slowly in her bare feet, trying not to touch the floor.

She had taken the call in the tiny hallway. Somehow it felt better to have taken it there like she was in a sheltered place. In reality, the house was protective in the same way a prison was, and she knew it.

She sat down on the sofa and noticed the dust had become so thick that it was also on the armrests, not just the window sills which were easier to ignore. Jon didn’t mention it anymore. In fact, he didn’t mention much about anything anymore. Just buried himself in work, and, of course, paid the bills as his reward for the effort.

Work …

Carrie looked at her cell phone, which was almost out of power. Then she hurled it away into a corner.

So of course they had not hired her. Her resume sucked. So why the feeling of surprise and disappointment?

Fortunately, she had other strategies. She thought of going upstairs to draw in the attic, but then she noticed the corner of a pad, sticking out under the sofa. One of the kids must have pushed it out, trying to find some toy or other. Probably Michael. Emma was too old but Michael still played with his model cars, for hours.

Carrie bent down and took out the drawing pad. There was no pen, but sure enough – there was the last drawing she had made – six months ago. Somehow nobody had cared to pick it up and give it to her. Or nobody had dared.

She had cared, but she had just been too busy. Her head exploding a million times a day with job applications, chores, arguments with Jon and her mum and Emma, and dealing with Michael’s autism.

She looked at the only picture on the pad. Did she really like it?

Then the phone rang, and Carrie had to scramble to find it, before it was too late. But when she saw who it was, she figured that perhaps it had been a mistake to rush. And there was only 5 percent power left.

Jenna … 5 percent is not enough.

She answered it. “Hello?”

“Carrie – daaarling!”

“Yeah, it’s me.” Carrie slumped down in the sofa again.

Why talk to Jenna – now?

Maybe because it was so easy.

“I called because you left the messages.” Jenna was all bubbly. Carrie breathed deeply but felt like she was breathing quicksand. She had forgotten those messages. It had to have been at least two weeks ago.

“Yes … I didn’t hear from you, and there was nothing on Facebook, so I thought … ” 

“We’ve just been away for a while. Steve and I.”

“Oh.”

“You know. That hotel in Phoenix. I got mom to take care of the kid.”

“Sure.”

“Your mom still coming by to look after Emma and Michael?”

“No, she’s back in L.A. For like a year … I mean, the kids are big now. No problem.”

“Okay, well, it was a totally great weekend. We really caught up, if you know what I mean.”

“I think I know. That’s good. Very good.”

“How are you and Jon?”

“Oh, you know. We’re … ”

“Why don’t you come over?”

“Sorry, the power is getting a little low here. I’ll message you.”

Carrie hung up. For a moment she rested her head in the palms of her hands. Then she slowly let her fingers slide through her hair and was reminded that she really needed a bath. Like she needed a zillion other things. But there was never enough.

For a long time she watched her cell phone as its remaining power died. It felt morbidly calming. And as if she had just won a little strength test of her own will, being able to concentrate for that time, and not think about Jenna or the people who had shredded yet another of her job applications.

Outside, the Yuma sun scorched the quiet suburbs. The neighborhood was like a warehouse for empty houses that were stowed away for the day when life had left them, lost by people who were looking for all the wrong things, and buying all the wrong things.

Carrie slowly stood up and went over to the window facing the road. There was a barbecue grill standing solemnly on the lawn of the house opposite theirs. But no chairs or signs that there had been or was about to be a get-together. She hardly knew the new people over there, anyway. So it wasn’t important, was it?

At least she had made her choice. She went to the kitchen, found the cranky laptop, and got it going, albeit under protest as usual.

She found all the scattered litter-like notes about how and when she would draw more. Because when she would be able to do that then she could also film it and put it online, as a course or something. Monetize via short videos on YouTube about the process or any of the crapload of other initiatives that seemed to work so well for everyone else ‘living from their passion’. Everyone who had managed to escape the need to apply for a job.

Carrie looked at the date of the most recent document. It said 2019. She closed it quickly.

Then she found the empty YouTube channel she had set up for this specific purpose and the blog, which still only had one entry. Obviously there was nothing on them, because she had not had the time or the head to produce something, but they were there waiting. Waiting for success … So she wouldn’t have to apply for crappy jobs. If she could just make that transition.

The Twitter account and Facebook pages were also empty. Obviously. She knew that. Why did she have to look?

But she would start today. Today would be the day she would turn things around. She could write a blog post about that. Or do a video.

Then she felt like concrete. She still had a long list of jobs to apply for. And all the other shit. If she could just gain some measure of stability. How could you start a business if you had nothing to invest?

So maybe I am never going to live off my passion?

The thought was almost scary, because it felt like … relief. She quickly choked it.

She had to live from her passion. She had to transit from the rat race of jobs to the passion of her own creative online business.

If only we had more aspirin. I should go buy some. But I have to get started …

The phone in the kitchen chimed. The landline. It had been ages since anyone had used that.

Carrie snapped the phone from its hanger. “Yes?”

“It’s me.”

She could hear the distance in his voice immediately. “Oh God, Jon … What’s happened?”

“No, no, it’s all right. I mean, yes, something has happened but it’s all right. I wanted to tell you before it hit the news.”

She turned and found the local channel on the small TV on the corner shelf, right under that board Michael had made for her in school, with perfectly sawed angles.

“It’s a fucking mess,” Jon continued, clearing his throat more than once, while he told her in a few terse sentences what had happened. “They had to fly Fred to Phoenix. I think he’s going to make it, but … ”

Carrie zapped through the channels. “There’s nothing but ads on here!”

“Try the web. Try—”

But Carrie had already switched off the TV and plumped down on the chair next to the laptop. She scrolled feverishly through the police Twitter feed until she found it.

“Oh God … ”

“Yeah, but it’s over now, like I said. It’s over.” Jon sounded firm, like he had to stop a bleeding somewhere.

Maybe he had. “Are you hurt?”

“No, no – just a bit roughed up, that’s all. After I got his gun away from him, he hit me right in the face. Think that damn tooth may have come loose again.”

She grinned, but her eyes were full of tears. “You know the dentist. No escape from her, ha-ha.”

“Yeah,” Jon said. “Yeah, life’s a bitch, ain’t it.”

“When are you coming home?”

“We need to make the report. The Chief will let everyone off for the day then. Will you call Emma and Michael? I’m afraid Emma may already have seen it. She is an addict. She shouldn’t even subscribe to news channels at her age.”

“She would have called if she had seen it,” Carrie said, feeling again some odd measure of control in stressing a pure belief as if it mattered more than getting off her ass and calling her children. “She should have that phone transplanted to the palm of her hand,” Carrie continued. “She should—”

“Yeah. She should.” Jon broke her off. “So how was your day, hon?” He was never good at being funny, and especially not now.

She wiped tears off her cheeks. But she she also smiled and hoped he could feel it, even if he couldn’t see it.

She felt relief again, and it was overwhelming. A different kind of relief but no less valuable. Absolutely no less …

“I … made a decision,” Carrie tasted the words.

“A decision?”

“Yeah, I didn’t get the Dymo.”

“Fuck.” Jon sounded like the news hit him harder than the guy he had arrested this morning. “I’m sorry.”

“No, don’t be,” Carrie said. “It was shit, anyway.”

“Most jobs are. Except policework, of course,” Jon deadpanned.

They both laughed at that. Fragile laughter, but laughter nonetheless. More relief.

“Brent found you that video cam,” Jon then said. “For your YouTube Channel. But I forgot to tell you. There’s been so much …”

“It’s okay,” Carrie said. “Forget about that.”

“Forget about it?”

“Look …” She breathed deeply. The air was dry but at least the quicksand was out of her system. “I’m – I’m going to look for another shitty job and then draw when I can. For myself.”

“For yourself? I thought you already did that.”

“Well, apparently I didn’t. It’s a long story, but I … am not going to kill myself anymore trying to find that business idea. I miss just drawing. What time did you say you were home?”

“It’s probably going to be a couple of hours.”

“Okay.”

“There’s one of your pads under the sofa, by the way.”

“I know. It’s out now.”

*

Last updated 30 May 2021

Do Short Story Cycles Capture the Fragmented Self?

Do Short Story Cycles Capture the Fragmented Self?

From an Open Edition Journals Roundtable discussion:

“Part of what I think Lynch is pointing to is that where the novel (particularly the bildungsroman form) constructs sense of self as made over time, short story or short story cycles seem in some ways to capture the fragmented nature of the experience of selfhood. My question is whether this is a representational aesthetic strategy that mirrors a changed and changing sense of “self” or “subject,” or whether as some critics have argued (Deidre Lynch’s Economy of Character comes to mind), the novel itself as a genre helped to create a particular experience of interior self as “character” under a particular socio-economic regime? In that case, are we perhaps pointing to the short story (that is, the modernist short story) as likewise contributing to construct a more fragmented, epiphanic sense of self and of character under a changed socio-economic and political regime? A “novel” like James Joyce’s Ulysses or Virginia Woolf’s The Waves could in this frame also be read as likewise contributing to that fragmented, “kaleidoscopic arrangement” that Lynch suggests “unfold[s] unfamiliarly in the minds of readers accustomed to the pace and panorama of novels.” Perhaps the “novel” we have in mind here is more akin to the high realist nineteenth-century novel, rather than some of the early twentieth-century experiments.”

Check out the whole discussion here – but beware: It’s pretty deep stuff!