Genre: literary fiction

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.

Reading List: Paradise Earth

Reading List: Paradise Earth

Paradise Earth by Amy Barker is another Aussie book and was recommended to me by Lynette Washington, Aussie author of the collection of linked short stories, Plane Tree Drive, which I will get to shortly. I seem to be having an Aussie period here, but I guess there are worse things … 🙂

Anyway, here is the blurb from Amazon:

“Coming home to Tasman Peninsula with her Northern Irish partner, Ruth journeys into her own psychic trauma as well as that projected onto the raw, monumental coast. When Ruth’s brother John helps his fourteen-year-old son apply for a firearm’s permit–almost two and a half decades after Port Arthur– they risk condemning those who do not remember the past to repeat it.”

“A Port Arthur survivor, Marina has returned to the Peninsula with her brother Moon to pack up Doo-No-Harm, the family holiday home, after their mother’s death. Marina’s personhood was so violated by her early life experience that she has been left an angry She-wolf about to set out on the hunt. In a convoy of duck rescuers, the siblings head for a confrontation with shooters on the wetland.”

“In these lives choreographed by trauma, damage and the ramifications of wilful forgetfulness, transformation can only occur after an extremely painful lesson.”

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You can also buy the book directly from Stormbird Press here.

I also recommend this interesting author interview with Amy Barker.

You will note that the book is billed as a “novel” on the cover, but I trust my recommendation as well as a review from the Stormbird Press page, which says that Paradise Earth “recounts a series of separate but interconnecting stories that explore the vicissitudes and fragility of the human condition”.

They probably didn’t use it in the promo material if it wasn’t true, but I think this example probably demonstrates how difficult it is 1) to sell a novel-in-stories and 2) how many people likely don’t really know what it is.

Interesting aside, it appears Amy Barker also thought she wanted to become a lawyer, like Carrie, but changed paths once it was clear to her that art was what she really wanted. If Carrie had had the wherewithal to do that, who knows how her story had unfolded? Probably with a lot less pain …

Force of Life

Force of Life

Dear bro,

… I’m not sure I understood what it meant to you to come out, despite all the beatings. Not until last fall when I took you to Kachina Village when your illness was getting worse.

I remember you walking slowly between the trees early in the morning, just a little away from our holiday cottage, as if you were feeling your way through the forest.

‘What are you looking for’, I asked?

Obsessing about our imagined native ancestry, like always, you looked back at me and said something about the native name for the village – kachina. I only remember this part, though:

“ … kachina has to do with the idea that there is life in everything in the world – rocks, trees, people. Everything has an essence or a life force, and we have to connect with that life force.”

“Or what?” I asked, in good spirits, because I had just made coffee, and you looked a bit comical out there among the pines in your bathrobe.

But then you looked at me in that strange way and said:

” … Or we die.”

And then I understood.

Next Step: Tomorrow

Next Step: Tomorrow

The waiting is hardest when it’s for that flash of inspiration that will lift you out of the morass and give you an idea for action. Action to change your life, create something moving and brilliant with your art and set some relationship right. Sometimes you feel it’ll never come. But something always comes, if you listen for long enough you always hear something. The trick isn’t getting inspiration but not forgetting it, because life stuff floods your attention and zaps your energy. I’ve often forgotten an idea for something really great I could do, something that would make a difference because soon after, you know, life happened. Then two days or two years down the line, when I’ve parked my car somewhere I can see the horizon and don’t want to drive home because home is chaos, then – right then – an old idea or inspiration rears its head, and I go home with a little more hope for tomorrow.

Waiting for the Update

Waiting for the Update

I couldn’t escape into random news surfing this morning, because my iPhone had decided to run a half-hour long update so with “exciting new features to iPhone, including the ability to unlock iPhone with Apple Watch while wearing a face mask, more diverse Siri voices, new privacy controls, skin tone options to better represent couples in emoji, and much more”. So I had no buffer between myself and the five zillion demands that assault me every morning from the moment I open my eyes until I close them, from kids to looking for a job to kissing my husband goodbye and pretending we still have some semblance of a romantic marriage. But once I was able to gulp down my first cup of coffee, my brain began spinning scenarios anyway for how I could get everything out of life before it was too late: make more money, make more love, make more art.

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.