Topic: Reading list

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 …

Reading List: Before We Visit The Goddess

Reading List: Before We Visit The Goddess

I always want to read more than I can, and I get that feeling again when I see a book such as Before We Visit The Goddess.

What I mean is, that I’d love to read linked short stories from all over the world and get as many collections listed here with these stories from many more countries than the few – mostly the U.S. – that I write about. But I guess you have to start somewhere!

Here’s the enticing blurb from Goodreads:

“The daughter of a poor baker in rural Bengal, India, Sabitri yearns to get an education, but her family’s situation means college is an impossible dream. Then an influential woman from Kolkata takes Sabitri under her wing, but her generosity soon proves dangerous after the girl makes a single, unforgivable misstep. Years later, Sabitri’s own daughter, Bela, haunted by her mother’s choices, flees abroad with her political refugee lover—but the America she finds is vastly different from the country she’d imagined. As the marriage crumbles and Bela is forced to forge her own path, she unwittingly imprints her own child, Tara, with indelible lessons about freedom, heartbreak, and loyalty that will take a lifetime to unravel.

“In her latest novel, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni explores the complex relationships between mothers and daughters, and the different kinds of love that bind us across generations. Before We Visit the Goddess captures the gorgeous complexity of these multi-generational and transcontinental bonds, sweeping across the twentieth century from the countryside of Bengal, India, to the streets of Houston, Texas—an extraordinary journey told through a sparkling symphony of voices.” 

“With writing linked stories, the challenge was to conceive of the overall arc, then decide which moments were best suited to amplification, and who should tell the story at that moment. I’m particularly happy that some of the stories are from the point of view of the men who are important in the lives of the three women. This challenged me to create very different voices and different viewpoints which allow the reader to glimpse areas of these women’s lives they would not have seen otherwise.”

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That’s what I also try to do, especially with regard to Carrie and Jon’s marriage. I really want to write as many stories as possible about them but from different POVs, including 1st and 3rd person.

I also want to take their children’s POVs into account when viewing the marriage and what it is like growing up with two ‘damaged’ parents, like in the story “The Seven Words Left On Paper”.

I have started but there must be at least a hundred stories more to tell, I feel. For each of the family members.

Reading List: There’s Something I Want You To Do

Reading List: There’s Something I Want You To Do

This one looks right up my alley. From Goodreads:

“These interrelated stories are arranged in two sections, one devoted to virtues (Bravery, Loyalty, Chastity, Charity, and Forbearance) and the other to vices (Lust, Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony, and Vanity). They are cast with characters who appear and reappear throughout the collection, their actions equally divided between the praiseworthy and the loathsome. They take place in settings as various as Tuscany, San Francisco, Ethiopia, and New York, but their central stage is the North Loop of Minneapolis, alongside the Mississippi River, which flows through most of the tales. Each story has at its center a request or a demand, but each one plays out differently: in a hit-and-run, an assault or murder, a rescue, a startling love affair, or, of all things, a gesture of kindness and charity. Altogether incomparably crafted, consistently surprising, remarkably beautiful stories.”

Interesting way of using a recurring theme or pattern, but to be honest, what I hope to get from this book when I get to it is just an engaging series of stories about how people approach various dilemmas in their lives. We’ll see!

Most of the first story was readable in the Amazon preview and what grabbed me with it was that it started with a scene where carefree teenagers roam the streets and then some of them hook up and get married and start a family, and of course there is more to it (like an enigmatic trip to Prague before the birth of the first child), but when it comes down to it.

I feel a particular resonance with the implied gap between how the characters see the relationships (“she married one of the sweet ones”, as it says in the text) when they are young and how that changes later on when they have some more life experiences under their belt.

It is something I intend to explore myself – a lot – writing about Carrie’s teenage years and also her middle-age, when she lives with her family in Yuma from about 2006 and onwards, especially her ongoing conflicts with her husband and eldest daughter, as she rapidly approaches that place of stuck-ness that some call middle-age. I have started writing about that in particular in the stories such as “His Last and First Breath” (taking place in 2018) and “One Step Closer” (2019).

Not to forget a little meta-perspective, also. It always interests me why authors embark on writing linked short stories, so here’s a clip from an interview where Charle Baxter has this interesting observation about why he likes the form:

“I’m interested in these sorts of books, the ones that reuse certain characters or that are located in a particular setting. We were just talking about Dubliners. Another book like that is Stuart Dybek’s The Coast of Chicago, which is really located in Chicago with a particular cast of characters. They don’t all come up repeatedly, but the narrator seems to be usually the same guy. I like these sorts of books, the combination of the continuity and the discontinuity. You know you’re not completely out in the middle of nowhere with each new story. You’re somewhere that the general territory has been mapped out.”

The “combination of continuity and discontinuity”. I am not exactly sure how to express it but I feel he is definitely on to something there which also drives my writing. I will reflect more on that in upcoming posts … 

There’s Something I Want You To Do by Charles Baxter.

Reading List: The Turning

Reading List: The Turning

This may just be thematically linked, but we will see. But the preview caught me—I have a thing for lonely coastal stretches 🙂

Here’s the rest of the blurb from Goodreads:

“Brothers cease speaking to each other, husbands abandon wives and children, grown men are haunted by childhood fears. People struggle against the weight of their own history and try to reconcile themselves to their place in the world. With extraordinary insight and tenderness, Winton explores the demons and frailties of ordinary people whose lives are not what they had hoped.”

And here’s a bit from this interview with the author which also caught my attention:

“In this book of short stories, The Turning, in a couple of instances you refer to just the power that adolescence has over you for the rest of your life – you still very much are that person. Do you still feel strongly the emotions of those teenage years?

“Tim: Yeah, I think that adolescents and people in middle age have an enormous amount in common. I think they’re both times when you feel a little bewildered, a little overcome, confused. You feel under kind of weird pressures that you can’t come to terms with. And the strange thing is that when you’re in middle age, the kinds of things that you’re dealing with are almost mutated versions of the same things you were dealing with when you were a teenager. In fact, you still in some sense are the teenager that you were. You’re just dealing with the consequences of the things that you did when you were 14, 15, 16, 17, the people you knew, the things that happened to you, the things that you were afraid of, the ways in which you tried to cope. And it sort of comes back to you in a scary way. I mean superficially, of course, people then – particularly baby boomers – try and relive their childhood. They try and edit it, you know – “I didn’t do these things, therefore I’m going to do this now.”

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I really like what Winton is saying here. It’s a lot of the same thinking I have had about following my characters, especially Carrie and Jon up through life from teens to middle age and further on. And then kind of start over with their kids, with many of the same themes, just for a new time.

Also, it seems, Winton is a rather well-known Aussie novelist, so I suspect I will be in company with someone who can deliver a really good read. It says on Wiki that he has been named “Living Treasure” in Australia. Not bad 🙂 I hadn’t heard of him but I certainly look forward to get to know his stories better, and I will start with this one.

Reading List: Floating in the Neversink

Reading List: Floating in the Neversink

I just bought this one and I do look forward to reading it. Mood, setting, themes, everything. Looks like an intense read.

Here’s a review from the author’s – Andrea Simon’s – site:

“Floating In The Neversink is a complex and tightly woven “novel in stories” told from the perspective of young Amanda (Mandy) Gerber. A pre-teen when the book opens in 1955, it follows Mandy through her adolescence and high school years, recounting her summers with her extended family in the Catskills and the other seasons back in Brooklyn. Simon’s remarkably detailed descriptions of these settings are an immersive treat for her readers, being gritty enough to overcome any over-enthusiastic nostalgia. And as the book includes subject matter related to the sexual assault of children, mental illness, racism, and suicide, readers should be prepared with trigger warnings.

“Yet even as Simon’s writing exposes the sharper edges of the Catskills for Mandy and her family, it also celebrates the best of these memories. Her deep relationships with her grandmothers and seeing how Mandy, and her sister and cousins are shaped by their shared experiences, is a joyful tribute to family that shines out from the underlying dark conflicts. Over the course of the stories, Simon deftly unfolds the nuances of her characters, all of whom are humanly imperfect, yet all of whom remain somewhat shadowy around the edges. This is the essential challenge of the book as a collection of short stories. It succeeds because of the strong continuity and its detailed character development. It succeeds when understood as a series of memories, but readers will be left without the whole of Mandy’s story.

“Will readers be satisfied with this sense of incompleteness? Floating In The Neversink demands that its protagonist accept that there are things that can’t or won’t be discussed. That there are secrets and things that are unknowable in every family. And Simon doesn’t give her readers any more insight than she allows to Mandy … “

I’m usually not a big fan of trigger warnings, but a lot depends on how the subject matter is handled. And since I write about suicide myself, well … don’t throw stones, right? I read the first chapter in the Amazon preview and liked the characters, and that’s usually a winner for me. Without characters to care about, the rest doesn’t really matter.

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Check it out and check out where to get it at Goodreads.