Tag Archives: book reviews

This Isn’t “Chick Lit” Because “Chick Lit” Shouldn’t Be a Thing….Ever.

The Shore by Sara Taylor (Bailey Prize Winner)

Today, I will ask you to preorder The Shore by Sara Taylor (Bailey Prize Longlist  2015).

In three days, you will have a sea scape of time in your hands in the form of a book.

It will take you across generations, through twisted murders, plots of revenge by medicine woman, how women are courted two-hundred years from now after a sexually transmitted disease will act as population control, beg questions to women raised on the dotted line between high society and marshland due to their coloring, and ask the reader to fill in how a game of poker that becomes a dual rape and then becomes a marriage can produce children that are capable of knocking on the doors of strangers and explaining themselves.

“Plot Twist” Image (Creative Commons)

Plot Twist Image (Creative Commons)This book is incredible. And although all the strings are not tied neatly with a bow by the end, just the act of having to answer the questions posed for myself was a book on its own.   By the first chapter, I was hooked.  The plot twist at the end of chapter one was enough to have me begging the universe for a chance to read before falling asleep flatly in bed.  There’s so many strong women in this book, and not just strong because of their own intuition, but strong in the face of dirty hands.  One of my students wrote an excellent slam poem this week, I wish I could share it all, but in it she says the following, “I was in the tenth grade when I realized I was a little too sensitive.  That I didn’t need to cover my mouth when I laugh. Or agree with people who throw dirt on my name, because I now understand that those are the people with dirty hands and it will take more than just soap and water to fix the mess they have now made of themselves.”

Photo by Micah Taylor, Creative Commons

There are people who will always be against women.  They are the ones who only find strength in those who can lift cars, and not those who can lift hearts.  This book is an argument against those people.  It is words in a fictional universe that can debate those who don’t believe in equality among sexes.

“Chick Lit” (Creative Commons) Found @ chacha.com

“Chick Lit” (Creative Commons) Found @ chacha.comSometimes, as women, we get stuck between the place called “women’s fiction” and that place called “chick lit.”  I really believe that the Bailey Prize (once the Orange Prize) is trying to adjust this slim shadow area where women are allowed to reside in fiction.  There is just no place to rest in that crack on the shelf.  Most people who read this blog do so because they have read a book that has changed them, made them view the other in new light, made them remove themselves from the shadows and step into their own golden flare, or read just simply to exist in a place that goes beyond their reality, I believe that women’s fiction deserves this sort of place.  I believe it can fit on any shelf.  I believe women have gone voiceless for many centuries and their time is just now beginning to sprout in fiction.  I even believe, the blasphemous heathen that I am, that some famous “anonymous” writers or even writers that we praise for being so unadulteratedly manly, owned a coin purse (if you know what I mean by that).

Finished this morning

Finished this morning

The fact is, that women’s history hasn’t yet been fully told. It has not reached the deep cave of the mouth to be heard beyond a few whispered shuffles of polite feet behind armed men.

But this book.  This book will break barriers and do so with small chunks of women’s lives.  A moment, a pill of memoir (although fiction, but feels true in the carat that I keep my own womanhood) for each generation in a family that went silent to men until the last possible second.  Even in the end, there is a character named Sally.  In the beginning of the book, her grandfather gives the ultimatum to her and her brother, that one must stay on the island and take care of the shore house, one must remain distant from the mainland and focus their goals on maintaining a house that was never theres to begin with.  Who must that be? The girl of course.  The woman shoved on a shelf between pink covers and Water for Elephants.  This book says girls have been stuck for too long.

Window Seat Reading

Window Seat Reading

Girls can render guns.
Girls can steal the things that build their father’s up.
Girls can fiercely protect.
Girls can stay behind and build bigger.
Girls can leave the island.
Girls can choose not to marry.
Girls can use herbs to preserve the original foundations of their bodies until a time when they want to use them as vessels.
Girls can learn a history of the other powerful girls behind them.
Girls can be leaders, not led.

I have no other real way to proceed with this review.  This book is so hard to tie down like the women within it.  There are so many stories and they have all stuck, or pieces of them, and organizing them into some logical progression is beyond my ability.  I will warn you that for the first four or five chapters you will be trying to place the women on where they fall in the genealogical line. But don’t. It will come out in the wash.  The blues of it will run clear.



“A Pretty Stem Bowed Down from Neck to Bloom”

– A line from a poem I wrote when challenged by my creative writing students to participate in writing a ghazal with them.

“It couldn’t be fair to punish people for trying to get by, people who were good by their own lights, when it took all the courage they had to be good” (259, Robinson).

Sometimes it’s really hard to love my students.  Sometimes I need a constant reminder to be their champion.  It was especially hard last week after having a conversation with a child so bright that the earth could tilt the other way if she just knew how to get it spinning on her fingertip.

The day before we had been having a conversation about her goals and about how she couldn’t write essays on things that bored her (i.e. The characters in A Raisin in the Sun).  She had told me that her future job would “be fun” because she “got to work with bodies and such.”  We talked about what it meant to be a doctor and what a proud profession it would be. The next day, she refused to do ten vocabulary in context questions.  I immediately rode in with “You know to be a doctor, you’re going to have to determine, figure out, and use in real-life situations, thousands of words that you never even knew existed, with roots that span centuries of language.”  (It was probably less eloquent than that).  I was not a knight that day, I was letting the knife shave at my thread of hope.

She said, “I don’t want to be a doctor,” immediately, with head shaking and an imagined finger snap.

“A nurse then?”

“No, neither. I don’t want either of those things.  I could just as easily live off of the government.”

I didn’t have the right words to respond to this so I moved on to the next child with their hand up and watched as she worked out the meanings of the words based on the synonyms or antonyms or just clues in the sentence and life moved on, as it does.

But it frightens me.  Because there are days where my sympathy is worn out for their ideas about the world.  It’s not fair to judge them for this as they’ve only seen a small kernel of yellow daisies along a highway, and watched as the kids who can afford polos can afford college, and the kids who don’t get to choose a latchkey become Carolina red dust before someone can even sigh at their poorness.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

And then I came to Lila by Marilynne Robinson.  And for some reason every time I open a Marilynne Robinson book I immediately want to hate it, but I also know that I must finish it because the answers won’t come unless it is done.  I read somewhere that it was a like a triple crown winner of the publishing world, critics hoped it would win both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize (it didn’t, but it was expected).  The last thing I read by her was Housekeeping and I wasn’t the same after coming around it.  Robinson writes books that must be chewed on slowly, and then stewed about for a few days until the full expanse of what just happened to you can come alive and you can feel something.

This was not the case with Lila, I felt it precisely.

Lila is the story of Lila Dahl and her upbringing as a traveling (maybe migrant worker) in a group of lost causes after she is stolen from her family by a woman named Doll. Doll does her best to take care of Lila and throughout the book, Lila is eternally grateful (if she believed in eternity) towards Doll although the reader finds that Doll has pockmarks on her character, as does Lila.

That’s actually not even right.

Lila is the tramp of society, always on the fringes, the person you see in church but whisper about their ripped jeans at a Sunday service.  She is always coming out of the rain.  She is never accepted, or rarely.  And the people she travels with will have dirt under their nails, and a hunger that goes beyond bellies.  My grandmother would call them “unsavory.”  But she’s beautiful, and worldly, and conscious of the way her words work so she listens rather than speaks.  She’s curious and smart, and a bulb of good fortune to the people that meet her even though in her growing she knows nothing about the expectations of the Christian God.  She’s just genuinely good, and it isn’t often that this character pages up in literature, but I’m thankful I was able to read her grace on the page in this moment of my life.

I talk a lot about the way books come to me and about the way that I believe timing in books, like love, is everything.  Sometimes they come like a tiny children’s chime in a large choir, and sometimes they come like an old cartoon anvil.  I’m not sure how Lila came to me, but I needed her.

Allsbrook, W. (2014). Lila (New York Times)  [Drawing]. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/05/books/review/lila-by-marilynne-robinson.html?_r=0

Allsbrook, W. (2014). Lila (New York Times) [Drawing].
Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/05/books/review/lila-by-marilynne-robinson.html?_r=0

This book is also a love story between an old preacher and a lost girl.  It’s an adult Peter Pan story almost.  Reverend Ames makes eye contact with Lila in the last pew, and although it seems unlikely, their love is nestled between the hair of a gap where her head nuzzles his shoulder.  The entire story the reader wonders if Lila will do as she daydreams and leave the Reverend, go back to the shack in the woods where she’s left a sharpened knife and a few half eaten dandelions.  I think the reader knows the whole time that with this kind of love story, there is almost nothing to wonder about.

“And her life was just written all over her, she knew it without looking, because that’s how it was with all the women she used to know.  And somehow she found her way to the one man on earth who didn’t see it or maybe he saw it the way he did because she had read that parable, or poem, or whatever it was” (223, Robinson).

I am amazed at how Marilynne Robinson can make a story in the mind of just two or three characters, with barely any plot in the present tense and it move me the way pine needles bustle in heavy wind.  Lila is my students, Lila is anyone who has ever felt in just one instance that their whole life has just been one big kitchen sweep, Lila is me.

“I got feelings I don’t know the names for.  There probly ain’t any names.  Probly nobody else ever had ’em” (183, Robinson).

Rich fictional technique: Marilynne Robinson  Photo: Ulf Andersen @ Telegraph

Rich fictional technique: Marilynne Robinson Photo: Ulf Andersen @ Telegraph

And the Reverend is every man a woman might want to fall in love with.  He comforts in times of comforting.  He takes a few days after listening to Lila’s curiosities to think them over and then deliberately makes time to talk through them, without answering outright, but actually whispering his truths and attending to hers.  If there was ever a book that taught feminist theory in the way that I believe it to be, it would be this one.  Lila is herself.  She is strong and brilliant, but she has “shame like a habit,” and she never wants for a man, but when she meets the reverend it is like a letter written as an answer.

“She thought it was nothing she had known to hope for and something she had wanted too much all the same” (257, Robinson).

The first book set in Gilead (one of three)

And this brings me back to my student.  My student who is seventeen and unsure of the world, but has to act sure or else it will make her kneel to its wants and needs.  I think today, even more so than usual, we live in a society that looks down on the poor like they’re lepers.  The divide is growing between the super rich and the poverty poor and I’m not sure at this point what is being done to stop it.  And it’s easy to write them off, I know that.  It’s easy to say that they won’t amount to anything and not champion for them.

But then who would?

I think sometimes it’s hard to realize what a poor child begins with at eighteen.  One of my most cherished students has his name on most bills in his house because his mother’s credit is so bad that she has had to use her children’s names.  He said “Ms. M, I have to call and put my best man voice on this afternoon so the cable company will come out and install our cable.”  When his mother doesn’t pay the bill in a few months because she couldn’t get enough hours, his credit too, like hers, will be ruined.

The second book set in Gilead

And explain then how he will get loans for college and he’s supposed to push through when he’s taking care of his mother rather than doing your homework.  He, too, is Lila. We are all a bit Lila, but I look at my kids like soldiers, and then I look at them like slowly beating hearts.  They don’t know what way they’re going because everyday is a new day.  Sometimes they’re just bodies that think and talk and “seems to want its life one more day of it, you don’t have to know why” (179, Robinson).

And I needed that reminder, of the single human battle.  The battle to rise and be greater than you were yesterday even if you have all those yesterdays that say that you can’t do that, and you won’t amount to anything more than yesterday on yesterday.

Well, Lila argues that and values that and uses that.  So read her, like she’s writing you a love letter about how change doesn’t have to come from one decision, but a bunch of small experiences that don’t pile up, but are each presented, each their own small golden token.

All The Books I Never Finished,

And never regretted it.

Let’s start at the beginning. God did it apparently, so it’s good enough for us.

  • I’ve been reading Swamplandia for approximately two years and seventy-three days.  I borrowed it from my cousin’s girlfriend who is just as much of a book nerd as me, so I feel kind of bad that I’m that person who doesn’t return books.

Hi, I’m Cassie and I don’t always return borrowed books.

I also have two of the three Colleen Hoover books in a series (Slammed and Point of Retreat) on my shelf from her that I have yet to read. I really should have gotten her a “Return to” label for her personal library books.

Quick flashback: This poor girl, Rachel Dennis, who must have gotten married because I can find her nowhere on social media, gave me the book The Princess Bride.  She even came to my house, before having a driver’s license, to try to get that book back.  To this day (I read it this year), it’s in my personal library with her name scrolled in high school bubble handwriting.  I feel less bad today because the book comes with its own small history, but still.

Hi, I’m Cassie and I have a long history of not returning borrowed books unless their from the library and people are going to charge me a fine.

Back to Swamplandia. How did anyone finish this book?  It was slow, and completely, unrealistically weird.  A brother who works at a hell theme park. A sister who wants to wrestle albino alligators like her mother in a bay watch suit.   A sister who believes she’s dating a dead boy who’s stuck on a tug boat.  I got through the first round of hell and doom, but as soon as the narrator met the bird man and went after her sister who could have just watched Ghost to live vicariously through, I couldn’t.  I keep the bookmark in it just in case I can finish those last hundred pages, I’m not one to give up. But…it’s been a few years.  Maybe 2015 is the year of Swamplandia.

Recommendation: Read Lauren Groff’s story “At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners” to get your fix of Everglade reptiles and sadness without all the kitschy things that make a book seem “unique” and “original” even though it’s just a mass production of a weird best-seller.  Groff’s story is one of the only magnificent stories in the Best American Series 2014.

  • We, The Drowned – Carsten Jensen

    I will finish We, the Drowned. It’s just massive.  It’s a steel block of book, but it will get done. I always remember the plot when I come back to it, even after months, which is a true sign of a good story.  Plus, the cover’s too beautiful not to know it when someone comes into my library and spots it and asks.  It has a 4.18 score on Goodreads which might be because so few people have actually finished it and they all loved it, or it’s just a stellar book. One won’t know until 2015.

  • Tiger Lily ruined Alias Hook for me.  If Peter Pan wasn’t such a young adult chauvinist pig in Tiger Lily and Tiger Lily wasn’t such a desperate teen heart then maybe I could have read another Peter Pan remake in the same year. However, Tiger Lily was so terrible – the best part was the dedication: For the girls with messy hair and thirsty hearts. 
  • All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doeer

    At this point I’m the only person that didn’t like and didn’t finish All The Light We Cannot See. It was on the bestseller list in our newspaper this morning even.  I just couldn’t finish it. After all the WWII books, to be infinite, authors have to write something that breaks the heart open.  This just didn’t.  I only read until the boy was at the training camp for a few months and his weak friend was bullied (and I think died).  I was really interested in the blind girl’s story and the architecture her father built into her veins as a home, but the author stayed so long on the boy and sister that I gave up.  Anyone have any reasons to push through on this one?

  • There’s no reason I shouldn’t have finished A Tale for the Time Being.  It was bad timing. I might start over.  Especially because Alena told me how much she loved it, and she’s one of my most precious recommenders.  Half the feelings we have towards books (and boys – significant others) is timing, I think.
  • Diego Draws @ Tumblr (A Rose for Emily)

    Other than Faulkner’s Emily, Miss Havisham may be my favorite character in literary history. Unfortunately, she was dragged through the ash of the Industrial Age by Ronald Frame.  I couldn’t even do it.

Why do white girls go to the bathroom in groups of odd numbers? We just can’t even.

I just can’t even.

  • I work with a literature prude.  He teaches British Lit which is perfect for him. He might be the most well-read person that I know, actually. I always return his books partly because I live in fear of his reaction if I don’t.  Plus, we have this long standing feud over who is the better Fitzgerald, Zelda or F. Scott. (It’s Zelda). He recommended Special Topics in Calamity Physics which is a book that just makes me feel like an idiot and I’m not even sure if the author researched her own research.  People on Goodreads claim it has “literary allusions” but they must be philosophical geniuses because this book is too hoity-toity for the average American girl who reads.
  • I’m a girl who loves a girl named Francine. (It’s like Madeline, I can just imagine the perfect etiquette and the way she dabs her lips gently with a cloth embroidered napkin). And her last name is Prose, which if you’re going to be a writer, your last name cannot get any more perfect than Prose. However, the remake of Bigfoot Dreams. WHY. I wouldn’t let anyone reprint a book that was terrible in the first place.  You want to reprint my book, choose one that’s good.  How about Blue Angel or Golden Grove, but Big Foot Dreams.  Open Road Integrated Media, I deplore you.  Remake books that matter, not books that are fillers for authors to keep their publishing contract with the big names. (This is also a publishing world problem).

Cormac McCarthy

I think every year readers have books that they just can’t finish.  This year was especially bad for me.  Most years, I push through the bad and just finish as many as I can, but this year I made a resolution to refuse to read bad books.  So this year, I would read a few pages and then put the book down forever.  Even Cormac McCarthy had to suffer through this with two of his books on this list.  I started a lot of books.  I probably read more pages of starters than I did finishers.  I’m not sure if this was just me being stressed with teaching and less time to really hook my claws into “good” books, or if this is a publishing epidemic.  Are they (American publishing houses) publishing less NEED and more WANT? I can’t answer that question without an insider view really, but lately I’ve felt that no books have moved me so far as to write a brilliant review since probably, The Tiger’s Wife. I want a book I can faint inside.  Did you read any books like that this year? RECOMMEND please.  I might even start one of those cute little TBR mason jars.


Before I say anything, I want you to know that I loved Marie Helene-Bertino’s short story collection, Safe as Houses.  Evidence here. 

2 A. M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helen Bertino

Some authors should stick to short stories.  I can’t say yet that this is the case with Helene-Bertino because she’s only now written one novel.  However, it really was a novel of a bunch of stories titled 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas.  This novel is about lost and lonely people in Philadelphia.  It’s specifically about three characters; Madeline, Sarina, and Lorca.  Madeleine is a young elementary school girl who’s mother has passed and father is a bodily ghost that spends everyone else’s waking hours in his bed next to his record player and open bottle.  Sarina is Madeleine’s teacher who is divorced and not really looking for much, but an end of evening ice cream and a little compassion.  Lorca owns the legendary “Cat’s Pajamas” jazz club where he and a posse live until a new cop takes over their street and issues a citation that could put them out of business.  Although the main plot points are about these three characters, there are full “chapters” dedicated to the thoughts of people who bump them on the street, see them in a coffee shop, or have memories deeply embedded with these characters.

“Gathers him in his name – Jack Francis Lorca. We carry our ancestors in our names and sometimes we carry our ancestors through the sliding doors of emergency rooms and either way they are heavy, man, either way we can’t escape.”

Caramel Apple for Madeline @ Joy (Creative Commons)

It’s both uplifting and upsetting.  The minor character chapters seek to show that these three main characters shouldn’t be so lonely, just drifting. They have people that care, or have cared for a very long time. These characters are all exhausted, and people in their lives are dropping, not quite like flies, more like pins, silently and with too much meaning.   The “chapters” were also interesting because they went by time.  I was expecting it to end at 2 A.M., it didn’t, but it was nice to go through one full day with these characters, watching them move, almost literally, through time.

“BUT THEN, her class will be making caramel apples. Madeleine has never had a caramel apple and she wants to taste one more than she wants God’s love.”

Electric Guitar @ Wikipedia Commons

I was really interested in Madeleine’s story because she was the youngest bitter book character that I’ve ever read.  She had no friends, girls were scared of her baditude, and all she wanted to do was sing a solo in the church service.  The reader gets the full brunt of a woman’s death through this small girl.  It’s actually quite a feat because I felt like her grief was real grief.  She was angry, had obsessions, and only wanted few sweet things, but was never given them without a battle.  Her principle has no empathy and her teacher worries without speaking.

“Madeleine has no friends: Not because she contains a tender grace that fifth graders detect and loathe.  Not because she has a natural ability that points her star ward, though she does.  Madeleine has no friends because she is a jerk.”

Sarina, her teacher, is just a simple woman who has returned home after the death of her mother.  The reader finds out the story of her missing father later in the book, and a poor prom experience.  This really is most of her story until a man enters the novel.  Lorca owns the jazz club and takes care of the men within the main band of the club, the Cubanistas.  His girlfriend is practically done with him, and his son is sullen, wild, but a gifted guitar player.

“They are sixteen and skinny.  Their collarbones vault in upsetting directions.”

John Coltrane @ Jason Hickey cdcovers/john coltrane/crescent.jpg (Creative Commons)

This is it, really.  The book had Helene-Bertino’s signature language.  Funky and beautiful, like a good John Coltrane song.  If you read for inventive and lovely language, then read everything she’s written.  As far as a story goes, this whole thing just saddened me.  I finished left with the question, “So what?”  I wasn’t concerned that the people were out of hope, I was just more concerned at the reason that I read the book.  I know these people in my everyday life.  They may not be from Philadelphia, but they are finding themselves, living through it, silent when the world needs them to talk, and open when the world asks them to be closed.  If this story was meant to introduce me to grief, or introduce me to sadness, or acknowledge that everyone is fighting a hard battle, then it did its job, but I’m not sure that was enough.  The big finale, was just odd, honestly.  When I got to the end, I knew the big finish was coming, but it was some weird want-to-be magical realism.  People almost became who they always wanted to be, or what they hated inside themselves came out.  It was all really strange.  It might be worth the read just for that clutter.

“Who cares which way is faster? You can’t say you know a city unless you know three ways to everywhere.  Madeleine swings her legs over the edge of the roof.  I sang on a stage.  She is close enough to high-five Saint Anthony but doesn’t because no matter what kind of thrilling night you’ve had, you do not bother saints this way.”

For a reader who waited for her next book, I was disappointed.  I’m not saying this is a bad book, but it didn’t have the closure I needed and it didn’t say anything new.  Like another reader on Goodreads, I think this novel could get a cult-following. I don’t think it’s introducing a new style to literature, or that it’s fresh or modern, but it’s a catchy song, and it’s beauty in the sadness.   I think a good multi-character book makes you want to read each character, not look towards a mouthy girl who walks a dog, eats breakfast at the local cafe, and tries not to take on second mothers in all the outstretched hands.

“Pedro is an open-air pooch, not prone to evenings at home.  His joints are nimble and his snout superb. He spent the previous night following the scent of a bitch, pink notes and hydrangea and dung.”

Mad Woman Wasting

“Don’t waste your love on somebody, who doesn’t value it.” 
— Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet

From The Land of the Moon by Milena Agus @ Goodreads

The question is: who determines what’s wasted?

In one of my new favorite books, From the Land of The Moon, Milena Agus answers this question.  At first, I thought this was just a simple story of a typical (Sardinian) woman.  The only interesting part was that the grandmother thought herself mad.  She had a bit of Alice and a bit of Sexton with a pinch of history.

“And later, when she lost the babies in the first months of pregnancy, she said that she would not have been a good mother because she lacked the principal thing, and her children were not born because they, too, lacked that thing, and so she shut herself up in her world of the moon.”

Early in the grandmother’s life, her entire family was upset with her especially when she chased away suitors writing them love poems like a mad Dickinson (aren’t all Dickinson’s mad)?.  I should probably tell you that this family is Sardinian (a small island in the Mediterranean, don’t feel bad, I had to Google it too).  I find it really interesting that all over Google, it says that Sardinian women are the most beautiful women in the world, and that they age most gracefully and beautifully as well, living longer than most other cultures. This book shows them as so much the opposite of that.

It’s narrated by a granddaughter looking back at her grandmother’s life.  Her grandmother had a very secret life, not because she held a lot of secrets, but because she stayed mostly within her own head.

Sardinia, Italy (Wikipedia Commons)

“In fact she thinks we should be grateful to grandmother, because she took on herself all the disorder that might have touched papa and me. In every family there’s someone who pays the tribute, so that the balance between order and disorder and the world doesn’t come to a halt.”

When she’s already a rotten egg according to the fairytales and her family no longer believes she’s going to be married, a man comes to stay in their house after his whole family is killed in a bombing during WWII.  It might be worth reading the book, just to read the story of the birthday cake.  The family signs her away to this unknown visiter and for the rest of her life, she questions their love.  At first, she’s afraid to bring him his morning tea and just sets it in the floorboards below before he wakes up.  Then, she convinces him to no longer attend the “happy ending” houses in their neighborhood.  I think this is one of the more true love stories of our generation.  There wasn’t ever a complete 180 in acknowledgement that this was a true love, one that stood the test of time, and wasn’t made of superficial conversations, Facebook photos, and no compromise.

This relationship really begins when she is sent away to get well after continually carrying kidney stones instead of children.  Her husbands sends her to a spa escape where she rarely eats, watches men read newspapers on a balcony overlooking the sea, and buries the stones where they can’t block her children from coming any longer.

Friedrich Kellner diary Oct 6, 1939 (Wikipedia Commons)

I wasn’t a believer in this relationship until the very end of this book when I was tearing up.  There’s a parallel love story that I can’t really tell you anything about, which makes it really hard to review this book, but also makes it one of the most complete works of fiction (imagination).  This book examines the truths of diaries.  Even I sometimes wonder whether I should actually write what I’ve written into my diaries.  Or should I sugar coat some of the parts.  As I write, I imagine a future daughter reading it and sometimes I crumple a little bit, lack courage in my actual thoughts.  It displays my real insecurities.  My mom asked me yesterday if I had already asked a friend to burn them after I die like Oprah, but I’m not sure I can.  There’s so much raw truth of myself in those diaries.  I think it would be unfair to that part of myself that leaves nothing unsaid.

And that’s what this book does.  It leaves it all on the page. It leaves letters, truths, disappointments, madness, sexual rebellion, sexual expectation, desires, looming memories, distant travels, and the wants of an everyday woman that are so similar to some of my wants, it’s odd.  Milena Agus knows her women and knows what they hide in the folds of their aprons, and the locked drawers of their desks.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book and it’s a book that I may have wanted to write in the future, but I was lucky enough to be a reader instead.  I’m wondering now which life the grandmother chose to lead, the one of her imagination or the one with a man who would walk through the snow without a scarf, missing his local potato ravioli and porchetto.


Coffee Binging a few weeks ago.

And which man is more real to the woman feeding them?  You’ll have to read this one.  Short enough to read during afternoon tea at only 108 pages, if you’re in Britain, or if you’re american one of those all day coffee binges like I’m having now.

Binge on books. Binge on coffee.

The Epigraph, one of my favorites.

The Epigraph, one of my favorites. LOVING my electric blue nails.

“…her husband was a lucky man, really, and not, as she said, unfortunate, cursed with a poor madwoman; she wasn’t mad, she was a creature made at a moment when God simply had no wish for the usual mass-produced woman and, being in a poetic vein, had created her.”

What are the truest love stories you have read lately? What love stories may have changed your idea of love? How do we determine what is world literature and what isn’t, or what deserves to be a vintage book? Do you plan on reading this one or did my review not do it justice? Talk below. 

Newsday Tuesday


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Meme from quickmemes.com…Are memes under fair use?

Book News:





David Bowie:

The Moon Is A Silent Killer

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

I hate it when someone is a better writer than me.  Or has just actually published a book, put pen to paper like a raging sword and ripped open the wounds of that lined paper to turn it into something typed in loud Times New Roman and quiet in its white space.  Marina Keegan hated this as well, hate might be a strong word, but she felt the same feelings I felt as a twenty-something trying to make it in the publishing world that taught us how to seek out mystery, relevance, and the good story.  She said, “I’m so jealous.  Unthinkable jealousies, jealousies of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel I’m reading and the Oscar winning movie I just saw. Why didn’t I think to write Dalloway?  I should have thought to chronicle a schizophrenic ballerina.  It’s inexcusable.  Everyone else is so successful, and I hate them.  There’s a German word I learned about in psychology class called schadenfreude, which means a pleasure derived from the misfortune of others” (204).   I wonder now if she’d be proud to know how very jealous I am of her.

“read to me” – sexts

Marina Keegan died in a tragic car accident days after she graduated from Yale and was headed to a cozy office job at The New York Times.  I don’t actually know if they have offices there, but one can assume that it isn’t a giant cafeteria filled with type writers instead of non-chicken chicken nuggets.  Although, that newspaper would be quite thrilling.  Her essay, “The Opposite of Loneliness” written about her feelings upon leaving Yale went viral.  And she’s right, there is no word for the opposite of loneliness.  No, one syllable stacotto thing that we could say to explain how we’re feeling when we’re vibrant in mass, vibrant next to a stranger, vibrant in a train car, vibrant walking down streets where it smells like home brewed coffee, vibrant at our parent’s kitchen table.

Image @ Tumblr

Whatever word that is, the opposite of loneliness, maybe one of the 96 words that Sanskrit has for love, Marina Keegan made me feel that when I read her brilliant new collection of writings, fiction and nonfiction.  I requested this one on Netgalley after reading her viral essay and I can say in a completely honest way, as you know that I am, that this book held some of the best short fiction that I have ever read.  I don’t care if she was in a creative writing workshop with a bunch of people who wrote about fast-walking zombies, or glittering vampires, these short stories edited in a college dorm room are breath-taking and stand tall next to the great writers that I’ve had the privilege of hiding in my arsenal.   There is a giveaway on Goodreads if you’re already convinced.

Image @ Tumblr

“Cold Pastoral” is my favorite story in the collection of short stories.  The book is categorized as viral essay, short fiction, and then essays that were published in the Yale Daily Newspaper.  This story is about a girl in an almost relationship, you know that sticky “talking stage” that teenagers do now, with a boy who tragically dies.  It’s actually quite ironic to Marina’s life, a lot of these stories and essays are.  It was almost as if her writing foreshadowed her own story.  The girl wasn’t even sure she wanted to date the boy, had late night wine conversations with the roommate over whether to continue the relationship.  He was just a boy in a room where she forgot sweaters occasionally. However, when he dies, she feels pressure to become the girl he needed and the girl that his parents expect her to be, the girlfriend.  I won’t give anything away, but she discovers his diary and already has discovered how “cool,” literally, his ex-girlfriend is.  This ex plays guitars in basements for shadowed bar-goers.  It shows the triviality of college hookups and those in-between relationships where the person is just waiting for the bigger/better to come along.  I felt the unsure voice of the narrator, I was the narrator.  I think a lot of college girls can relate to this story of learning to date for dating rather than learning to date for marriage.  It’s a hard step up when you’ve been told your whole life to hold out for “the one,” that boy pocked full of marriage material, and grow old swag.

Image @ Tumblr

I also really loved, “Reading Aloud,” where an old NY Met dancer finds herself reading to a blind college kid.  She reads in the nude because her husband has found old interests in his window office job and comes out of retirement to continue working.  The wife feels like this is a personal dig at the time he was spending with her and signs up for this community service through the local library.  She’s SUCH a character, the Havisham of short stories.  I could hear the whisper of her sweater leaving her shoulders, and the quick way her fingers fiddled with the buttons.  There’s something strangely alluring about silently undressing in a short story and even if Keegan didn’t type every sound on the page, I was still immediately intrigued with this woman.  Keegan writes these stories that you don’t want to believe can actually happen, but you know somewhere in some condo, or tenement building these characters are feasting on our brief images of them through the telling of their story.

I didn’t find the essays AS riveting as the short stories, but come on..that’s because they’re essays.  I actually found “I Kill For Money” and “Why We Care about Whales” to be the deepest essays of the collection.  “I Kill For Money” tells the story of a bug guy.  I think I enjoyed this so much because who would think to interview an exterminator.  He had an unmarked van, which I always find creepy because I feel like Law & Order makes this the vehicle of all pedophiles, everywhere.  And then…he was a little bit sad. I almost felt like he killed bugs to spare himself of some sort of aloneness, not loneliness because he had a wife and kids, but just this feeling of aloneness.  People were rude to him in Keegan’s presence and he was just expected to go on with his day, do his duty, and climb back into the leather seat of his white van and go on handling bug business.   It also broke my heart that he was an older man and it seemed like he almost HAD to work.  There was some odd debt crisis, or some reason he wasn’t retiring.  He repeated several jokes in the interview and seemed to be losing pieces of himself in each apartment where he poisoned bed bugs, and unclamped the squashed feet of mice.  I just wanted him to go home and take a bath.  You know it’s good writing when an essay can almost make you cry.

Artificial Creativity @ Tumblr

The “Why We Care about Whales” essay just made me think.  Why do we care about the deaths of animals more than we care about just another human death by car crash in the news.  The opening of this essay is, “When the moon gets bored, it kills whales.  Blue whales and fin whales and humpback, sperm and orca whales: centrifugal forces don’t discriminate.  With a hushed retreat, the moon pulls waters out from under fins and flippers, oscillating them backward and forward before they slip outward.  At nighttime, the moon watches its work.  Silver light traces the strips of lingering water, the jittery crabs, the lumps of tangled seaweed” (181).

Let me just say, I don’t want to look in the eyes of a whale who has been beached by the allure of the moon and watch its jaw lay open in a sandy death.  I do wonder why the death of a human this way doesn’t affect my soul as much as the death of a whale this way.  Maybe it’s that I can’t imagine this happening to a human, or it’s that the idea of animal deaths, creatures that can’t defend themselves against human stain, or now I suppose the laws of the universe, are much more sobering because who knows what they think, if they feel pain more intensely than humans, if they mourn their lost loves.  It’s too much mystery for my small mind to comprehend in bed at this moment with a tea bag and an ice pack.

I want everyone to read this book, not so that in her death, Keegan can know the fame she should have attained in this life, but because I’m so jealous of her writing, her thought-provoking themes and messages, that I need other people to feel that burning need of wanting to do that too, wanting to write like her.  I think it’s safe to say that that’s what Keegan would have wanted, people to go out and create something that will live in competition with her college creations.  To be inspired, one must inspire others.

This book comes out April 11th, 2014.  I DARE YOU to buy it.

All The Reasons That Harry Potter Should Have Died

There have been plenty of characters in my reading life that I would have been happy to see go, not because they’re abusive, violent, or just downright sucky, but because life isn’t fair. I think it’s been long enough past the last book in the Harry Potter series for me to post this, for everyone who’s still waiting to read that one – you’re painfully slow, and for everyone who isn’t over what happened – what was there to get over, every single main character (pretty much) lived.

Beatrix LeStrange

Why didn’t Voldemort kill off Harry Potter?  While I’m a little bias, because I’ve been Team Voldemort since book 4, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and I quit reading Harry Potter around Book 4 originally because he stopped growing with me, I still think in a world of fairness and compromise, Harry and Voldemort should have both died.  What was that two page afterword where Harry Potter is a middle aged man with 2.5 kids, a yard rounded with white picket fence posts and the lingering redness of a lightening scar a little closer to the left side of his head than the right.  I’m also quite partial to Beatrix LeStrange since one of my favorite actresses plays her in the movie, my mother is the kinder and more beautiful of the Bea’s and thus her alter ego, Beatrice, and she’s just plain awesome.

Voldy and Harry @ Link Random

Let me cover the growing with me part first.  I was the same age as Harry when this book series came out.  We were moving along quite nicely, him and I, he with his lost parents and mine blazing in full glory with their tonsils rattling up the stairs when I wouldn’t clean my room, or I blasted my music too loud, or that year I spent trying to sleep on a back-breaking futon because I thought having a couch was “cooler” than having an actual bed.  This was around the time electric yellow was my main color pallet, a true child of the 80s.  He was being sorted, I was being kicked out of the middle school lunch table.  He had public enemy number one, Draco Malfoy, I had an evil cat that liked no one.  Things were comparable between the two of us.  All of a sudden, Goblet of Fire, and BAM, Harry stays the same age.  I know he’s magical and all, and somehow his rock hard head protected him from untimely death, but there was nothing strange about aging in Harry Potter.

Reason # 2.  Unlike a five paragraph essay, I will be outlining more than three reasons and I will choose the comments section as a form of rebuttal.  Afterwards are stupid.  In general, if I wanted to read an afterward, I would expect you to publish another book.  Do not give me four pages on how the characters lived happily ever after.  Very rare is the afterward section horrifying.  They usually glorify some theme of the book after the reader has already reached some plausible ending for themselves, which deems them overall pointless.   A synonym for “afterword” is epilogue.  In similar fashion, both of these are never long enough to be a story on their own, thus, they are a form of writing that hasn’t yet been discovered and should stay buried deep in their time capsule for another generation of anxious youth to dig up.


Reason # 3. Dobby had to die, why didn’t Harry.  I think most of us can agree that Dobby is one of the best characters in the Harry Potter series.  Regardless if my best friend named her dog Dobby, I would still love Dobby with more passion than any other character other than Luna (or Moaning Myrtle).  Someone has to stick up for the ghost that is stuck in the toilets.  If you are going to come at me and say your favorite character is Hermoine than you need to reevaluate your own depths).  However, Dobby, the house elf form of Harry.  Dobby is a Malfoy elf who was treated cruelly because that family practiced dark magic and box-dyed hair.  He also unfortunately abuses himself by ironing his hands and ramming his head into a lamp.  Like Harry, he had a rough upbringing and relatively no shame.  While all the other house elves are buried in grief due to their lack of work, Dobby is just a happy go lucky elf.  If he sold cookies, I would most definitely be buying them.  If this character that was mostly good, outspoken (and quiet), sneaky, and the closest character to Harry if it weren’t for Ron, has to die after all of his turmoil, why does Harry get to live.  OFF WITH HIS HEAD.

Okay, okay, that was a little harsh.

Image @ Miss Walker Talks

Reason # 4.  If JK Rowling can’t write a truly, and openly homosexual headmaster into Dumbledore, why does she get to write a boy who can beat all odds. The most pointless thing this woman ever said in an interview, and believe me, I think she’s more than awesome, was that Dumbledore is gay.  If you have to explain what you’re doing in a children’s book, then you’re not actually doing it.  (See Reason #2. – Afterwards as long explanations of what you just did in a book with an already solid ending).

After Potter: Minerva McGonagall became headmistress of Hogwarts @ vizen.deviantart.com

Reason # 5. Harry had this ridiculous notion of justice.  Everything was just, everything must be nice, people must act politely to one another, and sneaking around is not a form of lying, but a form of truth-seeking.  He wasn’t even smart, he was lucky and had a girl friend (who we now find out he should have ended up with – if this woman changes anymore plot details, we’re all going to take her to the gallows).  If this justice was an actual justice than the two of them, Voldemort and Harry Potter would have died together.  You can’t take the truly evil villain out of the world without knocking out the truly good character too and making the world fight out what it’s going to be.  If you want to have a balance for six books, you have to continue that balance through book seven.  And let’s be really honest here, wizarding school didn’t really teach them anything other than the things they were learning by discovering the secret twists of Hogwarts.  How many of these people actually listened in class other than Hermoine.  Even then, she was that hated student who reminded the teacher that they have homework to turn in.

Image @ We Know Memes

Reason # 6. The “children’s book” argument.  How many children actually read this book. Hands? At what age did you pick up the Harry Potter book?  Other than the deeply and fanatical religious that didn’t allow their children to even touch that dreadful witchcraft, how many people read these as children.  And even if they did, by the end of the series, were they still children? Doubtful.  Kill him off.

Reason # 7. Emotional Quality.  On a scale of 1 to 10, this book would have been 17 times more emotional if Harry had died.  Fans everywhere would have a good cry in their beds, write angry fan mail to JK Rowling and wait in their invisibility cloaks and non-matching scarves for the movie to come out.  We all still would have gone to the theme park.  All of those people on tumblr would have written their own, MUCH BETTER, fake epilogues and Ron and Hermoine would have become the new Potter power couple.  Undoubtedly, they would go on to remember Harry and name their first born child HP Jr.

Reason # 8.  This reason I’m not quite sure I believe in, but…. Neville could have risen beyond his hopelessness and killed Voldemort at the end.  He and Harry did have some strange connections throughout the series.

Buzz Feed has other ideas of what happened after the end of Harry Potter as well, if anyone, you know, wants a look see.


Do you agree that Harry Potter should have died?  Which other changes would you make to the book?  Feel free to make as many as you want because JK Rowling just keeps saying things in interviews that totally throw every fan out there off their handle.  You can have opinions too, even if everyone hates you for them.

If I haven’t convinced you enough, Lord Voldemort can on Twitter:

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I Could Fall In Love With The Soft Whispers Of A Man In A Murky Club

What a great book for a book club to read.

I’m not in a book club, but I’d like to be.  I can be kind of pushy though so I think I would need to be in a book club with a lot of old women.  They may dip their Lamingtons daintily into their tea, but they are fierce with the language.  I imagine joining “The Golden Girls” of book clubs.  Maybe in that case, we’d be drinking beer with orange slices.

I wasn’t actually expecting this book to be that good.  I was drawn to the cover of the woman cheeked to the shoulder of a man.  They’re holding each other in a midlife version of your seventh grade dance, except her face has such a look of contentment.  It’s the look of contentment that drew me to this in the endless NetGally catalog.

Wake by Anna Hope

Wake is a story of a five day experience in the lives of three women.  The reader is aware that at the end of the book, the women will be witness to the burying of an Unknown Soldier on Armistice Day that was shipped from France and the WWI dirt mound burials, to the decadence of London in Westminster Abbey.  The reader is packed full of information within these five days of how these women are connected through their losses of war and trauma, but also how these women are coping.

The first is a mother, Ada, who has forgotten to live her own life due to the absence of her son.  She has no clear death explanation and is finding his face in crowds, in the street, while standing in line at the butchers, and most importantly in the round mouths of shell shocked soldiers.  Hettie is a dancer-for-hire at the local dance hall and like most women at one point or another, falls in love with a soft whisper of a man in a murky club.  Evelyn cannot leave her bed in the morning without seeing the lack of creases in the side next to hers where her boyfriend, Frasier, should be.  Her story is less about Frasier and more about her relationship with her brother, Ed, who was a Captain in the military during WWI, but she also works at an office where discharged and battle-worn, battle-tired, battle-misshapen soldiers are sent to ask for money while they peddle household goods on the street.

A girl play with her doll near the equipment left by some soldiers during World War I. @ Tumblr (wish I could really cite this one).

One of my favorite daydreams is about a Civil War woman leaning on her balcony with a letter clutched to her chest and the wind sifting her dried hair which is in a bun and disheveled.  She is waiting for something, but I always wake up from the reverie before that something arrives.  Sometimes she starts to sweat.  Sometimes she spends five minutes overworking her sleeves because they aren’t falling right on her shoulders and chest.  Occasionally, her eyes are closed and her face is fish eyed by the purr of sunset glaze.  I think one of the most interesting aspects of my family background is that one of my Great Great’s died from being shot in the arm during the Civil War.  I can’t help but wonder, more often that not, when I’m tired and my eyes are pearling over into dreaminess, what the Great Great woman left at home did when the letter arrived telling her of her husband’s departure.  With today’s modern medicine, an arm injury could easily be healed over and the soldier sent back to the field, or back to the kitchen of his home where he will eat dinner with his family and heal the many horrors of war.  But, during the Civil War and wars before this, any injury could be life-threatening.

The Dance Hall in the novel is China themed so here is a 1920s Dance Hall, China image.

The short aspects of WWI that are illuminated within this story were brilliantly written.  I had a moment last night where I almost thought I would cry, but the tears just couldn’t be crushed out.  Somewhere inside, I knew that soldiers had to make questionable decisions everyday and last night talking to my boyfriend about this book I was trying to hash out an understanding of what these soldiers did to one another.  My boyfriend, clear as ever, told me, “You can’t judge someone for what they do during a war because it’s not as if they would do those things in their normal life.”  A man who sets up a firing squad for a soldier in his unit going AWOL because he is wrapped in a shake that cannot be calmed, might not shoot at someone in the street of his village.  War is something that is in its own context and this was one of those war stories that not only showed what it would be like to be the widow, or the one waiting by the mail, by the train, by the open hinges of their heart, but also the man who becomes a man he doesn’t understand in battle.

I know it’s the wrong source, but it’s so pretty @ tumblr

I was completly invested in these people, even disappointed with their behavior at times.  The story is written during the 1920s so it has that glimmer of the fine life that I imagine the 20s to be with bottles of champagne, flapper dresses, underbelly alley clubs with secret African American jazz performers, and bob haircuts.  However, it also has that good balance of misery and bitterness from those bottles and that excess.  The characters are living in a world of fancy, but are unable to interact with that world because they are so caught up in the bubble of their own life.  It reminds me of that John Watson quote (at least I believe it’s John Watson thanks to this blog), “Be kind; for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  The women in this book never meet each other, but are all connected by the men they wear on their sleeves.

Don’t fall for the slick, dandified cake eater—the unpolished gold of a real man is worth more than the gloss of a lounge lizard. I found this hilarious and if you click the picture, it links to the tumblr blog.

I’m not going to say that this was the best literary book out there and it should win awards for its originality, or poignancy, or beautiful writing, but it was a solid read.  I already recommended it to the students in my creative writing club, because it’s one of those fun beach reads.  That’s what I recommend it for, the beach, or a soft vacation where you just want to be.  This is one of those books you can sit with and drink tea because we all know London has scheduled times for that.  Live like the Londoners do, and dip some crumpets, open the pages, and sift away.


Have you read any good love and loss stories lately, or World War stories? I’m always looking for WWII stories.  What do you think about this Anti-Flirt Club?

1994-1996; 1999-2009

Image from Tumblr. Link in Image.

This book is a small nightmare.  Actually, if there was a word for something that was between a dream and a nightmare, this book would be it.  Maybe that’s what a “constellation” is because the only way we see stars is when they’re dying, but they light the world from under a blouse of black.  As my students say, this book had me “feelin’ some type of way” about the world, about war, about who they let into top MFA programs, about how little I know about world history beyond my favorite moments in history, and about how we divide people into categories and them judge them by these labels regardless of if we’ve known them outside of those labels for most of our lives.

“War in Chechnya. Grozny, Chechnya, 1995.” by Peter Turnley

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra is a book about the first and second wars in Chechnya which were just a few years ago. The wars dated from 1994 to 2009.  There’s a three year break between the two wars, but I think it’s safe to say that there was so much tension during those three years that people weren’t able to feel safe in that short amount of time.  It’s sad that I grew up exactly during these two wars and yet I have no idea that they even existed.  As a US citizen, I’ve been bred to believe that war is this: sparse acts of terrorism that force us to send bodies shaped by lighting arteries and vessels overseas.  These bodies come back raw with tattoos and memories that cause post-traumatic stress disorder.  Never would I have imagined (other than the things we hear very little about happening in sections of Africa and North Korea) that genocide and torture were still such huge aspects of our world.  We call a collection of people a humanity, I think it’s our most pure job as a species in this collection to learn about the way the world is treating the rest of us.  We should always want to learn and I think reading A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is just the start of my research into these wars that I knew nothing about before migrating, amputating, torturing, silencing, and living with the people of these small towns.

“As someone whose days were defined by the ten thousand ways a human can hurt, she needed, now and then, to remember that the nervous system didn’t exist exclusively to feel pain.” – Anthony Marra, 273

Chechen Widows @ Ummah Welfare Trust

As most war novels are, this book was tough to read.  I had to fight my way through it just to be able to finish it in three weeks.  Marra wrote the characters based on ‘courageous testimonies’ and it comes alive through their moments and years within the story.  There are so many small connections that mean everything as the book unfolds.  I can’t even tell you how many people came in a paragraph and were removed by the end of the period, yet I know what they were doing seven years after the war when they refused to tell their wife about the scar shaped like a grin on their chest.  Then, there were characters that stayed throughout the novel, even if they weren’t a part of the present.  Natasha came in and out of her role as Sonja’s sister.  This was because of her forced drug use and her need of freedom.  Sonja ran the hospital in a world where women were not given control of anything.  Akhmed who saved Havaa, the daughter of his best friend, Dokka.  Khassan, who was by far my favorite character and his son Ramzan lived across the street.  I especially connected to Khassan because he was otherworldly.  He had lived so many lives before this one and he wasn’t even living the one he was currently in.  He lived in a house of silence, with only the words on the pages as his voice.  I like to think he was the most loyal character in the book as the others were living through violence and missed connections that caused them to make mistakes and have regrets that they might not have had during peace time.

“He hasn’t heard my voice in the one year, eleven months, and three days since he began informing.  I’ve counted every day of silence.  It’s stupid, I know, but silence is the only authority I have left.” – Anthony Marra

Residents of the capital Grozny walk past the destroyed presidential palace weeks after the 1994 Russian campaign to block independence @ BBC World News

The landscape of Chechnya is so broken that it’s beautiful.  Akhmed takes up residency drawing missing family members who have been moved through refugee camps or taken by the various groups against Chechens.  He hung the missing neighbors of his village by nail to trees so that they had to be looked at by the informer of the village.  There are endless unanswered questions and most of them begin with “why.”  The answers are never neat or shining and don’t come in chronological order.  In fact, sometimes I got lost for where I was in time and space.  What happened before this and what happened after, and I think this fragmented way of telling a story really lends well to the story of war time Chechnya.

“How had civilization survived long enough to accumulate the knowledge contained in these books?” – Anthony Marra, 181

Grozny @ Military Analysis

Time is a character in this story.  He takes and gives unknowingly.  Very much like life for all of us, the characters are never aware how long they will be stuck somewhere, when they may rise from their bed, whether the hospital will be crowded with just those weak in the knees, or those with knees blown through with shrapnel.  This makes it harder to read because the reader is lost in time and space, but it also makes it more real.  Readers never want to learn everything at once, but you have to read to the very last page in order to fully understand the scope of Marra’s story.  Time is also the cause of disappearances and reappearances in this story.  Characters are biding for time, selling time to their parents, getting out just in time, hiding in the woods for alone time, left reeling from that one time they dated an oncologist, asked to find laundry at a horrible time.  The way the novel is written, going back and forth between moments, is how we look at time in the real world.  We’re often living vicariously through our own memories.  People live in this cyclical journey where they convince themselves of things today based on things that happened to them years ago, weeks ago, or going to happen for them in the future if they just make the right move two days ago.

“…from presence to memory, from solid to liquid, and the person you once touched now runs over your skin, now in sheets down your back, and you may bathe, may sink, may drown in the memory, but your fingers cannot hold it.” – Anthony Marra, 120

“…he had heard these arguments before, had seen grief warp the fabric of memory such that a mother refused to recognize her son when described by the father, and the father, usually compliant to his wife’s requests, truly believed his son’s nose was so crushed he could only breathe through his mouth.” – Anthony Marra, 137

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Any reader has to read this book under a microscope lens if they want the full detail that Marra evokes through the beauty of his words and the spirit of his characters.  I often had to read sentences many times.  There were moments when I had to shuffle through a hundred pages just to remember the last time a character was mentioned because their importance became evident later on in the story.  He has created this interconnected universe of people who are not all good and not all bad, but all are burnt and jaded by the offerings of their country and the plumage of their birth places.  Many have moved regions, not by choice.  They have seen their neighbors’ houses doused in flames with the hearts of families still inside.  Some have seen windows blown out.  Some their younger sister’s die in the mind, or die in the soul, before their body ever beings crumbling.  Akhmed’s wife, Ula, made of beauty and bedsores, spends her time in the breath of sleep, but plays such an important role in the knowing of Akhmed that she takes on the life of a wife without ever summoning the courage to step out of bed.  Her gravitational pull begs neighbors to come by and whisper stories to her lack of memory so that they can free themselves from their own burdens.  This story is one of regret and things untold, but it’s also a book of freedom.

“Perhaps our deepest love is already inscribed within us, so its object doesn’t create a new word but instead allows us to read the one written.  For their entire lives, even before they met, your mother and father held their love for you inside their hearts like an acorn holds an oak tree.” -Anthony Marra, 354

The Binding of Issac by Laurent de La Hyre.

Little Havaa holding the hand of Sonja, dreaming of being a seaanemonist in the portal of the hospital which is sometimes safe, but often not.  Where they serve heroin as a pain killer, she waits on a man that never knew the true reason why her father’s fingers sat in a sandwich bag of pooled blood like dead eels in the sea.  This beautiful little child which is the true success of the entire story.  There is a subconscious connection to Abraham or Ibrahim who almost sacrificed his own son, mentioned in most religions that at one time flooded the Middle East.  Havaa is the sacrifice that these characters have made.  She’s connected to each one whether through souvenirs, a stuffed scarecrow, a pack of mangy dogs, or the footsteps she leaves in the snow and the way she is a child leaving no stain. She is the power behind this novel.  It is to hold her up that these characters survive in the mind of the reader.

“The girl thought of her father’s missing fingers.  ‘I don’t know.’

‘How do you know what a sea anemone is, anyway?  The nearest sea is a few countries over.’

‘My father told me.  He’s an arborist.  He knows everything about trees.  I’m still a minimalist.’

‘Do you know what that is?’

Havaa nodded, expecting the question. ‘It’s a nicer way to say you have nothing.” – Anthony Marra, 45

Khassan’s letter to Havaa at the bitter end will linger with me for some time.  A man reaching into the heart of a child to evoke the memories of her lost family is nothing short of brilliant.  Imagine if we each had letters from someone who knew our deceased relatives and shared their intimacy with us through words.  I think to know what they lived, although it may have pained her childhood is the great hope of this story and the great hope for the world.  We must overcome is the novel’s message, even when some of his characters are left bursting into flicker flames, or jaded beyond human recognition.  Some people will love again and some will fight battles that we just can’t curse until we’ve traveled to Grozny and watched the windows of our village break into stalagmite charms.

“Only one entry supplied an adequate definition, and she circled it with red ink, and referred to it nightly.  Life: a constellation of vital phenomena–organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation.” – Anthony Marra, 184


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