A lovely, empathetic novel set in Depression-era Oklahoma and California. With a gently lyrical style, Karen Halvorsen Schreck takes us along the jourA lovely, empathetic novel set in Depression-era Oklahoma and California. With a gently lyrical style, Karen Halvorsen Schreck takes us along the journey of healing, redemption, and self-discovery of a young widow, Ruth, as she finds her way in an America coated with dust and fear.
Ruth makes her way to a university in southern California, her new life provided for by the grace of a full scholarship at a time when higher education for women usually a gateway into marriage. For Ruth, it is a gateway to the reality that others may face difficulties at least as devastating as her own grief. Schreck opens her character and her readers to the terrible history of repatriation of Mexican nationals and in this story, the very present reality of our current political culture is thrown into heartrending relief. We project the same irrational fear and anger against "the other" today as Ruth's America did eighty years ago.
A delightful, illuminating read. My thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of Broken Ground for review. ...more
This first novel by short-story author, essayist and publisher Midge Raymond chills with deftly foreshadowed doom and warms with slow-burning passion.This first novel by short-story author, essayist and publisher Midge Raymond chills with deftly foreshadowed doom and warms with slow-burning passion.
Deb Gardner, a biologist who prefers polar isolation and penguins to warmer climes and the company of humans, spends part of the year at a research station in Antarctica, studying effects of climate change and other human intrusions on penguin habitat. Ironically, it is ecotourism that affords her the opportunity to study her beloved flightless fowl. Raymond uses Deb's ethical conundrum to educate the reader on the pressure this amateur exploration of the South Pole puts on such a vulnerable ecosystem. We're killing it with love.
The love story between Deb and Keller Sullivan, a lawyer-turned-nature guide, is at the heart of the novel and propels the plot toward its cinematic catastrophe. The chapters career back and forth between the recent past and and the hours before an impending disaster; the tension remains high as we race to learn the fate of a sinking cruise ship.
The author captures the singular, desolate and desperate beauty of Antarctica with beautiful prose, mirroring the fragile and unpredictable nature of human relationships. My Last Continent is a gorgeous portrait of Antarctica, a deeply-moving cautionary tale of human invasion in this most fragile and hostile of environments; a love story and a disaster-drama written with intelligence, compassion, and skill.
Highly recommended and impossible to put down. ...more
Edna O'Brien's novels were once censored in her native Ireland. The graphic nature of her subject matter—the violent, shameful, behind-closed-doors reEdna O'Brien's novels were once censored in her native Ireland. The graphic nature of her subject matter—the violent, shameful, behind-closed-doors reality of Irish rural and religious life—have shocked and scandalized since her fiction debut, The Country Girls in 1960. Now eighty-five, she continues to challenge our notions of innocence and guilt, of sex and desire, of politics and prose. The Little Red Chairs, her first novel in ten years, is classic O'Brien: terrible and beautiful, unsentimental and transcendent.
There has always been something otherworldly, a little faerie tale-ish, about O'Brien's writing—a blend of lilting lyricism and fabulist style—that often distances the reader from the immediacy of the tragic worlds she portrays, like a layer of moss softening the blows from the hammerhead of her pen. In this instance she places us, as she often does, in the petty intimacy of an Irish village, a sodden, lush, secret place that both shelters and punishes its inhabitants with religion and tradition and family.
Fidelma is married to a man more than twenty years her senior and, as her husband becomes an old man in the grips of early dementia, she is choked by regret and loneliness. Longing for both children and passion, Fidelma wanders alone through the green fields and forests outside the western Ireland village of Cloonoila, fighting her body's yearnings. Thus, she is an easy mark for the town's newest resident, the mysterious Vladimir Dragan, a self-proclaimed healer and sex therapist. Vlad, with his long white hair, his black cloak and white gloves, and thick, seductive accent, seems a Gothic caricature. Fidelma is not the only Cloonoila resident to be caught in Dr. Dragan's spell: several nearly-comedic encounters, including the massage given to Sister Bonaventure, elevate Vlad to near-mystical regard by the villagers.
Then Fidelma becomes pregnant and the novel's murky, dreamy undertone takes a desperate, wretched turn toward verisimilitude. Let this serve as a trigger warning for those who cannot read graphic violence, particularly against women (a warning which should accompany nearly any O'Brien novel). Doctor Vlad is in fact a Serbian warlord known as “the beast of Bosnia,” accused of torture and genocide against Bosnian Croats and Muslims. The novel leaves the seemingly safe surrounds of rural Ireland and crash-lands in London, where Fidelma serves as a window into the world of exploited migrant workers. We travel with her into the Kent countryside, in search of refuge and redemption, and finally to The Hague and a war crimes tribunal, in search of justice.
Based on the hunt for the leader of the Serb Republic in Bosnia, Radovan Karadzic, who was captured in 2008 after thirteen years in hiding, The Little Red Chairs—like Lidia Yuknavitch's 2015 The Small Backs of Children—shows us the ancillary victims of war, the lives destroyed beyond the battlefields. She also explores themes of guilt and complicity, our unwitting acceptance of others' lies because we are so desperate to ignore our own truths. O'Brien smashes once again this notion of a charming Ireland knitted together by legend and rain with a hammer of reality ripped from headlines. Fidelma—at first a hapless victim—becomes a witness to others' suffering, as O'Brien herself has often done as a writer, finding redemption and courage in the raw humanity around her.
Gorgeously written, in bold prose that breaks all rules of conventional fiction writing, O'Brien's seventeenth novel shows a writer, now in her ninth decade, at her most fierce and powerful. I am in awe. ...more