"The Dreaming Girl" is a slim, poetic novel that lured me into its dream and didn't let me go. Set inI read the reprint published by Ellipsis Press:
"The Dreaming Girl" is a slim, poetic novel that lured me into its dream and didn't let me go. Set in Belize, its unnamed characters, the girl and the German, are drawn together against the lush backdrop of paradise and all of its unique inhabitants. The girl dreams her way through life until she meets the German, and her attraction, and consequent love for him, forces her out of the safety of her dreams. The German, with a girlfriend at home, finds himself surprised by his desire for the girl and initially resistant. The prose in "The Dreaming Girl" is spare, yet Roberta Allen knows how to set a mood with the blank spaces, and there are plenty of sharp insights to be unearthed. It's an honest, beautifully rendered metaphor for the birth and death of love. A spectacularly gorgeous read. ...more
Be prepared. Haunting, mesmerizing, "Echolocation" is a page-turner you will not be able to put down until you've reached the end. It's the story of fBe prepared. Haunting, mesmerizing, "Echolocation" is a page-turner you will not be able to put down until you've reached the end. It's the story of four women connected by family and the bleak, harsh, land of northern New York. Some have escaped, but they're all brought together again by tragedy and secrets they thought they'd left behind. There's Auntie Marie, dying of cancer, the two girls she raised, Geneva and Cheri, and Renee, Cheri's mother, who ran away to Florida not long after Cheri was born. Cheri returns to help Geneva with their aunt, and Renee shows up unexpectedly with a secret that will change them all.
The characters in "Echolocation," men and women alike, are flawed in the best, most fascinating, ways, and though they make mistakes, they are not beyond redemption, not beyond our empathy. Collins clearly loves her characters, weaknesses and all, and that authorial love elicits a similar compassion from the reader. These four women are fierce. Auntie Marie's devotion to Cheri and Geneva is as strong as her devotion to God; Cheri is determined in her self-destructive desire to deny her feelings; Geneva's strength in carrying on with life after a devastating accident is remarkable, and Renee finally discovers she's capable of caring for another more than herself.
This is a complex story, told with an assured, deft hand. Collins is a master at weaving story lines together in an artful, spare way. Every word is well-chosen. Every nuance is perfectly placed. "Echolocation" is literary fiction at its finest. ...more
After reading Anthony Doerr’s second collection, “Memory Wall,” it was easy to understand why it won the prestigious 2010 Story Prize, a prize createdAfter reading Anthony Doerr’s second collection, “Memory Wall,” it was easy to understand why it won the prestigious 2010 Story Prize, a prize created in 2004 to promote story collections. The paperback edition, released in July 2011, also includes his story, “The Deep,” which won the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award, a prize that offers the highest cash award given for a short story.
I admired all six stories in the hard cover edition, but my favorites were “Memory Wall,” “Village 113” and “Afterworld.” The title story, which won the 2010 National Magazine Award for fiction, is set in the not-too-distant future and features a wealthy South African widower beset with Alzheimer’s. Through new technology she’s able to relive memories that have been medically extracted from her brain and recorded on cartridges. As she becomes more and more reliant on the cartridges, she’s visited nightly by a mysterious man and a young helper—a memory thief—in search of one very valuable memory. Everything comes to a head and in the end, Doerr manages to infuse redemption and humanity into an otherwise bleak story.
In “Village 113” a village is about to be sacrificed for the construction of a new dam. Li Quing, a young, earnest man working for the Village Director, is put in charge of relocating everyone. His own mother, a seed keeper, is resistant. The story illustrates not only the struggle between generations, mother and son, new and old, but also the relatively new struggle between nature and technology.
“Afterworld” begins: “In a tall house in a yard of thistles eleven girls wake on the floor of eleven bedrooms.” We learn this is the house in which the protagonist Ester Gramm spent her childhood, an orphanage in Hamburg, Germany. Through the course of this beautifully rendered story, we also learn that Ester’s imperfection will ultimately save her.
So what makes Doerr’s writing special? His stories seem to have it all: imagination, suspense, metaphor, intelligence, verisimilitude and emotional depth. He uses the imagined to more aptly describe reality. But perhaps it’s his use of language which has the accuracy and vividness of poetry and his willingness to take on larger mysteries:
“Nothing lasts,” Harold would say. “For a fossil to happen is a miracle. One in fifty million. The rest of us? We disappear into the grass, into beetles, into worms. Into ribbons of light.” It‘s the rarest thing, Luvo thinks, that gets preserved, that does not get erased, broken down, transformed. –“Memory Wall” ...more
“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it,” is the epigraphic quote that begins Ann Napolitano’s new novel, “A Good Hard Look.“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it,” is the epigraphic quote that begins Ann Napolitano’s new novel, “A Good Hard Look.” Even if you haven’t read Flannery O’Connor and experienced her unflinching characterizations and situations rendered with sharp wit, you will feel as if you know her after reading this memorable portrayal. Milledgeville, Georgia, the town in which O’Connor lived, comes to life in Napolitano’s assured hands, and its characters are just as lively and flawed as you’d expect them to be.
One of the women, a pampered belle, is terrified she’ll end up a character in Flannery’s work, an unflattering replica doused with Flannery’s acerbic humor. A boy suffers from crippling anxiety except when he’s around his summer employer. Two women take care of each other’s child and the result is that a girl gets the nurturing she needs and a boy moves too quickly into adulthood. After a wealthy, married man is asked to teach Flannery to drive, they develop a clandestine friendship, and a police man lives for earning a promotion and little else. Firmly in the center are Flannery, hindered by her illness, yet dedicated to her work, her mother Regina, whose devotion to her daughter is deeply affecting, and a flock of raucous peacocks. As in O’Connor’s work, there are larger questions of religion and grace throughout. The people in “A Good Hard Look” are leaning toward self-destruction and one irreversible, calamitous misstep will bring others down like dominoes in its wake.
Napolitano is a gifted storyteller, recreating Milledgeville and its imperfect but well-meaning people, lending a sensibility that’s arguably in keeping with O’Connor’s vision, yet grounded in her own modern voice. In this vein, Napolitano offers us a look at characters on their rough and painful journey toward redemption.
O’Connor once wrote, “I am not afraid the book will be controversial, I’m afraid it will not be controversial.” I imagine Ms. O’Connor would have approved of “A Good Hard Look.”
*Review first published in the August 14th edition of The Pilot of Southern Pines ...more
Roy Kesey’s “Pacazo” is not a book to be rushed through. It is a work as fine as any classic, meant to be read again and again, slowly, with attentionRoy Kesey’s “Pacazo” is not a book to be rushed through. It is a work as fine as any classic, meant to be read again and again, slowly, with attention. It is the story of John Segovia, a North American ex-pat historian working in Piura, Peru as an English professor. He’d come to the place of his name-sake (when John was a boy, his father told him he was a descendant of Juan de Segovia) and not only fell in love with his late wife, but seemed to fall in love with the land and all of its quirks, failings and beauty. We meet John after his wife has been brutally raped and has died, disoriented and wounded, in the desert. John spends much of the novel overcoming the urge to seek violent revenge, sometimes while carrying his infant child around in a snuggly. He seems to always be plotting, seeking, and nearly always on the verge of being fired, and though he’s clearly suffering, avenging Pilar’s death seems to give him a purpose, as does diminishing the ill effects of El Nino on comfortable living.
The narration, told in the present tense and from John’s point of view, is a hybrid mix of collage and stream of consciousness. Scene blends into historical discourse which blends into dreams remembered which blend into sensory observations, sometimes within the same paragraph, sometimes within the same sentence. The result of which lends the feeling, at times, of being unmoored thus reflecting the narrator’s state of mind. The novel is laced with humor and packed with startling imagery: pacazo shit raining down on John’s head, whole mountains collapsing, and details of how a stingray’s “barbed spine will plunge in and rip out, taking its plug of flesh.” Not only rich with history and detail, the novel also offers insight on Peruvian manners and customs: for instance if someone pauses before he says yes to an invitation, he’s politely saying no.
John Segovia is a magnificent, lumbering, well-meaning character, and in “Pacazo” the country of Peru is a character just as prominent, just as magnificent. After reading this imaginative, refreshingly unique novel, I feel I know the place and its people enough to hold them both in my mind and heart, almost as if I’d been to Piura, Peru myself. ...more