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 attention...moreRoy 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. (less)
“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....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.” 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 (less)
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 f...moreBe 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. (less)
This is the best kind of book in that I felt I was invited into each of these character's minds and hearts. The people in these stories are brave, mes...moreThis is the best kind of book in that I felt I was invited into each of these character's minds and hearts. The people in these stories are brave, messed-up, loving, self-aware, forgiving, and honest even when they're being dishonest. One of the best collections I've read--ever. (less)
Once in a while I read a book that brings me to my figurative knees. This is one of those books. Felicia writes of growing up in the shadow of a fierc...moreOnce in a while I read a book that brings me to my figurative knees. This is one of those books. Felicia writes of growing up in the shadow of a fiercely protective (at times), careless (at other times), seductive, larger-than life, drug-addicted mother who disappeared from her life when Felicia graduated from college. Amazingly, she survived the dangerous situations in which her mother placed her, but not unscathed. Like the generational cycles that occur in many families, Felicia found herself battling the same alcohol and cocaine addictions her mother had. Only, Felicia's story, her life, is much, much different.
"You accepted these things as fact: Normal people shot heroin in their arms, in the spaces between their toes, in their neck. This was normal. This was normal. You kept repeating that to yourself as you played house with Big Michelle, the blond-haired plastic doll with the blue eyes that fell out, the doll that towered over you. When the meth addicts dropped by, raking their arms because of the itch, you colored in the lines of your coloring books with crayons that has exotic names like honeydew and cobalt."
and then later:
"Here on your desk is the stack of business cards that read Felicia C. Sullivan, Project Manager. This is 2001 and you work in a restaurant at a venture capital-backed dot-com. The cards' presence somehow comforts you. Why can't you stop shaking? You know logically that your body is here, but you can't feel it--your lips are numb, limbs slack, toes smothered in these crocodile shoes. And when you talk about milestones, forecasts, and budgets, you get your first nosebleed. Your boss winces and hands you his clean napkin and says, wipe here, wipe there."
But Felicia emerges the woman she was meant to be, the woman she always was: a strong, honest, vibrant, beautiful soul, and sober. I can't help thinking that Gus, "the man who is not my father but whom over the last fifteen years I've come to call my father," helped to save her life.
Beautifully written, with unflinching honesty, "The Sky Isn't Visible From Here" is a work of the highest art. A brave story, it underscores how a life can be devastating and hopeful in equal measures. Though it brought me to tears in several places, they were tears of admiration, admiration for the fine, strong spirit of the woman who wrote it.(less)