I finished this not-yet-published memoir by novelist Judith Freeman two days ago, and I'm trying to put my finger on why the story of a young girl's cI finished this not-yet-published memoir by novelist Judith Freeman two days ago, and I'm trying to put my finger on why the story of a young girl's coming of age in a Mormon household in Utah during the Fifties and Sixties--a girl who just happens to have become one of our most prominent writers--has so captivated me.
Even more than the story itself, fascinating on its own merits, it was the elegant style of its storytelling, the cool, unexpectedly sophisticated tone. Unlike many a memoir of growing up in a constricting, sometimes dangerous environment, Freeman lets the evidence stand for itself. There's no hyperventilating-- did you see how bad this was? Do you see how nuts this is? Can you believe? Can you imagine?
The events--the dynamics of the huge insulated family, the father's dangerous moods, the religious practices and demands--are presented as they occurred to a girl who accepted this all as normal, and why wouldn't she? Everyone she knew was part of it.
Yet her own feelings tell her--and us--it was hardly normal. I loved that even as child, the author never overrode her own feelings--something that must have been tempting to do, to avoid the painful contradictions. And the power of those feelings slowly, naturally, began to separate her from the grip of family and religion.
Freeman's feeling for the West is exquisite. I loved her childhood on horse back, riding in the hills with her friends, her comfort in nature. We learn what it is to come from a long line of rock-jawed Mormons who pioneered for their religion, the feeling of that kind of connection with the land. Having written about Mormonism not always flatteringly in novels such as The Chinchilla Farm and Red Water--the story of a shocking episode of early Mormon history told from the points of view of four wives of Brigham Young cohort John D. Lee--I was impressed by her even-handedness in her memoir. We're given a picture of a time and a place, and of life within an all-encompassing faith--in its positive aspects as well as its strangeness.
Freeman's memoir presents both sides of such a religion: the solidarity and beauty of religious community, mutual aid, fraternal affection, association with the transcendent; but also the frustration, violence, the demands upon time that could be employed in so many other ways, and most of all, its creepy patriarchy, the virtual blackmail that male elders use to gain power of the pubescent Judith, shaming her for her sexuality and attractiveness to them, which eventually leads her to marriage at 17.
The book opens and closes on a scene of the young woman at 22, already with a baby, a soon to be divorcee working at a Mormon department store and living with her parents. She craves a certain expensive red pot, and eventually she steals the pot. At the start, we have a certain view of this poor girl--pity for her frustration, how trapped and without resources she is. But by the end, we've gained respect for her. We understand her potential and her inner resources, what she has already been through, and we know she will not molder behind that counter forever.
There are big revelations here, as the contemporary Freeman uncovers the deceits and treachery within her good Mormon family, especially toward family members who failed to conform to some ideal--including herself.
A compelling story, compulsively readable, and its authorial voice--calm, keen-eyed, gracious but only to a point--still rings inside me. An unusually elegant memoir of a young girl's unique coming of age.
This graphic novel deserves a place on the shelf alongside Fun Home and Persepolis--a novel about an architect who has never built anything, but is reThis graphic novel deserves a place on the shelf alongside Fun Home and Persepolis--a novel about an architect who has never built anything, but is reknown for his abstract constructions, who finds himself homeless, perhaps intentionally, and goes out in the world to lose himself. the story toggles between his past, his overweening egotism, his failed relationship to a woman and to his career, and his current state of vagabondage, when he finds work with a compassionate auto mechanic, and is taken into the family home. Although I'm not a graphic-novel aficionado, I loved this one--smart, quirky, intellectually stimulating as well as emotionally realistic, the illustrations giving dimension to the tale, a beautiful large format book. A great gift for a smart person who says they 'don't have time to read.' ...more
A fictional version of Fitzgerald's last years, spent in Hollywood in the late 1930's, working at the studios trying to make enough money to keep ZeldA fictional version of Fitzgerald's last years, spent in Hollywood in the late 1930's, working at the studios trying to make enough money to keep Zelda in the asylum and Scottie in school, his dreams and yearnings, his self-defeating tendencies, his aching responsibility for his mentally ill wife and late life romance with gossip columnist Sheilah Graham... my favorite locales are here, especially the Garden of Allah and the ghostly figure of Alla Nazimova, the owner of the place--what had begun as her private residence and become a kind of sanctuary/clubhouse/bungalow dorm for Eastern intellectuals and Round-Tablers such as Dorothy Parker--who has some terrific scenes in the book--Robert Benchley and bohemian actors like Bogart and his then-wife Mayo. (The Garden of Allah can be seen in the movie In a Lonely Place, coincidentally starring Bogart--and appears in the novel Chocolates for Breakfast by Pamela Moore, as well as in the terrific biography of silent screen actress Nazimova by Gavin Lambert)
But like the silent figure of Nazimova, standing on her balcony late at night as the revelry unfolded below around the pool, the Twenties haunts this novel, especially as Scott compares the wreck his and Zelda's lives have become compared with the careless beauty and manic highs of their emblematic youth. Front loaded with incredible insights and fantastic snappy dialogue, the book dissects the brutal second act of the life of one of our great writers, and yet, always maintains its affection and its bittersweet tone, rather than plunging off the deep end into real bitter tragedy... makes me want to read The Last Tycoon immediately. I've only read one Stewart O'Nan before this--The Speed Queen,--which I loved, but West of Sunset makes me want to read more of them--he has like 12. ...more
Nayomi Munaweera's spellbinding second novel concerns a young woman whose traumatic past in the Sri Lankan civil war was left behind, but its damage wNayomi Munaweera's spellbinding second novel concerns a young woman whose traumatic past in the Sri Lankan civil war was left behind, but its damage was inescapable. Man can she write--strong and lyrical and lush and biting, all at the same time. What I particularly like is Munaweera's sense of women and their destinies--in this book, she illustrates that motherhood isn't a pristine, isolated phenomenon, it's an aspect of a woman's entire experience and can't remain untouched by that. ...more
A dying woman tells tales of family and village life, closely interwoven with Latvian legends, to her super-eared son in this captivating novel of secA dying woman tells tales of family and village life, closely interwoven with Latvian legends, to her super-eared son in this captivating novel of secrets, love, and memory. The Hidden Letters of Velta B.binds the poignance of human dreams to accidents of circumstance creating the tragicomedy of unintended results that is life itself.
As in her stunning first novel, The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight, Ochsner now weaves magic from a contemporary Latvia of muddy roads and financially strapped dreamers, plotters, eccentrics, gypsies, failed dancers, chessmasters and philosophers--who, despite cell phones and bus service, could have lived in eons past--the same village feuds, the struggle with food and laundry, uncles who drink and sulky sisters-in-law.
When the new-to-town entrepreneurial cemetery owner decides to build a ‘Riviera’ on the shores of the river and the site of the old burial ground and move the bodies to a new location, the excavation becomes the perfect metaphor of buried memories in a history-haunted land. Ochsner's storytelling shimmers with the mythic behind and among the sheds and stones and scrubbed wood floors, and builds to a masterful conclusion. Due for Release: July 2016....more
A real nail-biter, the story of New World conquest by the Spanish, this time not from the victor's point of view, but from a more clear eyed one--theA real nail-biter, the story of New World conquest by the Spanish, this time not from the victor's point of view, but from a more clear eyed one--the perspective of a Moorish slave, Mustafa ibn Mohammed ibn Abdussalam al-Zamori, now known only as Estebanico. A well-told and fascinating tale of ego and horror and friendship, set against the backdrop of lands and peoples both vulnerable and terrifying. How it must feel to be in the middle between conquistador and conquered--knowing the harm you yourself are bringing. What does slavery men when the society which upholds it is ten thousand miles away, and danger brings men together as men? What a journey--based on the narrated accounts of the actual Cabeza de Vaca/Navarez expedition, from the one voice who was never included in the account. ...more
A friendship between two young girls unfolds in a poor neighborhood in 1950's Naples. We follow Lenu and Lila, the former our narrator, from early chiA friendship between two young girls unfolds in a poor neighborhood in 1950's Naples. We follow Lenu and Lila, the former our narrator, from early childhood to their mid-adolescence, perhaps young womanhood, at sixteen. For young children, the neighborhood is the world--the teacher, the mother, the father, the small village within the big city... People take on mythic qualities—the shadowy Don Achille, the villainous Solara Brothers and their the bar-pastry shop. In Ferrante’s hands, the girls--the shoemaker's daughter, Lila, and the porter's daughter, Lenu--are never 'literary children'—children as exist only in literature—but are clear-eyed, unsentimental, realists living in a half-surreal world.
The prose is singularly unpoetic, as our narrator, Lenu, has a distinctly matter-of-fact eye. For a young girl, she calls them as she sees them, and she's got an eye for power politics which justifies her Italian origins. Of necessity, we come to understand, because their world is so volatile, the girls have to be constantly weighing their needs and desires against safety, in terms of their parents just as much as other children and their families. But it took me a while to get used to the style and small-scale subject-matter of the book, which is not 'shaped' in any dramatic sense so much as woven from the dense textures of these compressed, pressurized lives.
The friendship between two girls is always surprising, the odd combination of need and admiration and envy and behind it all, the mystery of affinity—always mercurial. Lenu-- very bright, yet somewhat hesitant, a follower, and Lila--supremely gifted, challenging and extreme--and how their diverging paths never really separate them, but change the points of contact in very well-observed ways. Very much like Italian realist cinema, the eye catches everything, everything is part of the story.
The prose itself quickly disappears in the face of Ferrante's tremendous sense--or memory, as it often feels like autobiography, so precise are the minutest details--of the waywardness of life in this impoverished quarter. The sudden violence, the oppressive intimacy, the volatility of family life--a feeling that any act of human volition can cause a deadly explosion. It’s not for nothing that Vesuvius dominates the Neapolitan landscape.
We begin with the girls at six, and then, the neighborhood is a closed system. But as the girls mature, they, and especially Lenu, begin to move beyond the confines of the neighborhood. And yet, the neighborhood inevitably catches up to them, either in the form of the people, or within them, in their own toughness and hair-trigger defensiveness, as when a group of neighborhood kids at Lila's insistence, visit the fashionable center of Naples.
The book reminded me in a way of Naguib Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy. Ferrante gives us an entre into a place which is not just a foreign landscape but a new way of thinking, an entirely foreign social milieu presented not as exotica, but as complete normality--here a normality burdened with violence, vengeance, danger, and long long memories. Whose father was murdered by whose. Whose shop that used to be, and why, and why they don't have it anymore, and who was responsible. Why that woman is so crazy, and how each new piece of information changes the lens in our understanding. What should be our loyalty to the wrongs of the past, to keeping alive the festering wounds, the rancorous memories of injustice? What about codes of honor? Such an understanding of the human heart and the politics of the ghetto--you understand why the Italians were the first masters of politics. They had to be. It was dangerous not to be. All that and a story about two best friends coming to young womanhood. No doubt volume two in my future. ...more
In this small, brilliant collection, Mary Rakow strips the skin of centuries from the central narratives of Western Culture--the stories of the Bible,In this small, brilliant collection, Mary Rakow strips the skin of centuries from the central narratives of Western Culture--the stories of the Bible, both old and new Testaments. Each story is a tiny burst of genius, as Rakow exposes the raw human being in all his or her grief and yearning--Adam, Eve, Noah, Sarah, Joseph... What I like about this is that she takes religion not as refuge, or a gift, but as an arena of mistakes, passion and error, delusion.
Can you imagine the profoundly disruptive nature of an encounter with God? This is an inflammatory, Blakean book. Like Blake, this is a unique exhalation of spirit, of art. Heretical? Or merely a soul finding her own way, through her own gifts, addressing the enormous questions. What is the nature of protection, of forgiveness. This is a deeply religious impulse to wrestle with the Bible, to refuse to take things in the delivered way. Rakow is a scholar, with degrees in divinity from Boston College and Harvard Divinity school, but more than that, she's an artist of the highest caliber, having already been a Lannan Fellow with her first novel, The Memory Room. A haunting, razor sharp, poetic work.
"And he saw, given its power to blind, that the hunger for innocence in an adult can be the most dangerous hunger."
This business of miracles and divinity is not fluffy sheep and shepherds with crooks. I'd put this on the shelf with Gioconda Belli's book of Adam and Eve, Infinity in the Palm of her Hand." It's a questing book, poking into those old stories, like ancient ashes, to see what still glows red. A tour de force. Don't miss it.
The Clock of the Long Now is an attempt by a group of forward thinkers --engineers, futurists, visionaries--to create a device to stimulate people toThe Clock of the Long Now is an attempt by a group of forward thinkers --engineers, futurists, visionaries--to create a device to stimulate people to take a longer view of time. An actual physical clock that will "time" the next 10,000 years. Why ten thousand? Because 10,000 years ago, mankind invented agriculture, and with it, civilization began. The enormous leap wherein human beings planted seed for the coming year, rather than eating it. A sense that the future will come and can be cultivated and cared for, with an improved result for the human in current time.
Though the book, a series of meditations with some lectures thrown in, was written by Stewart Brand (of the Whole Earth Catalogue), it was Brian Eno who invented the concept of the Long Now. "I want to live in the Big Here and the Long Now." Not this scrap of dirt and the next three weeks, but the big here, earth, and the long now. The understanding, to quote the book, "that we are not at the beginning or the end but in the middle of history." We are neither the culmination of creation, nor the end point before the apocalypse, nor some kind of reset revolutionaries. I loved this book. I actually took notes--so I could expand my head anew.
One of the most interesting concepts occurs early on--the tension between fast and slow thinking in human culture, an accelerating problem for us. (No one who has read Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman--the Nobel prizewinning economist, will find any of this surprising.) Fast thinking innovates, slow thinking consolidates. Fast thinking is clever, slow thinking is wise. Fast thinking breaks through like a flash of lightning, slow thinking creates deep-rooted civilizations.
I thought the book's presentation of a breakdown of human life/endeavor into six time-scales of civilization--extremely potent. Brand posits six ‘speeds’ of human endeavor, all of which operate simultaneously. The fastest stream or layer is Fashion/Art. Its ‘period’ is a season. The Now of this Now. It’s all about innovation, novelty, and this particular moment. Beneath that is the layer of Commerce, or Business. This Now is a business cycle, it’s the quarterly earnings statement.
Each layer performs a slowing function on the level above it, so the whole thing doesn’t spin out into the clear blue sky—by slowing it down (changes, ideas) at least some of the changes can reach deeper and deeper levels, where greater longevity can be established.
The layer below Commerce is Infrastructure, where we’re looking at decades to build systems of transportation, energy, water storage and delivery—to build all those roads and bridges and subways and bullet trains and so on. Commerce doesn’t have the slow enough thinking to take care of human needs, social needs and so on, that need a longer term of attention. Commerce asks, “where’s my return?” and doesn’t want to hear, “fifty years.” Science is also infrastructure, as is education, and the entire social sector.
Below Infrastructure is Governance, which support life, makes sure that the important infrastructure is in place, which can think of the good of nations, and what needs to be done to insure the well being of the nation for centuries to come. It provides (should provide), the stability upon which the faster layers above it can do their jobs. (This is where we need to think seriously about people who want to run Governance the way they’ve successfully run Commerce, two levels above it.)
Beneath Governance, and even slower, is Culture—marked at the pace of language and traditional religion. It marks the deep connection to the roots of civilizations. After reading this, I became more aware of the positive aspects of traditional religion and also of the cultures who are sticklers for the purity of language—the French Academy comes to mind. At what a deep level evolved language is our bedrock. The very old stories of a culture provide the stability , without which we careen dangerously like a planet knocked from its axis by a cataclysmic collision in space. Agriculture is culture. Not fashion, not commerce. And the life rituals of religion—birth, death, marriage, provide the stability Culture needs to support the levels above it. This is the LONG Now.
Then, under culture, under everything, are the vast cycles of Nature. Which supports the whole thing. It’s measured in eons, it’s the viability of Planet Earth. The slowest of all.
The book is thick with different lenses for taking the long view, and I found it profoundly optimistic—we are so apocalyptic these days, our attention fixated on the noisy, colorful top layer, we think of everything spinning out of control, faster and faster. "How can we ever keep up?"
I found it profoundly recalibrating to think in terms of the Long Now, to think about Culture as such a deep, slow layer, to muse about ten thousand years from now. Brand writes dates with an extra zero in the front, to remind himself of the ten thousand years from now. If this is only 02015, then 03500 is possible, and 07500. It encourages responsible thought about life on earth.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book so full of ideas. I'm putting it on the shelf next to my favorite book about Time, Robert Grudin’s Time and the Art of Living. ...more
IT’S HARD TO WRITE saintly characters. Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov is the least interesting of the brothers. Everybody reads the Inferno, but hoIT’S HARD TO WRITE saintly characters. Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov is the least interesting of the brothers. Everybody reads the Inferno, but how many make it to Paradise? Yet Eugene Vodolazkin, whose second novel, Laurus, won both Russia’s Big Book and Yasnaya Polyana prizes in 2013, succeeds gloriously, giving us not just goodliness but an actual saint — a fictional wonderworker in the 15th century. A scholar of medieval literature at St. Petersburg’s Pushkin House, the Institute for Russian Literature, Vodolazkin propels us headlong into the strangeness and wonders of medieval Russia.... Read the rest of my review here: https://lareviewofbooks.org/review/th......more
A glorious compendium of prints, poetry and history of the Big Sur coast, illustrated with the most incredibly beautiful woodcuts and linoleum cuts byA glorious compendium of prints, poetry and history of the Big Sur coast, illustrated with the most incredibly beautiful woodcuts and linoleum cuts by Tom Killion--the perfect match of artist and subject. The Big Sur coast is so spectacular, yet it spawns so many banal paintings and ho hum photographs. This is masterwork, which seeks a new way of seeing, a new way of using the materials to say something original about the landscape. The text, pulled together by poet Gary Snyder--includes the work of everyone from Robinson Jeffers to TS Eliot--is a book to savor forever. Lore of the Coast beginning with the native Miwoks and Esselins, through the 'horseback' era of the Californios, Richard Henry Dana, and into the bohemian era, Jeffers and London, and on up to now. Can't wait to add the Heyday book of the High Sierra and the one of Mt. Tamalpais by the same team of Tom Killion and Gary Snyder. I hear the mermaids singing, each to each… in this book, they do sing for us....more
I ADORE this book. This is not the first time I've reread it. Robert Olen Butler, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his book A Good Scent from a StrangeI ADORE this book. This is not the first time I've reread it. Robert Olen Butler, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his book A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, takes us on alyrical journey into one man's erotic consciousness--a trip I'm happy to take over and over over again. When I feel a little too savage in my own mind, a little too brutal, I read it to restore a little tenderness in my own soul. A man's internal life -- full of memories of women, women he's loved, women he's only glanced briefly on a bus but never forgotten, memories hooked and brought to consciousness by the slightest smell, touch, bend in an ear… I find it exquisite--the poetry of men and their love of women, normally wordless, but given beautiful voice by Butler. A reader here says he would have been satisfied with a single line--but what a loss that would be....more
Voice, voice, voice. What a treasure. This slim volume of nine short stories, about the battlefield of love. There's cheating. And searching. Being wiVoice, voice, voice. What a treasure. This slim volume of nine short stories, about the battlefield of love. There's cheating. And searching. Being with one you don't want. Yearning for the one you want. Watching parents struggle with their own disappointments. Several of the stories feature Yunior, a young Dominican man--sometimes boy--struggling to live up to male culture while at the same time trying to find what's true to himself--while his brother Rafa is a pure heat-seeking missile of sex. Rafa's death hangs over several of the stories. The unflinching view of the male experience, the immigrant experience, the Latino experience, opinions--correct or not--the less correct usually delivered in Dominican scented Spanish - fly like fur and as with all great writing, Junot Diaz wins it on the sentences, one surprising, perfect laugh out loud brilliant choice after another....more
Really enjoyed this. Compulsively read on a flight from Vermont--straight through. A group of essays--the first one, the prologue, a declarative overvReally enjoyed this. Compulsively read on a flight from Vermont--straight through. A group of essays--the first one, the prologue, a declarative overview of the difficult young life of a girl with addiction running through her family like an earthquake fault. What impressed me the most was the brutal unregenerate gaze here, the inability to soften, to look away, to fake up a happy ending, a sweet 'lesson.' No lesson here, no excuses, no apologies for the failures of self or of others. What is courage in memoir writing? The revelations of how it really was, and one's own part in it. It's the unwillingness to look away. Her relationship with a difficult grandmother in 'The Dollhouse' particularly complex.
Here's a bit on memory: "… These memories are, however, far from fixed. They shift with the changing tides of the water on our brains, the bubious salt of mere matter. A cold, Northeast wind, perhaps. Who can say for sure? Each remembering is different, such successive dredging more unreliable than the last. Our brains recreate (as a function of self-defense, or self-sabotage maybe) a slightly larger hand, a slightly longer hug, a steeper walk, a harder ache, a toothier smile, a smaller child…."
Such beautiful writing.. just lines like: "She falls, and the taste of gray is acrid like the dew on a familiar metal fence…"
"He looks through a window and watches the moon undress in the front yard…"