I loved these essays and have taught several of them to students in my personal essay classes. "Difference Maker" is particularly moving and wide openI loved these essays and have taught several of them to students in my personal essay classes. "Difference Maker" is particularly moving and wide open with personal exploration and a willingness to accept that we cannot understand everything we yearn for or eschew. In "The Joni Mitchell Problem," Daum does a nice riff on the difference between "letting it all hang out" and "putting yourself out there." With the essay, "Honorary Dyke," I admired her associative nature, willing to let herself wander down some spur trails and see where the topic took her. Love the rants on the craziness of the wedding industrial complex and the trappings of modern femininity--painted toenails, stilettos, yogurt commercials, pink guns in the toy aisles... My students were mixed on their reception. Some felt the essay was cultural tourism or appropriation, others felt she got the lexicon completely wrong. I think that if the essay did have a weakness, she didn't explore her own prejudices and assumptions vis a vis lesbian culture thoroughly enough. She didn't call herself to the carpet. However, I laughed out loud and LOVED the rant on the Title IV catalog. ...more
These are beautiful and complex stories. I listened to them while taking long walks and my plan is to go buy the book to read them again. The last stoThese are beautiful and complex stories. I listened to them while taking long walks and my plan is to go buy the book to read them again. The last story, particularly the last line of the last story....will stay with you. ...more
When I began this book, and when I heard Ta-Nehisi Coates speaking on Fresh Air, I thought to myself, man, he is angry. By the time I finished the booWhen I began this book, and when I heard Ta-Nehisi Coates speaking on Fresh Air, I thought to myself, man, he is angry. By the time I finished the book I thought, why the hell aren't we all angry, furious. This is a beautiful mediation on the black body, on how our society undervalues and places our people in peril. Everyone should read this book. ...more
The perfect novel for a long road trip, we loved listening to this book. My husband and I often laughed and were completely caught up in the lives ofThe perfect novel for a long road trip, we loved listening to this book. My husband and I often laughed and were completely caught up in the lives of the characters. Straub is spot on in her rendering of late teen ennui. ...more
This is a sweet and melancholy mediation on childhood, misunderstandings, and family. Apparently Mr. Kaplan spent a lot of time in front of the TV asThis is a sweet and melancholy mediation on childhood, misunderstandings, and family. Apparently Mr. Kaplan spent a lot of time in front of the TV as a child. He talks about his family as being similar to The Munsters, the collection of monsters and creatures with the very normal and pretty daughter, Marilyn. He says of Marilyn: "She didn't seem to resent them or be repulsed by them. I think this struck a chord with kids because maybe we all felt like Marilyn. I know I did. And we struggled not to resent our families or be repulsed by them. Maybe we all ask ourselves, how did I get put here with these people who aren't really people?"
It's a sweet and swift read with great drawings throughout. ...more
I listened to this book as read by Ms. O'Brien. Parts are mesmerizing. She has a beautiful eye for detail and an incredible ability for the lyric descI listened to this book as read by Ms. O'Brien. Parts are mesmerizing. She has a beautiful eye for detail and an incredible ability for the lyric description of landscape. Her life was/is full of loss and bright moments, portrayed equally with her gimlet eye. I did grow tired of her fame and famous friends. At first reading about Paul McCartney playing guitar to her boys was sweet and charming, but the parade of celebrities grew tiresome. I was much more interested in Ms. O'Brien's interior musings, her bravado and insecurities. ...more
Edna O’Brien’s new novel, “The Little Red Chairs,” her first in 10 years, is a tour de force on the atrocities we humans commit and fall prey to, as wEdna O’Brien’s new novel, “The Little Red Chairs,” her first in 10 years, is a tour de force on the atrocities we humans commit and fall prey to, as well as an exploration of suffering and the curative power of story. The novel ranges from provincial Ireland to the international stage of The Hague, from deeply private experiences to the universal yearnings for community, love, children and forgiveness. The emotional pendulum also swings wide in “The Little Red Chairs.” Some scenes are lacerating, with rats that “sup” on spilled blood, while others rise off the page with lyric descriptions of the landscape, with its “sad debris of the night, plastic bottles, condoms, cigarette butts, damp wads of newspaper” and quotidian details of life. Of dog walkers calling out to one another in the night, she says they are “dangling their pooh bags, which were of a ruby color, dangling them with an insouciance, as if they were evening bags.” The interface of fear and familiarity captivates the reader, making this book hard to set aside.
Like many dark tales, the novel begins with a stranger’s nighttime arrival in a tiny village. Tall and bearded, with his white hair swept up in a topknot (perhaps an early man bun), the stranger immediately inspires suspicion and curiosity in the villagers who “crave scandal as if it were nectar.” Dr. Vladimir Dragan, or Vuk, as the stranger calls himself, decides to remain in Cloonoila, to hang a shingle as a healing practitioner, and is soon vetted by a nun who offers herself up for a hot rock massage. When she feels something warm in her hand, she jumps, until she realizes it’s a stone and meets “its grasp as she would that of a trusted friend.” Yes, the scene is funny, but it is also chilling for we feel the town becoming hypnotized by Vuk (meaning wolf), and we recognize his predatory nature, trailing as he does a miasma of danger.
Indeed, Vuk, a war criminal on the lam, is patterned after the infamous “Butcher of Bosnia,” a man responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands during the siege of Sarajevo. He has chosen Cloonoila because he recognizes its “primal innocence.” Soon Fidelma, the town beauty, who has been suffocating in her childless marriage, finds herself mesmerized by Vuk. She begs him for a child. The consequences of that action are horrifying and set the rest of the novel in motion. What follows is Fidelma’s degradation and desperation as she embarks on a journey from Ireland to London to join the masses of refugees trying to make lives in new cities after being forced to leave behind their homes, their families, everything they’ve known. It’s through her travels and travails that we become intimate with human resilience. Fidelma cleans office buildings in the night, tends to retired greyhounds in the countryside and attends war crimes tribunals in The Hague.
O’Brien makes us intimate with the stories we usually read in the news with our Starbucks. She places us in a hotel kitchen with immigrant workers who share their histories during a cigarette break, at a refugee support group in London, and at The Hague alongside suffering mothers and other victims. The harrowing stories of female circumcision, bombs exploding in markets, the search for a single bone from a dead child, are a lament of loss. And yet, in the telling, the victims reclaim their humanity, their identities. Varya, a survivor of the siege of Sarajevo, runs the support group, and of the participants she says, “In telling their stories, some say the exact opposite of what they feel, some lie, some clam up, but by just being there, she believes that gradually some small shift may happen inside, that they may feel a little bit less alone.” And that is one of the many beauties of this novel, the juxtaposition of loss and the surprise of consolation.
“The Little Red Chairs” is named in homage to an art installation marking the siege of Sarajevo, consisting of 11,541 chairs laid out in rows along Sarajevo High Street. Six hundred and forty-three small chairs were included to mark the children killed.
In her 2013 memoir, “A Country Girl,” O’Brien recounts that during her Hollywood years, Marlon Brando once pushed her on a swing, asking her, “Are you a great writer?” After a moment’s thought, O’Brien answers, “I intend to be.” I’m here to say that she is indeed a great writer....more
Tessa Hadley writes the most beautiful sentences. Her voice is clear and her vision of what it is to be human, the grace and grumpiness, is so generouTessa Hadley writes the most beautiful sentences. Her voice is clear and her vision of what it is to be human, the grace and grumpiness, is so generous. I love her work. ...more