When I picked up Enemy Women, I imagined the intriguing title to be a metaphor that might describe any era, including my own, the twenty-firstWhen I picked up Enemy Women, I imagined the intriguing title to be a metaphor that might describe any era, including my own, the twenty-first century. Looking more closely at the cover, I saw a photo of a woman on a horse photographed from behind, her long black hair flying one direction while the horse, ears pricking, leaned in the other. A Native American story? A fantasy adventure? No, these “enemy women” I found out were mainly white and poor, living in the southeastern Ozarks of Missouri during the American Civil War.
I couldn't put the book down, mainly because of Adele Colley, eighteen years old, first person narrator. Adele speaks her mind, is eager to know her future. She shuns domesticity, knows she’ll likely be imprisoned by marriage, and worried it might be to the wrong man. Adele’s free spirit, her bravery, her independent, tomboy behavior and her unique dreams hooked me. I too have been entranced by the silence of early morning, “a coin to be spent very carefully.”
In the first pages, Adele’s father gives her a dun horse she names Whiskey, of mixed straw color, grey and gold with black legs, tail and mane. Whiskey is Adele’s best friend, her only companion. Her brother covets the horse and so does the Union Militia, made up of dubious characters from the Missouri waterfront who joined up "for a keg of whiskey and five dollars a month" and totally outnumber the retreating Confederate soldiers.
Adele’s mother died of the fever five years before and her brother, with his withered arm, has fled to the hills to avoid being arrested and shot (the Militia practice being to arrest Southern men “weeds in the garden of humanity” and punish anyone with Southern sympathies).
Even though the Colley’s are officially “non-partisan”, Adele (and her two little sisters) watch as her father, a justice of the peace, is arrested by the Militia. Adele’s father tells her to flee with her sisters to a distant relative. The Militia then sets their house on fire, burning everything, even food and valuables, and beat her father up before taking him away along with Whiskey, who looks back at her as he is led away.
A driving rain saves Adele, her sisters and her father’s house. She leads her sisters away, walking by graveyards where Confederate and Union soldiers are buried together. Looking to find her horse, her own journey has just begun and so has the reader's.
The author, Paulette Jiles, prefaces each chapter of Adele’s story with factual, primary source documents from the Civil War era, magnifying the power and horror of this reader's experience. For example, a few hours before being hanged in a St. Louis prison, Asa Ladd, “prisoner of war” and Confederate soldier, writes to his wife and children, “I want you to tell all my friends I have gone home to rest. I want you meet me in heaven.”
The author’s decision to not use direct quotes for her characters is also an unusual touch and stands in contrast to the meticulous, primary source quotations that precede each chapter.
Jiles’ careful, singular style of writing seduces the reader along with Adele into the hills of the Ozarks, following the flow of the rivers, the magnificent, overwhelming wilderness of the mountains where only the women and children are left.
Reading Enemy Women, I experienced every woman's grief during the American Civil War in present time, right now, not a just a subject of history in our country’s past of injustice, slavery, and wealthy “Gone with the Wind” white column mansions of the deep South. I saw familiar ghosts of "enemy" women, which could have been my ancestors in a new, compassionate light. I can thank the author for that....more
Blasphemy is a brilliant book of stories exposing the allure and cheap hypocrisy of our contemporary American culture. It’s no accident this book wasBlasphemy is a brilliant book of stories exposing the allure and cheap hypocrisy of our contemporary American culture. It’s no accident this book was written by a Native American writer.
Warning: National Book Award winner Sherman Alexie’s newest collection of short stories contains blasphemy. Each of these thirty-one stories (sixteen brand new) may include scenes, characters or language that will make you cringe. You might find something in each that is shocking, sacrilegious, irreverent, profane, or tainted. You may see these stories as an affront, making you feel small and downright disgusted with your unavoidably slick, techno-babbling American life. Like the homeless you pass on the street, you probably don’t want to be close to them for long.
Varying from two pages in “Fame” to 58 pages in “Search Engine”, this disparity in length is sort of shocking too, an underhanded insult to the normal, professional (acceptable) book look. But that’s a minor flaw compared to the virulent content. For example, in “Fame”, a video goes viral and is seen by three million people. The video shows a lion in the zoo trying to eat a small girl through observation glass. The girl’s mother is laughing hysterically as she takes the video and so is the crowd at the zoo as well as three million people online.
The unnamed narrator, however, isn’t laughing. He is disgusted as he watches the mother take the video, feeling the indecency the lion feels, this King of the Beasts trapped behind observation glass, reduced to few-seconds-long media. The narrator has come to the zoo to impress his new girlfriend who works part-time (aptly at the primate section) making and selling those crude, throwaway balloon animals no one with any taste would ever buy. These slippery cartoon balloon animals, bad jokes even as toys, are signposts of corruption everywhere, like the video, the lion, and the mother.
I wonder what the little girl is feeling while her mother is laughing?
So what happens to our narrator and his girlfriend? It’s only their third date and he’s eager to have his way with her — but I won’t be a spoiler and reveal what happens. Let’s just say he sees the lion in himself. “I wasn’t angry. I was lonely. I was bored. And I half-remembered a time when I had been feared.”
Of course I felt close to the narrator and the lion. Like many of the other characters in Blasphemy, they could have been my relatives, though not necessarily ones I’d want to visit. And I'm not Native American.
There’s way too much ugly truth in these stories, too much humanity that’s been stamped on, disregarded, contaminated, violated by everyone including, and especially, by the characters themselves.
The painful irony, the heart of the blasphemy, lies in a pathetic hope that remains despite all. As the narrator says at the end of “Fame”, “If somebody had filmed me and posted it online then I would have become that guy with the teeth. I would have become a star.”
Isn't that what we all want—to be a star? You have to read it. ...more
Ever since I read Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt last February, I've become fascinated with the mysterious, brilliant William Shakespeare,Ever since I read Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt last February, I've become fascinated with the mysterious, brilliant William Shakespeare, aka “Will”, and impressed by how masterfully Greenblatt lays out his world—and ours too. I couldn’t put the book down. The thing is, I was learning so much about myself, how to be a writer in my world.
You might think that a book about the most famous, most overwhelmingly popular writer in the English language would be trite, repetitious or full of pompous academic abstractions, especially if you wrote your master’s thesis on “Murder and Honor in Hamlet and Othello” like I did. But you’d be wrong. With impressive credentials and superior narrative ability, Greenblatt unearths and illuminates Shakespeare in the Elizabethan world even though facts about Shakespeare’s life are, according to the author, ''abundant but thin.'' He writes:
'We know all about the property Shakespeare bought and sold, the taxes he paid, the theatrical companies he worked for. We have his baptismal record, his marriage license and his last will and testament. But what he felt in his heart, what dreams he nurtured, what beliefs he himself had.....” No, we don't know.
I was hooked by the time Greenblatt sets up Will, at 18, marrying Anne Hathaway, age 26, in Stratford six months before their first child was born. What, if anything, did it mean that soon after--the exact date is vague like so much else--Will left it all to spend the rest of his life in rented rooms in London, two days ride away? Did he love her? Was he forced to marry her? Did he marry her for her money? Did she love him (How could she not?) Greenblatt speculates how Shakespeare may have been wanted for deer poaching, a 17th century theory. Was Shakespeare down and out, stealing venison and rabbits for food? With many credible details, Greenblatt explores and then discards this possibility with great authority, while being cautious about claiming any other hypotheses as certain either.
You're left with speculations. Maybe Shakespeare left Stratford for the same reason I left Pittsburgh--to seek my fortune in the big world.
The artistic, political and religious intrigue is both detailed and gruesome, with beheadings at the bequest of Queen Elizabeth as common as parking tickets today. The victims, many of whom were Roman Catholics, are believable and very sympathetic. Greenblatt explores the possibility that Shakespeare may have been a Catholic too. That could explain the secrecy around his life. After all, it was dangerous to be Catholic in Elizabethan England.
Then there’s the mystery of the love sonnets, seemingly addressed to a man--but who? And did Shakespeare actually write the sonnets--or the plays for that matter--or was he a fraud as the feature movie, Anonymous (2011), claims? Ah, but Greenblatt shows us how we moderns no longer understand the game of sonnet-making, so popular in Shakespeare’s world, where the trick was to be naked while revealing nothing, and tell revealing secrets to only a few chosen intimates.
Most of all, what really kept me reading Will in the World was how I identify with Will by following Stephen Greenblatt’s astute analysis of the growing brilliance of his characters, so modern in their angst, confusion and daunting dreams. Yes, Greenblatt has convinced me of this ''an amazing success story,'' of a bright young man from the provinces who took on the hard, yet exciting game of writing great plays for a popular audience in a tumultuous, changing exploding world.
I might have known that Shakespeare too had the problems I have as a writer: daunting competition from establishment writers (e.g., Marlowe), lack of funds, absence of entitlement, spotty, non-existent publication, pressing family responsibilities, in fact, “an upstart crow” in the literary world as the contemporary playwright Robert Greene called him. But that’s beside the point as Will in the world pressed on—and won. Not just for his time but for any time.
This coming of age Young Adult novel, Ratting on Russo by Alan Venable, is set in Pittsburgh, PA in the 1950s. Ratting on Russo is told from the pointThis coming of age Young Adult novel, Ratting on Russo by Alan Venable, is set in Pittsburgh, PA in the 1950s. Ratting on Russo is told from the point of view of 8th grader Martin and centers on his new and different friend, Russo. Martin's a sensitive boy, a nice boy, innocent and yet discerning, who wants to please even his parents and more to the point, a girl he has a crush on but wouldn't dare approach, given the prohibition of having anything to do with a 6th grader.
If you, like me, are an expatriate of the now defunct Steel City, you'll appreciate the careful attention Venable gives to the place itself. Don't we all miss our old hometown in some way? Ratting on Russo gives me a chance to reminisce by taking me through the old neighborhoods under those huge trees, driving up the steep hills or down to the rivers. I must have raked those same piles of leaves. I must have overheard my parents discussing me and my long abandoned and (yes, even) deceased friends; were we really good for each other?
Martin struggles with friends as I did, though his way seems more direct, kind of charming. He sees there's more to life than the rut of junior high kids, or avoiding the class bullies, or answering to his mother always correcting his grammar. His whole world explodes when she (as naive in a different way than her son) encourages him to make friends with the new outsider Russo.
Russo is the can-do kid, a loner who introduces Martin to the complicated, crazy-making seductive adult world. From Russo, Martin learns problem-solving skills that any boy of twelve would need: like how to enact revenge on school bullies, how to play the accordion and win smart, sweet girls like Margaret and Nikki. Even negotiate with adults about his first paying job raking leaves (and how to enact revenge when the guy takes advantage of them).
In Ratting on Russo, the reader can feel the excitement Russo's escapades engender in Martin, the good boy. Martin has his own mind though and follows Russo into temptation reluctantly. Yet when they hang out, talking that quirky distinctive Pittsburgh dialect I remember, it's easy to recreate that moment of growing up Martin feels as he comes to terms with the fact Russo knows more, seeming to cope in the adult world in ways far beyond Martin’s comprehension.
But Russo's more than a fun-to-be-with troublemaker he learns; Russo's loyal to his only friend. More loyal than Martin could have imagined. Maybe that's Pittsburgh too? ...more