Tag Archives: LiteraryFiction

Arcadia by Lauren Groff

1401340873.01._SX140_SY224_SCLZZZZZZZ_Arcadia by Lauren Groff

Hyperion, New York, 2012

Borrowed from my library.  I’ve had this one on my TBR list for a while. I must admit I was a bit nervous about reading it.  The time and place could part of my personal story and, having found Groff’s The Monster of Templeton a bit unbalanced, I wasn’t sure how she would portray this slice of American history.  I needn’t have worried.

Arcadia is Ridley Sorrel Stone’s story.  Known as Bit, born in a van traveling with a caravan of trucks, buses and VWs searching for paradise, this child grows up in a commune known as Arcadia.  Acreage filled with fields and forest and a run-down mansion in upstate New York, lead by musician/guru Handy and overflowing with mid-wives, farmers, bakers and those lost to mind-bending drugs, Arcadia grows and changes along with Bit and his parents, Hannah and Abe.

When Bit closes his eyes, he can see what Abe can see,how Arcadia spreads below him: the garden where the other children push corn, bean seeds into the rows,the Pond. The fresh plowed corduroy fields, workers like burdocks stuck to them.  Amos the Amish’s red barn, tiny in the distance.  The roll of the forest tucked up under the hills.  And whatever is beyond: cities of glass, of steel.  from page 80.

This could have been over the top, but Groff handles it gently, in a kind and balanced way.  Her writing is vivid, both in depicting Arcadia, the falling-down and rebuilt mansion, and in telling the stories of the people who live there .  In reality, not all people living on communes were dysfunctional, some where completely committed to building a new way of living and being.  As Bit grows up and ventures into the “real” world he takes the lessons learned from his parents, his “extended” family and Arcadia with him.

I enjoyed Arcadia, it will be on my Best of 2013 list, and I look forward to reading more from Lauren Groff.  In skimming some comments about this novel on GoodReads, I saw several references to “dirty hippies”.  Can I say that I find this term highly offensive?  Want to talk about it?

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Filed under America, Books, Historical Fiction, LiteraryFiction, Thoughts

Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart

Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart

McClelland & Stewart Ltd., Toronto, On, 2010

From my to-be-read pile.  Long-listed for the 2010 Giller Prize.

I first discovered Jane Urquhart by accident when I picked up “Away” off my library shelves.  I have followed her work ever since.

Sanctuary Line is the story of an Ontario farming family with roots in Ireland.  Liz Crane has returned to the family farm, works measuring the wings of Monarch Butterflies and regularly visits her mother at a place called The Golden Field and finds memories rising every time she picks up an object or looks out a window.

Haunted by the death of her cousin Mandy, Liz finds herself tangled in the stories of her large and varied family.  Drawn to the past, sifting through memories, she slowly discovers a truth that has been hidden for years.

Urquhart is an author whose characters are firmly rooted in the past.   Her novels delve into family histories, family secrets and what brings the past into the present.

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Filed under Books, CanadianBookChallenge6, GillerPrize, LiteraryFiction, Thoughts

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Little Brown and Company, New York 2012

Borrowed from my library.  Nominated for the National Book Award.

Kevin Powers is an Iraq veteran and a poet.  His novel about two young friends fighting together in the second Iraq war is beautifully written.   It is also devastating.

At basic training John Bartle takes Daniel Murphy under his wing and makes a promise to Murph’s mother.  When they reach the city of Al Tafar, John  realizes that the promise may be impossible to keep.

We hardly noticed  a change when September came.  But I know now that everything that will ever matter in my life began then.  Perhaps light came a little more slowly to the city of Al Tafar, falling the way it did beyond thin shapes of rooflines and angled promenaded in the dark. It fell over buildings in the city , white and tan, made of clay bricks, roofed with corrugated metal or concrete.  The sky was vast and catacombed with clouds.  A cool breeze blew down from the distant hillsides we’d been patrolling all year.  It passed over the minarets that rose above the citadel, flowed down through alleys that ringed the city, and finally broke up against the scattered dwellings from which our rifles bristled.  Our platoon moved around our rooftop position, gray streaks against the predawn light.  It was still late summer then, a Sunday, I think.  We waited. From pages 4/5.

Poetic, lyrical and deeply moving, this one will stay with me for a long time.

The Yellow Birds has been compared to All Quiet on the Western Front and The Things They Carried.  It meets and matches them and also reminds me of the importance of reading other books on war.  I would suggest Dispatches On Killing and War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning as a place to start.

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The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

Harper Collins, New York, 2012

Sent to me by the publisher.   It is not often that I accept books for review as I am always afraid they will get shifted to the bottom of a TBR pile and I will forget to read them, or that I will forget to write and post my thoughts.  When a women from Harper Collins sent an email asking if I would like a copy of Attica Locke’s new book I jumped at the chance.  I read Black Water Rising last year and loved it.

Caren Gray has come back to manage the plantation where members of her family have served, either as slaves or as free people, since before the Civil War.  Belle Vie has been restored to its former beauty,  the tour includes the slave quarters and a rather historically inaccurate re-enactment.  The mansion serves as a location for weddings and parties and provides jobs for local people who have been shut out of working in the local corporate-owned cane fields.  When a murdered woman’s body is discovered on the grounds, it falls to Caren, her ex-husband and a stringer from a New Orleans paper to solve the mystery.

From the beginning the reader knows Caren has come to Belle Vie as a way to escape her past, which is psychologically intriguing because she is returning to the place of her youth.  The job offers stability for her and her daughter, Morgan,  but that stability comes at a cost.  As the murder investigation deepens truths about Caren’s family history and the history of the plantation come to light, and the murderer intends to keep that truth bury, whatever the cost.

The Cutting Season is tightly plotted, the history of this part of the south wrapped in a well constructed mystery.  Locke writes beautifully, somehow folding in painful generational memories, the tension of post civil war plantation life and present day class and racial struggles into a story that never feels like it is carrying deep political and cultural messages.  I found this to be true in Dark Water Rising, Locke has a way of visiting the past, bringing it gently into the present and making it relevant.  I hope this second novel finds a wide audience and look forward to reading her third.

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Filed under Books, LiteraryFiction, Mystery, R.I.P. VII

A More Diverse Universe – Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

This amazing reading event has been organized by several bloggers, including Aarti and Natasha.  What started as a simple suggestion has turned into something that I hope will have wide impact across the book blogging community, introducing readers to speculative fiction written by people of color.

Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

Riverhead Books, New York, 2011

Borrowed from my public library.  This is the first novel I have read by Helen Oyeyemi.  Oyeyemi is  a young British author whose parents moved to London from Nigeria in the late 1980’s.    She won the Somerset Maugham Award for her third novel, White is for Witching.

Mr Fox is made up of short stories, letters, vignettes and folktales based around the relationships between St John Fox, his wife Daphne and his imaginary (or is she really/) muse, Mary Foxe.  The main theme come from fairy tales that feature women who have been ordered by men to follow certain rules and who, after breaking these restrictions, are murdered and dismembered.  Think of  Bluebeard, The Robber Bridegroom or Joseph Jacob’s Mr. Fox.

Mr Fox starts out lightly, with banter and teasing between St John Fox and his imaginary muse, but eventually Mary becomes angry at his need to kill off the women in his novels.  Does this distance him from truly engaging in his relationships, with his wife and with the world?

Eventually S.J. and Mary agree to write different kinds of stories, ones which delve deeper into what make up true connections.  We never know who writes what, but here is where  Oyeyemi’s abilities as a writer begin to shine.  Whether is is telling a story of Mary’s time as a nanny and the role her charge is forced to play as she grows up, or the tale of a Yoruba woman who falls in love with an Englishman and then grows bored with him, eventually rebuilding the relationship and finding herself renewed,  I was enthralled.  There is often violence woven in these stories, violence against women,  their struggle to be free of it, and their struggle to create.  And foxes, there are many foxes.

She’d thought she didn’t have any stories, but in fact she had too many.

She put down things she didn’t know she knew.  She wrote about a girl who babysat herself while both her parents worked and worked for not enough pay.  The girl didn’t answer the door or the telephone because no one was meant to know she babysat herself, and besides, it might be the Home Office, and then they’d all be deported.  So that she would not be scared, she pretended she was a spy and wrote secret spy notes on pink paper.  She posted the spy notes out of the living room window, she sent them spinning down onto the heads of passersby, who picked them up and didn’t understand them.  They’d look up, but the girl has disappeared from the window – no one was supposed to know she was there.  From pages 106/107

All the time Daphne Fox is floating around the edges of the novel, filmy and a bit bubble-headed.  It is when she begins to believe S.J. is having an affair with Mary that she becomes solid and real, and begins to think of a different life.  And Mary Foxe becomes real for her, Daphne gives her form and, in doing so, gives a new form to her own life.

Mr Fox is not an easy read.  It has no true shape, there are parts that drift, that don’t seem to connect to the whole, but by struggling through I found it all makes sense.  After a time I would like to read it again and I am definitely going to read more of Helen Oyeyemi’s work.  I am so grateful to the organizers of this event for bringing me to this author, and allowing me this opportunity to be part of an important blogging event.

For a brilliant discussions on diversity in fantasy and speculative fiction and please go here and here, and make sure to visit other blogs on this tour.  You can find a list here.

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Filed under Books, Diverse Universe, Fantasy, R.I.P. VII, Thoughts

What I’ve been reading…

School is about to start and we’ve been preparing the classroom and getting organized to greet our returning students next week.  That has left little time for this blog and writing about the books I have managed to read.  Here are thoughts on some of them.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2012

Like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, this novel takes place after a devastating loss of life across the planet.  Heller is a poet and it shows.  Deft description, wonderful characters, some even willing to look at the faults of the past and hope for some kind of future.  I do like this genre and am always surprised when an author can bring something new to the end times…

Heft by Liz Moore

W.W. Norton & Co, New York, 2012

An odd and wonderful story that follows two characters whose lives intertwine, although they don’t know it until the final chapters.  When I first heard about this one I wasn’t sure how it well it would work.  I think it does work, quite beautifully.  Moore has created two people, both sad and holding themselves separate from others.  Arthur Opp, a 500 pound failed academic who hasn’t left his house in 10 years, and Kel Keller, eighteen and wildly dreaming of playing professional baseball, his mother suffering, addicted and letting go of life.  I was touched over and over again by Moore’s writing and by the lives of these two people.

Bereft by Chris Womersley

SilverOak, New York, 2012

Gothic, historic fiction set in small town in Australian shortly after WWI.  Quinn Walker, having run from his home town after being accused of a horrible crime, returns to try and set the story straight.  Troubled by war and personal history, he meets a strange wild girl who offers to help him.  Well written and full of tension, this one never really grabbed me the way I hoped it would.  Maybe because I read it after a couple of book that really held my full attention and moved me deeply.

I borrowed all three of these from my local library.  Through the summer I’ve read many mysteries and some great science fiction.  Now  I’m back to work and have plans for my fall reading, including R.I.P. VIIA More Diverse Universe and reading Swann’s Way with a couple of friends.  Have you read anything this summer that really struck a cord?  Do you have reading plans for the fall?

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The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

HarperCollins, New York, 2012

Borrowed from my library.  Winner of the 2012 Orange Prize for fiction.

A beautiful retelling of the events leading up to the The Iliad and the first ten years of the Trojan War, told from the point of view of Patroclus, Achilles’ close companion.  This is a tale of love and of the atrocities of war, just as relevant today as in Homer’s time.

Madeline Miller’s first novel has me wanting to reread both The Iliad and The Odyssey.  Maybe I’ll make that a reading goal for this coming fall and winter.  Another book I loved that is written from the point of view of a secondary classical character is Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin.

     Chiron had said once that nations were the most foolish of mortal inventions.  “No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from.”

“But what if he is your friend?” Achilles had asked him, feet kicked up on the wall of the rose-quartz cave.  “Or your brother?  Should you treat him the same as a stranger?”

“You ask a question that philosophers argue over,” Chiron had said.  “He is worth more to you, perhaps.  But the stranger is someone else’s friend and brother.  So which life is more important?”

We had been silent.  We were fourteen, and these things were too hard for us.  Now that we are twenty-seven, they still feel too hard.  From pages 298/299.

A fine novel that will be one of my top ten books for 2012.

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Filed under Classic, Historical Fiction, LiteraryFiction, Mythology, OrangePrize, Thoughts