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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Lost and Found by Brooke Davis

Brooke Davis is a vibrant new voice in fiction. She gives the viewpoints of three characters--a lonely old man, a crochety old woman and a seven-year-old girl who contemplates death. Her father has just died and her mother has abandoned her in a department store. 

Davis mixes just the right amount of pathos and humor when she gives voices Milly. When her mother does not return for her, she imagines that one of the manikins is her friend. She record dead things in her dead things journal. She leaves notes that will supposedly help her Mum find her: "In here Mum."

She also befriends Karl, a touch typist who writes messages to his deceased wife in the air. By accident, Karl joins Milly and Agatha on a bus journey to Kalgoorlie. 

The bus trip is followed by an outlandish train trip through Nullarbor Plain. The three of them are determined to find Milly's Mum or, at least, a relative to take care of her.

Lost and Found is completely different from anything else I've read. Very few novels, after all, feature a seven-year-old who run away with two octogenarians. Very few novels features a seven-year-old who is obsessed with death. 

What makes Milly so unique, however, is her ironic innocence and intelligence.She nearly meets her match though on the train when she meets another little boy who calls himself "Captain Everything."



Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Into the Limen: Where an old Squirrel Goes to Die by Sarah Minor

Lambert-Musser Home
I adore this non-fiction essay that appears in Black Warrior Review Fall/Winter 2014.

The author, Sarah Minor, is writing about an old home that belongs to her grandmother--the home that is known as the Lambert-Musser Home in West 2nd, Muscatine, IA. 

I must admit I knew nothing of Iowan architecture on the West Hill of Muscatine or that there even a city in IA called Muscatine.

That hardly matters though because Muscatine is a river town and if you've lived in a river town its easy to feel connected to another river town. 

Of course, Baton Rouge doesn't have a historic district that matches West Hill but it has other attributes.

Muscatine is one of the river cities that Mark Twain was much enamored of. It's still a small town, unlike Baton Rouge, which has become a metroplex.

More to the point, Minor's "Into the Limen" is about forgotten spaces deep within large historical houses. 

In the obscure space under the roof, bracketed by the eaves, is a place called a soffit. This is where you find tools and old letters yellowed photographs, and possibly skeletal remains. 

Minor believes soffits in old homes are "thresholds" or liminal spaces. Other liminal spaces, according to Minor, are airports and beaches. I would add river fronts and swamps to the list.


Even though I had read Poetics of Space for a creative writing class, the power of liminal spaces was never so clear.

Black Warrior Review

Saturday, January 3, 2015

My Sunshine Away for M.O. Walsh

Set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, this is crime story mixed with revelations that come from the narrator's flashbacks. Even though its fiction, the narrator presents the story as memory, as the first time he fell for a girl, Lindsey.

Unfortunately, the girl he desires falls victim to a terrible 
crime--rape. The young narrator claims not to even know what the word means. Nonetheless, he, like three other boys in the neighborhood, are suspects. 

The narrator and the the two other suspects come from a privileged background, attend a private school and live in a pristine neighborhood. Many wonder how such a dark crime can happen midst so much "sunshine" and innocence.

Walsh does an incredible job of peeling back the layers of each character to reveal their secrets. For Lindsey, it's not the rape that makes her moody and morose; it's in fact, therapy, where she turns dark.

In therapy, Lindsey meets cutters and anorexics and sex-abuse survivors, and, thus, she learns how privileged her life has been. 

The narrator's crush on Lindsey is innocent, or it something darker, like a twisted obsession?  At one point, the narrator makes an elaborate structure out  of yard clippings that resembles Lindsey.

Two other suspects, Bo Kern and Jason Landry, are even more suspicious. But which one of them is truly guilty of this violent crime? 

What at first appears to be a coming-of-age story or a crime story set in the deep south, turns out to be something much richer. In the end, it ponders identity, gender, memory and justice.

For more information about this author,
http://www.mowalsh.com


Monday, December 29, 2014

She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

This young adult novel tackles the slippery nature of coincidence. While researching a non-fiction book about coincidences, a disabled girl's father he mysteriously disappears.

Laureth, a blind teenager, leads an unofficial investigation into her father's disappearance. Her mother refuses to help her and seems on the verge of splitting up with her father. 

Readers can immediately identify with Laureth, not because of her blindness, but because they recognize her plight. She is in real trouble--the starting point for any great narrative.

Convinced someone on the Internet has her Dad's notebook and may know his whereabouts, she books a plane to New York. She has told no one and her only guide to the seeing world is her seven-year-old brother. 

She had no idea where her father may be staying; she has no idea where she and her brother will stay. She only goes on a hunch that her father is in trouble and needs her help. 

Wearing dark glasses, she must also keep up the pretense that she is not blind. She needs to be seen as the one caring for her brother instead of the other way around or someone may call authorities or notify her mother in England.

Every encounter--from navigating the airport to New York's public transportation--carries the risk that Laureth will be uncovered as a blind, and, thus, invisible person.  Laureth's ability to find her way in New York and find her father proves the title. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Portrait of a Lady

Thoughts on Henry James' Portrait of a Lady.

One of the best lines in Henry James' novel, Portrait of a Lady, is the line he gives to Ralph Touchett. 
Portrait of a Lady, Dawson Dawson-Watson

Ralph's a detached observer but a social scientist, too, in his own way. In Henry James' world, if someone is sick and wealthy, they have the privileged position to quietly observe.

Ralph, as everyone knows, sets up a grand experiment. He uses his cousin, Isabelle, whom he adores as a subject. 

James gives Ralph Touchett the line, "I call people rich if they can satisfy their imagination." 

In the novel, Ralph wants to make Isabelle rich to see if that will allow her the freedom to follow her dreams.

But you don't really need to be rich to satisfy your imagination and he seems to forget that. 

If you are a poor and starving artist, but have enough for art supplies, you can be rich.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen

Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen
 
 
In one of the best novels of 2014, Rebecca Rasmussen describes both the joy and the loneliness of the Minnesota wilderness.
 
Eveline, joins her German husband, Emil, in a hardscrabble existence in Evergreen. Unbeknownst to her, Emil doesn't own the cabin they relocate to. When his father becomes sick, Emil goes to Germany, leaving Eveline and Hux on their own.


When a land surveyor comes through the Evergreen area, he cruelly takes advantage of her. She later makes a fateful choice that will effect her young son, Hux, and her husband who is still abroad.

The story also focuses upon Hux's sister Naamah, and their relationship. 

Hux locates his half-sister in a logging camp, years after she has left Hopewell, an orphanage, that has left her emotionally and physically scarred. 

Hux, who is a taxidermist and barely scraping by, tries to help Naamah heal; he tries to return a small piece of the childhood that was stolen from her. 

This is a heart-breaking story with many warm and humorous moments. 

Readers who like Evergreen may also like Orphan Train by Christina Kline, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, and Bloodroot by Amy Greene.






Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Boxtrolls by Elizabeth Kimmell

The Boxtrolls is a wonderful children's story that, among other things, show kids how awful it is to stereotype and scapegoat others. 

Boxtrolls starts with a  scenario that sounds a lot like many other dystopias. The above ground society, the Cheese Bits, are terrified of the underground society, the Boxtrolls. 

The Boxtrolls literally live underground; They eat insects and use odds and ends from the world above them to make things like a music maker. A manhole is a portal to and from worlds.

Because they are terrified of the Boxtrolls, the Cheese bits and their secret police, the Red Hats, hunt the Boxtrolls as monsters. The White Hats, who govern the Cheese bits, support the Boxtrolls hunts. One of the Cheese bit, a baby, was kidnapped and killed by the Boxtrolls. But was the Trubshaw baby really taken?

Eggs doesn't think so. He knows the Boxtrolls aren't monsters. Eggs knows this because he lives with them, They are his friends who assure him his peach skin is fine even though theirs is green or grey.

Eggs feels ok about his appearance until a girl who lives above ground, Winne Portley-Rind, calls him a name he never heard before, "boy."