First time authors are rarely known to write a truly exceptional book but Lisa Halliday accomplished the nearly impossible when she published Asymmetry: a collection of three short stories, two that appear to be related (Folly and Ezra Blazer’s Desert Island Discs) and one that appears to be asymmetrical but is clearly the star of the show (Madness).
In Folly, Alice, a twenty-something assistant editor at a publishing house in New York City meets Ezra Blazer, an elderly well known and universally respected writer of classic 20th century fiction who has yet to win the Nobel Prize for fiction. Blazer was probably once a player with rugged good looks and a shocking head of thick hair but time has not been kind to the author who complains about back pain, his heart problems, and the other ailments that haunt the elderly. Read more
Never run in town or people’ll think you stole something.
Where the Crawdads Sing is the first book of fiction published by Delia Owens, an author known more for the non-fiction books (The Eye of the Elephant, Cry of the Kalahari, and Secrets of the Savanna) she co-authored with Mark Owens about her experiences as a wildlife scientist in Africa. With the same attention to detail and observation made in previous books, Owens writes a coming of age novel about a young girl growing up in the marshlands of North Carolina in the 1950’s and 60’s, which is rumored to be partially autobiographical. Read more
There is an old Arabic story about a man who hears Death is coming for him, so he sneaks away to Samarra. And when he gets there, he finds Death in the market, and Death says “You know, I just felt like going on vacation to Samarra. I was going to skip you today, but how lucky you showed up to find me! And the man is taken after all.
When the book “Less” by Andrew Sean Greer won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2018, there were generally three camps of people: those who didn’t understand how this book won what many consider the most prestigious annual literary award in the world, those who totally got it, and the rest, myself included who didn’t understand why the book won until they got through most of the book and realized the brilliance is not only the story but also how it was told (note: I didn’t really like the book until I got to the end when the story came together brilliantly). Read more
People who live on hills sleep so close to the stars they forget those of us who live too much on earth.
In 1984, Sandra Cisneros – a woman who “dreamed about having a silent home, just to herself, the way other women dreamed of their weddings” – was a 30-year-old Mexican American writer (having earned a BA in English from Loyola University and a Masters of Fine Arts from Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa) published her first book, The House on Mango Street: the story of a young Hispanic girl named Esperanza Cordero growing up on the west side of Chicago. Read more
We can wonder if, for all our separate histories, we are not more alike than different after all. ~Elizabeth Strout
In 1959, life in small town America revolved around family, school, work, and church which was pretty much the same decades before and decades since. Houses may have updated appliances, driveways new cars, and schools fitted with updated technology but people tend to stay the same. They root for a winner but can’t help finding fault, gossiping, and crucifying others for perceived slights, petty jealousies, or simply because they have nothing else to do. And, as soon as a person is knocked down to size, they come together to lift him or her up, rejoicing in their newfound redemption. Such is the story of the townspeople in a small northeastern town in Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout. Read more
Because if everyone just turns out like their mother, then what’s the rat’s-ass point?”
Elizabeth Strout is one of the few writers who has mastered the art of writing about difficult women we loathe but love to read about. In her Pulitzer-prize winning novel, Olive Kitteridge (2009), Strout gave us an opinionated, forthright, bossy, cantankerous, and self-righteous protagonist (Olive Kitteridge) who was also loyal, honest, and conscientious. Most readers identified in some way with Olive Kitteridge – the school teacher, the wife of the local pharmacist, and the mother who loved imperfectly – but felt relieved the similarities only went so far. Read more
Before you pick up the book, Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout, do yourself a favor and read My Name is Lucy Barton first. Both books stand alone as good reads but collectively these fictional stories are even better because the first book sets the stage and introduces a cast of colorful characters whose lives intertwine in the most bizarre ways in the second book. Read more
Vietnam is a country, not a war.
The war known as the “Vietnam War” was fought by the generation before mine from the early 1960’s until 1975. In the most simplistic terms, the Vietnam war was a civil war between North and South Vietnam (sound familiar?) with the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong (a South Vietnamese Communist group) fighting to reunify Vietnam under a communist rule.
The US became involved in the conflict to prevent communism from spreading because the American leaders felt threatened by democracy’s counterpart. Russia and China backed North Vietnam while the US, South Korea, Australia and several other countries backed South Vietnam. After years of fighting, the North Vietnamese captured Saigon in 1975 ending the war (the US lost) and the two regions were reunified into a communist country. Read more
Little girls are resilient creatures, hiding in graveyards, under a white coat, behind the bathroom mirror of a 747. Every so often we dare ourselves to peek out and sometimes we even move forward, into the daylight – where the assassin has the open shot.
In Hesitation Wounds by Amy Koppelman, the reader is introduced to Dr. Susanna Seliger, a 43-year old psychiatrist who specializes in treatment resistant depression – a career that requires minimal emotional involvement with patients who have exhausted traditional therapy methods. Her tools are primarily drugs and electrocompulsive shock therapy, the latter of which often causes memory loss – the irony of which is not lost on the reader as the story unfolds. Read more
Ann Patchett’s most recent work of fiction, Commonwealth is the story of two families: the Keatings (Fix and Beverly and their two young daughters, Caroline and Franny) and the Cousins (Bert and Teresa and their four young children, Cal, Holly, Jeanette, and Albie) over a 50-year period that spans from the 1960’s to current times. Read more