Tag Archives: short stories

Reviews: A Lucky Man, Transcendent Kingdom, and Memorial

My final reviews of the year! This will have me all caught up, aside from my two current reads, which I’m still hoping to finish before the new year and talk more about in January (they’re Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light and Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party). My favorite reads of the year should be up tomorrow, or, worst case scenario, the first of January. Today I’ve got Jamel Brinkley’s 2019 National Book Award shortlistee, the short story collection A Lucky Man, as well as two recent contemporary/literary releases from authors I’ve enjoyed in the past: Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom and Bryan Washington’s Memorial.

A Lucky Man

In A Lucky Man, Brinkley presents a collection of short stories featuring Black sons of various ages who endure complicated or severed relationships with their fathers. The stories are not mutually exclusive but they don’t share any connections beyond exploring the generational ramifications of antiblack racism in America.

“‘I got an agitated soul,’ he said. ‘Most of us do, I think. Not from no conspiracy or nothing. Just from being black and alive.'”

Though the collection as a whole is a nuanced look at the affects of racism on the relationships of Black men and their children, this isn’t a book to turn to for punchy, quotable statements about race. The writing is accomplished and thorough, but the book’s messages are primarily apparent through character dynamics, behaviors over time, and the overall volume of Black fathers here who have been pushed out of their sons’ lives in one way or another; it’s what can be read between the lines that is most impressive about this work. It’s one of the most thoughtful and cohesive collections I’ve ever read; every piece stands strong on its own, though looking at them all together is what best brings out their meaning. There were only two stories out of nine that I personally found a little less gripping, but they all belong equally to the whole.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I can see why this collection went far with lit awards last year, and I think it deserves a wider readership than it seems to have. It’s quiet and sad, but there’s undeniable skill here that makes each piece of the set engaging in its own right. Brinkley is an author to watch.

And as a bonus, I think it’s very much to the author’s credit that I was particularly attuned to the difficult relationships between Black men and their children in my next two reads, as well; A Lucky Man clarified this particular facet of family life in America for me in a very effective way.

Transcendent Kingdom

In Transcendent Kingdom, Gifty is a neuroscientist running behavioral experiments on mice in the hopes of better understanding what has befallen her family; her brother died young in the grip of addiction, and afterward her mother succumbed to a debilitating depression that has, years later, suddenly returned.

“It’s true that for years before he died, I would look at his face and think, What a pity, what a waste. But the waste was my own, the waste was what I missed out on whenever I looked at him and saw just his addiction.”

There’s little plot here; Gifty goes back and forth between the lab where she works with the mice, and her home, where she tends to her unresponsive mother. The beauty of the novel comes through Gifty’s internal grappling with her family history and her struggle to strike a balance between her relationships with science and religion. This is another very quiet book, and it’s hard to explain the charm that comes through in Gifty’s voice, but rest assured that this is a must-read. It’s rich in social commentary but it’s also captivatingly specific; not too detailed to be alienating to those of us unscientifically-minded readers, but just detailed enough to bring another layer of texture to this story and make it feel lived-in and real.

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. This is such a different reading experience from Gyasi’s historical and expansive Homegoing, but no less brilliant for the change of pace. I really hope we’re going to see this title up for a lit prize or two in 2021, but there’s no need to wait for it to appear on the lists to pick it up- you won’t regret it!

Memorial

In Memorial, Mike is flying to Osaka to aid his dying father, leaving his visiting mother to wait for his return in the apartment he shares with his boyfriend, Ben. Mike and Ben’s relationship has been a little rocky lately, but neither of them are strangers to complicated relationships and they’re all still trying to figure out how they fit together, or whether they should bother trying to fit together at all.

“And how did everything come to such a turning point between us? Quietly, I guess. The big moments are never big when they’re actually fucking happening.”

Memorial is a quick read packed with (unpunctuated) dialogue and a steady stream of brief anecdotes that drive the story forward and backward simultaneously. The narrative is not quite linear, but Washington is clear about sequences of events and the easy pace helps hold everything together and keep the story moving. Though little happens aside from personal reckonings, it’s a sharp book that digs into the ups and downs of multi-cultural life in the modern world (Ben is a Black American, Mike is Japanese American, and both are gay; they live together in Houston, Texas in a eclectic neighborhood halfway between low-income and up-and-coming).

It’s essentially a character study in two parts, a relationship study, if you will. I thought a little more could’ve been done with the men’s professions and sense of home, and I thought a few less expletives might have served the book just as well, but ultimately it’s a compelling representation of marginalized America; I’m not an own voices reader/reviewer, but I thought the depictions of gay, multi-cultural, polyamorous men were thoughtful and realistically messy. It’s the sort of book you don’t mind going on and on even whhen nothing is really happening because the characters are magnetic enough in themselves.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I enjoyed this novel more than Lot, though I do think that Washington’s story collection has strengths of its own that are maybe not as well-realized here- the broad exploration of setting/community, for example. But I am partial to longer form fiction and appreciated the greater depth of character Memorial had to offer; I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for more of Washington’s work going forward.

Are any of these titles on your radar?

The Literary Elephant

Review: Love and Other Thought Experiments

Another Booker longlist title today, and very nearly the end of my 2020 Booker coverage. I’ve been saving Sophie Ward’s Love and Other Thought Experiments for close to last because it was one of the longlist titles that most intrigued me this year. While I did find it an intriguing read, unfortunately I won’t be calling this one a new favorite.

In the book, two women are knocked off balance when their plans to have a baby together become entangled with an ant incident; the same day they decide to go ahead with the pregnancy, Rachel wakes in the night in a panic, convinced an ant has crawled into her eye. Eliza, her partner, does not believe her, though she decides to lie for the sake of preserving their relationship.

What follows is a set of connected short stories from numerous perspectives related in some way to this incident; central characters going forward include the ant in question, an artificial intelligence computer, the couple’s grown child, and several other humans. Each story begins with a description of a philosophical thought experiment, which guides the chapter that follows.

“The ant was not just in Rachel’s head, it was in her own. And whoever else knows, she thought, the ant will be with them too. I only have to tell this story and the ant will always be in their head.”

First off, I have no idea what, exactly, to call this book. It might seem easy at first to say that it’s a collection of short stories, and yet there’s no satisfaction to be had in reading them out of order or in picking and choosing, because they are all connected and largely (though not entirely) chronological. Undeniably pieces of a whole. But divided into its separate parts as it is, it’s just as awkward to say this is a novel. Genre is even harder to pinpoint. A few of the stories are simple, contemporary character studies that outline the relationships between these key players and build the web of family and friendship that binds them all together. Other stories are magical or science fictional, and a couple are very philosophical- focused primarily on conveying a single experimental idea. These pieces all fit into a single over-arcing narrative, but they’re varied enough that one never knows what to expect next.

Most appreciable about this book is its inventiveness and unpredictability. Even with the summarized thought experiments giving hints at each turn for the direction in which the narrative is heading, I was completely taken by surprise several times by twists Ward implants into the tale. Every time I imagined that I was seeing the full shape of it, the story rippled further outward. Because the surprises were one of the biggest draws for me, I don’t want to say much more about the plot, but rest assured that the opening story about the ant, while indeed central, is fairly short and comprises only one small chapter of this larger interlinking creation.

The downside, in my opinion, is the utter lack of emotion. There is only one story in the whole bunch that incited any emotional impact for me at all, and it’s the second piece: a child swims out to sea to retrieve a drifting toy for a friend, and worries he won’t make it back to shore; in three mutually exclusive endings, we see him fight for survival. The sudden threat of death and the diverging endings had me entirely hooked. Later on there’s another story in which we approach a main character’s imminent death, but while appropriately disturbing, it does not quite land with the same blow to the reader’s feelings. None of the other stories comes anywhere close.

Ward’s prose strikes me as flat and cold, focused more on concepts- which she does deliver well. The book builds a network of affection connecting all of these characters, and then seems to assume that the existence of the network is enough to engage the reader’s emotions without doing any more work to actually endear the characters to the reader. It all felt very empty and mathematical to me, and while I appreciated the way it all fell into place from a tactical perspective, the fact that the plot does revolve around this circle of love makes the emotional distance a real detriment to overall enjoyment. I simply didn’t care what happened to any of the characters beyond the boy swimming out to sea, and even there the effect might have been more attributable to the simple presentation of an innocent child suddenly in grave danger rather than any particularly deft wording on Ward’s part.

There are a few LGBTQ+ characters included at the forefront of the cast, but they seem to exist naturally and without identity-based conflict in this world, thus failing to generate any social commentary; I think it’s very important for marginalized characters to be present in books this way, as people worth the page space without having to examine their lives for the reader’s benefit, but again it doesn’t exactly help one connect to or feel for these characters. Yet another way in which the book’s conceptualization at the macro level thrills far more successfully than the presentation at the micro level.

Ultimately, I think this is a book for a certain type of reader, probably someone who enjoys philosophy, and/or thought experiments specifically, as Ward’s work feels like one such exercise. I have learned this year that I am a reader who can love a book for a great format despite the content itself not quite winning me over (see: Trust Exercise and The Man Who Saw Everything), but even for me the ‘love’ portion of Love and Other Thought Experiments falling lax proved an insurmountable obstacle. I think the emotional distance is going to get in the way for a lot of readers who look for personal connections in what they read.

“She wondered if she could even be considered the same person now that every cell in her body had been replaced, more than once. It didn’t seem to matter so much when the effect was growth and health but now that shrinkage and damage were the order of events, it mattered a lot. Was it possible that her mind could escape the same process? Those connections had also been replaced, many times over. Her memories, too, were different, shaded by the events that had taken place since. If you were made of remembrance and your memories changed, did you, who remembered, change too?”

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. In some ways this was better than I expected it to be, in other ways it did not live up to expectations- a mixed bag. But it was certainly a unique read, and I always appreciate that. I don’t mind that this one didn’t advance to the Booker shortlist, but I am glad that the longlist introduced it to me and I will remember some of the ideas woven into this book for a long time to come.

The Literary Elephant

Reviews: Gutshot and Death, Desire, and Other Destinations

The only two books I’ve finished reading so far this month are two surreal collections of very short stories. Both contain magical and/or speculative elements, both focus on human relationships, both are divided into very small individual pieces- flash fiction. And so, I thought it made sense to review them together, and I hoped this would be an easy entrance to resuming my reviews.

I read Gutshot by Amelia Gray as a buddy read with the lovely and astute Melanie, who has also recently posted a review that you shouldn’t miss!

Gutshot

For me, Gutshot was a fun read full of creative premises and surprising events. These stories typically begin with a concept that seems ordinary or at least straightforward, and then follows the trail down an imaginative path of bizarre what ifs. Gray often uses otherworldly elements as symbolism, as an exaggerated way of pointing something out about our familiar world or human habits/emotions in a new light. A man enters a mysterious labyrinth, hoping his peers will think him brave. A damaged gravestone reveals beauty in destruction and incites a frenzy. One story about marriage is titled ‘Fifty Ways to Eat Your Lover,’ in which the reader is advised to literally eat her husband piece by piece for every move he makes, because inevitably he’ll go astray anyway and deserve such a fate. The stories are designed to make one rethink assumptions: a piece about swans, those lovely creatures who mate for life, actually reveals them to be rather disgusting. I’d be shocked to find anyone who can say that Gray’s writing is ever predictable or boring.

And yet while I found the stories engaging and pleasant to read, I found the implied meanings of them either far too obvious to excite me or too vague to unravel at all- and in both cases, the lack of a nuanced concept to ponder past the end of each story ultimately meant that very few of the pieces in this set were memorable for more than bare details and their ability to amuse me at the surface level.

There are two qualities that particularly appeal to me in short story collections- the first is a touch of the bizarre, which is what originally drew me to Gutshot. I love magical or speculative elements in fiction that push the boundaries of reality; for a short story to impress me it needs to be unique and punchy from start to finish, without a lot of backstory or elaborate world building to bog it down, and a bizarre twist is usually the best way to draw me in immediately and set the story apart. It’s also typically a fun way to examine the real world at an unexpected slant; fantasy, sci-fi, and speculative elements are great for commentary on society or human nature. Sometimes Gray achieves this, but other times the moments of unreality feel too silly and unexplored.

“Flesh is siphoned into a bowl and poured without discrimination into a freestanding grandfather clock that is set on fire and rolled into the street.”

The other quality I prefer (again just a personal choice), is that while the collection may have some broader theme or style that holds all of the stories together, each story should ideally also stand on its own. For the brevity of the short story to keep its appeal, it’s best to be able to dip in and out of the set, in my opinion, without feeling you’re missing something when you don’t read it all at once. But Gutshot doesn’t quite work in this way for me. The collection is divided into sections, and the closest I came to finding any depth of meaning from the book was to look at all of the stories in a section together and consider what they had in common. This of course necessitates reading at least one full section at once, which isn’t too challenging in a book of this size (just over 200 pages, each of the stories 10 pages or less) but just isn’t quite the reading experience I hope for with short pieces.

Across the five sections of this book, I found such concepts explored as: the danger in putting one individual above the good of the group, the violent and ugly side to love, the sorrowful and deadly nature of isolation, the consequences of loving something too much, and the possibility that nothing ever really ends, but all repeats again in its own cycle. The titular piece involves a man who has been shot in the gut; the shooter is remorseful and those sought for help are sympathetic, but none can provide sufficient care for the victim’s wound. Jesus Christ “helps” him in the end by telling him about people passing in a plane overhead. This is one of the stories that didn’t entirely make sense to me- is the focus on futility and despair? Is the message that kindness only goes so far? That the individual is small, and the world goes on? All a bit grim, and are we to determine from the title that one of these possibilities is central to the whole set? My confusion here is an accurate indicator of my struggle to find thematic depth throughout this entire read. I can make out some overlying arcs between the sections, but I am left frustratingly uncertain about what the reader is meant to take away from this experience.

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. I’m undetermined on whether I’ll try more of this author’s work- it sounds like she’s got a novel that might appeal to me more, and I do generally like unpredictable and puzzling fiction, but I didn’t quite get what I came for here despite my surface-level amusement with the stories.

Death, Desire, and Other Destinations

Next, I read Tara Isabel Zambrano’s debut short story collection, Death, Desire and Other Destinations, which released September 15. The stories in this set are incredibly short, most of them 2-4 pages in length; the longest is 9 pages, and it’s an outlier. Many of these stories also include some sort of otherworldly element, infusing the work with a dreamlike quality.

Unlike Gutshot, this collection manages to accomplish both of the things I enjoy in short story collections- it is packed with bizarre details that effectively further a point about the human experience, and each of the stories stand alone well, though the style and themes are consistent throughout the book, linking them all together.

The stories in this collection tend toward the sapphic, though there are a fair amount of exceptions. Zambrano doesn’t shy away from sexual descriptions in the relationships that unfold across these pages, which I liked in principle but occasionally found overbearing in practice. The characters are diverse or unspecified, which gives the set a very inclusive and limitless aura. As the title indicates, most of the stories focus on death and desire in some form; there are many losses and longings in these pages, including miscarriages, breakups, and various other endings and false starts. A woman who goes for a bikini wax would rather forget about her husband and enjoy the touch of the esthetician. A widow believes her husband, upon death, became one with their house. A poisonous courtesan who can kill with a kiss but not feel love becomes entangled with a girl even more deadly than she. One girl removes the heart from her chest in order to get to know it properly.

What I liked most about these stories is that each one digs into a particular emotion that is easy to comprehend and even relate to, never mind the fact that the characters include aliens, snakes, ghosts, and more. Zambrano writes about the nuances of the human heart, with an otherworldly slant (just the way I like). Her writing is full of unusual imagery, especially involving the body and weather/atmosphere, and I found her metaphors constantly thought-provoking even if sometimes challenging to decipher. Though these moments contain impossibilities, they always paint a clear and intriguing idea.

“The shining dust from the rubble streams in and mixes with your breath. Like a fish swimming to the surface for oxygen, you open your mouth wide, eat the day slowly.”

If I had to pick a genre I’d say these stories are speculative overall, though there’s a timelessness to them that makes appearances of modern devices and futuristic scenarios (like weddings on the moon being a common practice) feel shocking in the reminder that these narratives are grounded in real possibilities- in essence, if not in details. All of these stories are separate and complete in themselves, though none of them seem mutually exclusive, and small details (like a particular animal or object or personality) popping up casually later on gives the whole collection a beautiful sort of flow.

I think there will be a particular sort of reader best suited to this collection; so much of it is melancholy and possibly triggering (CW: miscarriage, death of a loved one, cheating, mild body horror), the writing is gorgeous but oblique, and the reader needs a certain willingness to accept things that don’t make literal sense. It’s dreamy and evocative, but also strange. I know this won’t be to every reader’s taste, but for the right reader I think there’s a lot to love in this collection and in Zambrano’s style. I know I enjoyed my time with it, and I hope others will too.

“Abandoned, I hold on to the shape her body has left behind in me, part home, part grave.”

If you’re curious to learn more about the author and her work, Melanie hosted an interview with the Zambrano a few weeks ago on her blog!

I received an eARC; it’s possible that quotes and details could be different in the final version of this book.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. So much about this collection was just perfectly tailored to my short story tastes, and I had a delightfully sad time reading it (I love sad books). Though there are too many stories for me to say I’ll remember them all individually, I can already tell that the broader topics and emotions will stick with me.

The Literary Elephant

Review: Her Body and Other Parties

Carmen Maria Machado’s short story collection Her Body and Other Parties was one of my most productive reads so far this year: it was a 20 in ’20 title, a follow-up to Machado’s memoir In the Dream House which I read earlier this year, a June TBR book that I didn’t get around to on time, an own-unread book on my shelf for over a year, and I got to cross it off all of these (arbitrary) lists by doing a buddy read with Donna @ Donna’s Reading Chair! The stories in this collection are so bizarre that we had plenty to talk about. We’ve decided to wrap this up book club style with some questions we picked up from this very helpful post, which I’ll answer after saying a little about the book.

herbodyandotherpartiesIn Her Body and Other Parties, eight collected stories feature LGBTQ+ characters, psychological horrors, sci-fi/fantasy/fabulist elements, and female traumas of a wide variety. The stories are visceral, provocative, imaginative, and eerie. There’s a lot to unpack here, so I want to briefly touch on each of the stories, and for fun I’ll rank them in order of my personal favoritism:

“Especially Heinous” –  this story lays out every episode of Law and Order: SVU, using a sequential episodic format to highlight different points and implications from the popular TV series while also telling a wider story of the effects of the investigations on the main characters’ lives. I haven’t ever watched L&O:SVU so I can’t speak about any creative liberties taken, but I can say you don’t need to know the show to enjoy the story.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), two years before this book was published I took a class at the University of Iowa, home of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop where Machado did her MFA, in which I was assigned to write a story that used and/or was inspired by a list from pop culture; I used Grey’s Anatomy episode titles. The assignment came from a TA who was a grad student in the writing program. I’m not positive Machado was there yet at the time, but it’s interesting (to me at least) that we might have received similar assignments, or at least spoken to the same person about this idea, wherever it originally came from. It’s a small world after all.

“Inventory” – this is a list of the protagonist’s lovers, which takes a sinister turn as illness sweeps the nation, affecting her every encounter. I was not prepared for the timeliness of this story, but loved it. (Has everyone been writing about pandemics all along??) This one is tricky, in that I can see it a new way every time it crosses my mind; the meaning of the story could be that human existence is lesser without human contact, or that contact is inextricable from danger, or perhaps there’s even a deeper metaphor in which the illness is a stand-in for something else about these sexual encounters that is driving the protagonist slowly but steadily out of society- promiscuity as alienation? Lots to ponder, and I don’t think I’ve uncovered it all yet.

“The Husband Stitch” – the main relationship here feels more realistic than it does healthy so it took me a while to get into this one, but I was constantly wondering about the mysterious green ribbon the protagonist wears and the reveal did not disappoint! This story depicts ways in which women are threatened by those who want to or feel entitled to own them, and the dangers that come from policing women’s rights and autonomy.

“The Resident” – a writer secures a spot on a secluded retreat to work on her novel, but doesn’t get along well with the other artists. Not much goes on here, but I loved the atmosphere and generally enjoy stories about writing, so I had a good time with it.

“Eight Bites” – a woman who loves food but is taught to hate her food-loving body undergoes a surgery that makes it impossible for her to eat more than eight bites at a time. To gain the image she wants, she must lose part of herself. The themes are straightforward here, but I loved the fabulist element; it’s a little creepy, but also made me laugh out loud.

“Real Women Have Bodies” – in this story, women literally cease to exist when their bodies stop matching societal norms. They vanish and are gone. I think there’s more to unpick about female desires and expectations that I haven’t fully unraveled yet with this one.

“Difficult at Parties” – a man and woman with a strained relationship are working through something that they won’t talk about. I had a lot of unanswered questions with this one, but Donna and I assumed that the man has abused the woman in some physical way and this story is the aftermath, as they attempt to reconcile. I may have struggled here mostly out of a desire to not see them reconcile.

“Mothers” – two women have a biological child just as their romance fails, largely due to abuse within the relationship. The concepts were more exciting for me than the execution with this one.

 

On to the questions!

1) The synopsis of the book describes it as a collection of “startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.” Such violence can be intentional, self-inflicted, unrealized, or without any identifiable culprit. Which of these types of violence do you personally find more frightening?

I think each type is disturbing in its own way, but for me unrealized violence and violence without an identifiable culprit is most frightening because in those cases it’s unknown/unexplained while it’s happening. Intentional and self-inflicted violence feels more tragic and sometimes infuriating to me (as with intentional violence) rather than scary.

2) Would you be more likely to recommend this book to a certain gender? Why?

No. I’d recommend it to different genders for different reasons though- I think women are more likely to find details to relate to personally in these pages, but anyone else would be able to use these horrors as a way to learn about experiences they may not be living themselves; being able to understand each other’s perspectives is important!

3) Were there any specific times you personally felt unsettled, creeped out, or genuinely frightened?

Genuinely frightened, no. I did feel unsettled by some of these stories, mostly as a result of the concepts and their real-world applications rather than by the otherworldly aspects themselves; Machado’s themes and ideas are grounded in real traumas and concerns that women face, so while her sci-fi elements didn’t terrify me directly I think they do help give a face/name to real concerns, and bring those to life in the process.

4) Do you think the final order of the published stories is a strong one, or would you have rearranged them? How would changing the order of the stories have changed your reading experience of the collection?

Donna and I actually talked about this one a bit already, and we both would’ve liked the first and last stories to be switched! Personally I really like a strong ending because that can make the reader (read: me) forget about (or at least be more willing to overlook) earlier complaints, whereas a weak ending can emphasize them, no matter how strong the start. The first story as is (“The Husband Stitch”) really ends with a bang and I think it would’ve made a great final piece; perhaps I wouldn’t have been hooked on the collection quite as quickly with a more nebulous story (“Difficult at Parties”) to start it out, but I’m more open to having a lot of unanswered questions in the beginning than the end. Otherwise the stories feel disconnected enough that I don’t think meaning would change much for me with any shuffling; my favorites and least favorites were well mixed so that I was excited to start each new piece and didn’t have any large chunks of the book that didn’t work for me at all.

5) The main characters of these stories trend toward passivity- strange things happen to them, outside of their control, while the few choices they do make are either glossed over or portrayed with a weighted inevitability which suggests there was no real choice to begin with. Do you think this style was effective?

Yes, for the points this book had to make, I think the passivity fits. Generally I do want  to read characters who have and exercise agency, but here I think Machado serves her stories well by conveying that trauma makes its visits unprovoked; to exist in this world as a woman is to be constantly wary of what will happen to you, with the sense that there’s little that can be done to stop it from happening. The passivity of these characters lends them a sort of innocence that makes the horrors they face that much more frustrating. The inevitability of suffering is one of the greatest frights on display here, I think. Furthermore, the lack of agency means that most of these characters don’t have a lot of personality, which makes them easier to project oneself upon and to see as the everywoman rather than a specific, fictional person to be read and then forgotten.

6) Did you ever find yourself irritated or bored, and if so, why?

There was one story that bored me: “Mothers.” This story had a couple of great ideas at its core: the possibility of two women having a biological child of their own, and the exploration of abuse in a same-sex relationship. The latter I found interesting because I had already read Machado’s In the Dream House and so could see how some of her own experience was manifesting in this fiction. But I’m at a point in my life where I’m just not very interested in reading about motherhood, and so little happens in this story that I was not hooked on the plot the way I was by the premise. But this was one of the shortest stories of the set, so the boredom was short lived. The two longest pieces, “Especially Heinous” and “The Resident,” were actually among my favorites, so most of the book really did seem to fly by for me.

7) What is your opinion on the author’s depiction of sex throughout the collection?

To be honest I was a bit taken aback at first by how frequently sex comes into these stories; there are a lot of lovers, and Her Body and Other Parties is a book that embraces physical details. Once I knew what to expect though I liked that Machado was so open about it. Many women are shamed for their bodies and what they do with them, so it’s a relief to see celebrations of the physical in fiction. Here’s one ironic (and nsfw) quote I really liked from “Inventory:”

“She wanted cock and I obliged. Afterward, she traced the indents in my skin from the harness, and confessed to me that no one was having any luck developing a vaccine. ‘But the fucking thing is only passing through physical contact,’ she said. ‘If people would just stay apart-‘ She grew silent.”

Gender =/= sex, but I do want to add that I liked that Machado didn’t set this book up with a simple “women are victims, men are villains” dichotomy. I thought her representations of men and women were very human and appropriately flawed all around, which is remarkable considering how large a role gender plays in highlighting “the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.” The problem lies primarily in power imbalances, not a war between genders. It can seem that way because it is often men who hold disproportionate power, but this is not always the case (as in abusive same-sex relationships, for example). Machado digs into the nuances.

8) In “Especially Heinous” the doppelgänger Henson tells the following story to the DA: “The sixty-fifth story is about a world that watches you and me and everyone. Watches our suffering like it is a game. Can’t stop. Can’t tear themselves away. If they could stop, we could stop, but they won’t, so we can’t.” Why do you think Law and Order: SVU is such a popular show, given that it concerns itself specifically with “sexually based offenses” which “are considered especially heinous?”

I have a few thoughts about this. The first is simply that humans are fascinated by what humans do. It isn’t only sexually based offenses that grab the attention- we like true crime, murder mysteries, sensational headlines. Anything gruesome. Maybe “like” is the wrong word, but there seems to be a morbid draw to understanding the extremes of humanity. Perhaps as a way to feel relief for those of us who don’t experience it, and perhaps as a way to feel less alone for those of us who do. That’s the optimistic answer. The pessimistic answer (these are not mutually exclusive) is that women are often objectified by society and art- I think there’s a disgusting interest in female pain, or the pain of any vulnerable person, for the enjoyment of those who don’t have similar trauma to compare it to. This, I wish we could put a stop to.

9) Did you like this book? Did you find it beautiful? Is there a difference between your answers?

Yes, yes, and apparently not. I can see how someone might find it beautiful while not enjoying it, because there are some painful topics here. Personally I appreciate books that leave me a little broken. Maybe I shouldn’t “like” that, but I won’t apologize for it either. Machado’s a strong writer and I can’t wait to see what she’ll write next!

“It is my right to reside in my own mind. It is my right… It is my right to be unsociable and it is my right to be unpleasant to be around. Do you ever listen to yourself? This is crazy, that is crazy, everything is crazy to you. By whose measure? Well, it is my right to be crazy, as you love to say so much. I have no shame. I have felt many things in my life, but shame is not among them.”

If you’ve read this book or have any thoughts on the discussion points raised through the questions here, feel free to weigh in below, and be sure to check out Donna’s review and answers as well, which I’ll link again here in case you missed it at the top! We had some different opinions on this one. If you’re into thrillers, romance, and/or adult contemporary she reads a lot from those genres and is fun to follow! 🙂

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I can see why this collection was nominated for so very many literary prizes, and I will absolutely be reading Machado’s next publication, whatever it may be. I’ll enjoy a reread of these stories at some point for sure as well!

As a final note, I’d also highly recommend Daisy Johnson’s short story collection Fen to anyone who particularly enjoys Her Body and Other Parties; Fen is also a somewhat magical and horrifying account of female experiences that I think will appeal to much the same audience. If you’re getting impatient waiting for Machado’s next book, give Johnson’s a go!

 

The Literary Elephant

Review: The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor

Black lives matter! If you haven’t yet, check out this post where I’ve rounded up and explained a number of ways to help the movement, or just go straight here to do your part.

 

thecomletestoriesofflanneryoconnorFor today’s catch-up review, we’re looking at Flannery O’Connor, The Complete Stories. I’d read three of these stories previously but started at the beginning and read through the full collection of thirty-one stories in May alongside Melanie’s Month of Flannery O’Connor project. She’s more informed on O’Connor’s life and work than I am, so be sure to check out her posts, which tell a little about the content and publication of each story with some background on O’Connor’s life and overall thoughts on theme and patterns as well. Partially because Melanie did such a fantastic job covering each story (and partially because I didn’t take notes on the individual stories as I read them) I’m going to be talking more broadly about my experience with the collection and some things I’ve noted generally about O’Connor’s short story style.

“She was a good Christian woman with a large respect for religion, though she did not, of course, believe any of it was true.”

The first thing to note about O’Connor’s stories is that they don’t make points so much as they make clear where there’s a point of contention to be grappled with. What I mean is, O’Connor seems intent on highlighting conflict- racial, theological, social- not with the intent of making a stance or guiding the reader’s thinking, but simply to demonstrate that the conflict exists, and perhaps to encourage the reader to consider multiple views before choosing one. Her stories often end without clear resolutions, which I think is why they’re so widely studied- the reader must sift for clues, and what the stories are actually saying is hotly debated.

For example, one of O’Connor’s best-known and most-read pieces, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” is either a story of a woman seeing the error of her ways and finding grace in a moment of peril, or a woman blind to the error of her ways remaining selfish to the end, even at the cost of her lifelong faith. The ambiguity is the draw, and presents as O’Connor’s favorite modus operandi; to sow the seeds of discord and then leave the reader to decide- in the case of “Good Man,” to decide whether the old woman’s final act is a cheapening of her religion or a finding of it. So yes, the story is theologically themed, but it’s impossible to tell from the fiction provided where O’Connor herself stood on the matter or which way she expects the reader to lean upon reading.

This is also why I felt so conflicted about the portrayal of racism in her stories. What’s clear is that it’s there. The white and black characters filling these stories are always at odds, there’s no denying that. There’s no denying that the whites often consider themselves superior because of the color of their skin. It’s also clear that many of these characters suffer as a result of their racism. What’s unclear is what O’Connor’s stance is on all of it. Normally I would say it doesn’t much matter- I’m a big supporter of separating the art from the artist wherever possible, though I can certainly admit there are cases (especially with classics) where knowing a bit about the author’s circumstances can enhance the reading experience. But the fact that there is so much up for debate in O’Connor’s stories leaves the reader uncertain which way things are “meant,” and it’s hard to decide what to believe without knowing the author’s intentions- hence questioning O’Connor’s personal stance on the themes she returns to so often in her fiction.

Frequent use of racial slurs and stereotyping can be found in everything from the first story to the last, and O’Connor’s approach to race remains in-your-face and morally questionable throughout the book. I became increasingly uncomfortable with that facet of these stories, especially since I happened to be reading this as George Floyd was killed, protests swept across America, and the volume was turned way up on conversations about racism. There’s plenty of racism to be found in O’Connor’s stories.

There should never be a time where it’s comfortable to read about racism, but the tail-end of May 2020 was one of the absolute worst moments for it. However, while I agree wholeheartedly that racism should not be condoned or supported in any way, I think including racist characters in fiction can have a positive/worthwhile effect, if the racism is portrayed as an evil. It can be used as a lesson, as a cautionary device. And for the most part, that is how it came across for me in O’Connor’s stories. The racist characters O’Connor writes are often depicted as being in the wrong, and learning so. But there’s also some casual racism that is not challenged, which I chalked up to being a product of its time and place- though an article I read recently has made me reconsider that stance. The 1950s – 60s was still a time of significant racial inequality in the US, but it’s worth noting that America was undergoing a change in these years that other authors of O’Connor’s day handled in other, arguably better, ways. In that same article, one particular hypothesis jumped out at me: that O’Connor’s stories on racial tensions were perhaps a way for her to work through her own racism.

Apparently racism is much more apparent and overt in O’Connor’s essays, letters, and other works. I’ve not read any of O’Connor’s nonfiction, so I can’t speak on it, but the speculation about working through her own racist thoughts struck a chord for me even with only her stories to go on. I came to this collection much more interested in the fiction than the author- I knew O’Connor had been an Iowa Writer’s Workshop grad, and since my undergrad studies brought me in close proximity to that program (the grad students there led the undergrad creative writing workshops that I took part in) it’s been a personal interest of mine to read previous Workshop writers when I can, to see the fiction that was produced and published from that familiar environment. (If you’re looking for better alternatives from Iowa Writer’s Workshop grads, let me strongly recommend Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House, Brandon Taylor’s Real Life, and Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing for starters.) I didn’t intend to learn about O’Connor’s personal history or read her letters- it wasn’t her real life I was interested in. But now that I know a bit about them it’s not something I can ignore.

Ultimately, I have to admit that I don’t know exactly where I stand on whether O’Connor is doing a good thing with the content of her stories or not. I did feel most of the time that O’Connor was questioning and condemning racism through her fiction. But I also thought while reading that perhaps it was progressive for her to do that in her time- but her stories aren’t actually that old, and certainly other writers have done more in the way of calling out racial inequality at that time than O’Connor (these were the days of Martin Luther King Jr’s essays and speeches! He was not alone in challenging the status quo). I want to be able to say that she’s trying to do a good thing here, but I was left feeling uneasy about it all, and I suppose that speaks for itself.

I had the same uncertainties about what O’Connor was trying to say about religion; she’s clearly very concerned with morals and religious rituals, though it’s not always clear where she stands in the fiction despite being Catholic herself. In the end, I just wasn’t as concerned about whether O’Connor was supporting or condemning Christianity as about where she stood on racism. One’s stance on religion, I think, is mainly a reflection of personal choice, whereas one’s approach to racism can impact those surrounding (or in this case reading the work of) that person. Whether you practice religion or not should be up to you. Whether you practice racism should not be.

“She felt that religion was essentially for those people who didn’t have the brains to avoid evil without it.”

So why put myself through all this confusion? Why talk about O’Connor at all? Because she is, I think, a good storyteller (in the way that Stephen King is a good storyteller though he also has a knack for problematic writing). O’Connor’s characters, even the despicable ones, always feel like real people one might meet on the streets (or the farms) of 1950s Georgia. She doesn’t shy away from violence or death, which keeps her plot twists shocking and unpredictable. Her work feels like a snapshot in time- perhaps not a flattering snapshot, but it’s worth recognizing where people have been wrong, I think. Should Flannery O’Connor be remembered and studied? Perhaps. But if so, she should be recognized for her flaws as well as her assets.

I do like that O’Connor doesn’t try to tell the reader what to think; her characters’ actions and opinions leave no room for doubt, and yet conclusions on meaning are still left to the reader. She touches on law and politics, city vs rural life, academia vs spirituality, death and grief, parenthood and care for those in need, loneliness and community, and plenty more big toics that are still relevant today. Her writing noticeably improves as she goes, becoming sharper, more immersive, and I think more personal, toward the end of her career. The stories that originally appeared in her last collection, Everything That Rises Must Converge, are (in my opinion) the most impressive. There’s also a beautiful sort of symmetry to the fact that this chronologically-organized complete collection is bookended by two attempts at writing the same story- her first published short story, “The Geranium,” was also her final work, rewritten as “Revelation,” a much stronger version, shortly before her death. She may not have been a good person, and her talent may have been put to better use with subjects other than race, but she is a skilled writer nonetheless. Do I recommend reading her work? …Not without a lot of caution and a firm idea going in of where you stand on racism and religion.

My favorite stories from the set included:

  • “A Stroke of Good Fortune” – A woman realizes something serious about her health
  • “The River” – A young boy is taken to be baptized by a babysitter and there discovers a way to escape his neglectful parents
  • “A Good Man is Hard to Find” – A family goes on a road trip and encounters danger
  • “The Lame Shall Enter First” – A man takes in a bright but troubled boy, hoping to give him and his own son a better start to adult life
  • “Parker’s Back” – A man gets a bold tattoo in an attempt to impress his wife

“He had not done anything. He was twenty-eight now and, so far as she could see, nothing occupied him but trivia. He had the air of a person who is waiting for some big event and can’t start any work because it would only be interrupted.”

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. I originally pegged this as a 4 because most of the second half of the book consisted of 4-star stories for me, and I was willing to round up for writing growth. But now that I’ve read a bit deeper on O’Connor’s body of work and racist remarks, and as I’ve sat with this collection a bit longer and remember it a little less fondly in general, I’ve changed my rating to a 3 to acknowledge that initial and lasting discomfort over the lack of clarity in whether O’Connor is speaking against racism through these stories. There are certainly individual pieces worth reading, but I would recommend only picking this full collection up if you’re prepared to do a deeper dive into O’Connor’s life and work as a sort of author study; I do think there’s merit here and plenty to learn, but without putting in a substantial amount of work I’m not convinced the reader is able to draw any conclusions that really make the experience worth the time and effort.

 

The Literary Elephant

Review: Lot (+ We Need to Talk About BOTM)

Black lives matter! If you haven’t yet, check out this post where I’ve rounded up and explained a number of ways to help the movement, or just go straight here to do your part.

One of the things I’m doing to try to show my support and (hopefully) affect a change is to increase the number of Black authors whose work I’m buying, reading, and promoting through my book accounts. I’d like to put some books on your radar that might have slipped by you, including this remarkable short story collection you may have missed last year! Today I’m talking about Bryan Washington’s Lot.

lotIn this story collection, each piece is a snapshot of a time and place in modern Houston. Many of the stories follow one young man through his teens and early adulthood as he struggles to find his way through family and relationship strife, a changing (gentrifying) neighborhood, and prejudice against his identity as a biracial (Black and Latino) gay man. In some cases, all of these opposing forces combine. Other stories woven in between are not directly related to the main character’s life, but showcase others facing similar challenges within the same community.

This is a fantastic book to read this month, both for LGBTQ+ Pride and in light of the Black Lives Matter protests. I would, however, recommend it mainly to an adult audience, and perhaps not to anyone searching for basic education about racism or LGBTQ+ issues, just because the points that Lot has to make are largely revealed between the lines rather than explicitly stated and explained. (One example that has stuck with me is when a “whiteboy” gives our MC a new name because he can’t pronounce his real one- the MC does not react or share with the reader why this is Bad, so it’s up to the reader to pick up on this one-sentence insult.) It’s a book that’s not especially geared toward the white gaze. However, if you’re looking for subtler commentary on life in minority groups in America, you may appreciate with Lot has to offer.

“Money issues aside, leaving the neighborhood meant leaving the shop. Which meant leaving Ma. Leaving her broke and alone. […] Ma’s daughter had left her. Her son had left her. Her husband had left her. So I couldn’t leave her.”

This is a collection about characters, but it’s also a deep dive into a place- Houston. The stories are very grounded in that setting, but in many ways the city feels like it could be any place in America, and I really would be surprised if there aren’t similar undervalued communities in every metropolitan area. That is part of Lot’s magic- it manages to be very specific while also hinting at a much larger scope.

In a similar way, it shows particular experiences of non-white queer life, and while these characters are presented as unique and are given plenty of specific detail, they also indicate some generalities that seem more universal- the incidents of prejudice, the struggle to stay out of poverty and receive appropriate aid, the lack of fair treatment and opportunities driving down-on-their-luck and overlooked people into questionable professions like drug sales. Washington zooms in individuals and elaborates on their life stories, but if the reader takes a step back from single trees and examines the collection as a whole they’ll see an entire forest laid out, full of people caught in the systematic oppression we’ve been hearing so much about lately. It’s a stunning balance.

“Some days are just bad, he said. Some people live their whole lives and not a single good thing happens to them. / I told him those were just the rules. He should follow them unless he had something new to say.”

Though these are all separate stories and most would stand alone well, it’s best to read them all together as parts of a whole. About half of them follow the same family via the same narrator and are presented in chronological order. The last story references characters and plot points from previous, seemingly unrelated, stories. A couple of the pieces particularly impressed me from the set (the very last story, “Elgin,” was my favorite!), but on the whole I found each story immersive and interesting, with something to add to the overall narrative. There wasn’t a single story I disliked. The only point of dissatisfaction I had with the set was based on personal taste- these are slice-of-life stories, where I tend to prefer short stories that are a little… punchier? I love short stories full of drama and emotion. Instead, Lot is a slow-burn that chips at the reader’s heart a piece at a time and works to build a larger story than any one piece encompasses on its own, which is an effect I adore in character-driven novels but find harder to navigate in short story collections, where the reader must “start over” again and again with each new piece. To be fair, I think Lot would’ve suffered as a novel and its strength lies in its interlocking structure, it just requires a different sort of patience than I was expecting.

At the sentence level, the writing style here reminded me of Junot Diaz’s, in terms of pacing and flow. As for content, Washington gives the sort of cultural glimpse I’d hoped to find in Diaz’s writing and instead found lacking (in the one story of his that I read). I’ve never been to Jamaica, Guatemala, Mexico (or any other country outside of the US, unfortunately) but I loved the way Washington brought little pieces of their culture into the story through food, language, and behavior. Lot’s narration feels insightful, effortless, and easy to get caught up in. Washington’s is a fresh voice with plenty to say, and he says it well.

“People think about things all the time, he said. All people fucking do is think. But really, he said, you do things or you don’t.”

(DO sign petitions! Donate! Speak up against racism! The time for thinking without acting has passed.)

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. In my effort to amplify Black stories by reading and reviewing more of them, I just want to throw a reminder in here that I rate on the scale Goodreads suggests, based on my own enjoyment of the novel, not on the merit of the book nor in any reflection of the author’s ability or person. They might not all be 5-star favorites for me, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth checking out! I think Lot‘s a great book and I’m glad I read it. I wouldn’t be averse to reading further from Washington in the future- and he does have a new release coming soon!

 

 

Before I sign off here, I want to say a little about what’s going on with Book of the Month Club, since I got Lot through their service. I’ve been a BOTM member since 2017, and I think the basic idea they’re operating on is a good one- offering a selection of hardcover new release books every month that members get to choose from, for only $10-$15.

But the current issue is that while protests were going on worldwide at the start of June, BOTM was promoting their June line-up, and conspicuously silent about the business’s stance on Black Lives Matter / current events. Finally, over the weekend, they posted on Instagram (their main social media outlet) an image featuring two non-fiction books by Black authors available through their site. On this post (which I’m not linking because the original text has been changed since), they received a lot of backlash in the comments for the fact that those two books were never main monthly selections for BOTM but farther down the site only as add-ons. A small gathering of six books on “antiracist learning” has been the only acknowledgment on the site of the recent protests. Further criticism included the fact that BOTM has included only 3 (out of 30) main selections this year by Black authors. Their selections are predominantly white, with an average of only one book (out of five) per month from an author who is not Caucasian. The majority of their judges, bookbassadors, and affiliates are also white. These facts, combined with the fact that the post came only after a fraught week of protests while BOTM promoted their own content, and the fact that their post of recommended reading offered no commitment from the company to work against racism in any way, drew a lot of ire.

In the midst of these complaints, at least one (Black) bookstagrammer announced publicly that her dissenting comments on the post had been deleted, and her account had been blocked from engaging with BOTM. Much of the Bookstagram/BOTM community is now calling for BOTM to issue an apology to this commentor, whose reasonable concerns were erased. Silencing a Black woman questioning the company’s committment to diversity and its current stance on BLM is… extremely low behavior on BOTM’s part, to put it mildly. I’m hoping there was some sort of accident or malfunction, that this happened only to one person, and that BOTM will share why it happened and commit to not doing anything like it in the future.

The reason I’m staying with BOTM for now despite their iffy (at best) response to current concerns of racism, is because after this debacle they released a stronger statement: it’s a general apology, a list of specific ways they’re planning to help fight racism with their platform and assets, and a confirmation that they stand with Black Lives Matter. The tone of their post and the comments seem to me genuinely apologetic and sincerely intent on doing better in the future. I’m glad they’ve been called out for questionable behavior and practices, and I’m not entirely satisfied with the way they’ve handled this yet, but I do think BOTM is in a great position to affect a positive change in the reading community (they have a HUGE influence in the US, even as they lose followers over this) and if they follow through with the list of goals they’ve posted it sounds like they’ll become a company I’ll be happier supporting. I’d love to see this major subscription service bringing diverse books to shelves across America (they’re only open to US readers at present) and supporting lesser-known authors who could benefit from the attention. While it is important to call out and challenge incidents of racism and put your money where it can best help those in need, I think it is also worth giving people/businesses a chance to learn and improve, and to support those willing to make that effort. I think it’s also important that when these companies send out their surveys to assess customer satisfaction someone is still there to advocate for positive change.

I’m sharing all of this here because I’ve pictured one of their books above, and don’t want you to imagine that I’m blindly ignoring what’s going on or in support of silencing Black voices in any way. I sincerely hope BOTM will become a better (more diverse and inclusive) service going forward, and if not, I will certainly be ending my membership.

That’s where I stand on that.

 

The Literary Elephant

Mini-Reviews: Faber Stories Pt. 9 (Plus Series Ranking!)

This has been a long time coming! If you’re new-ish here, you might not even know that I spent last year reading 29 of the 30 individually bound Faber Stories, a series of collectible short story editions published by Faber & Faber. There have been 30 volumes released between two batches- whether the series will be growing further in the future has not been announced, though I believe the intent was to celebrate their 90th year of publishing, which is now past.

When I reached the end of the first batch (which included 20 stories) I ranked them all here in order of favoritism; now that I’ve finished the rest I figured I might as well update that list! But first, I’ll go over the four stories I haven’t reviewed yet. Three I read back in December, intending to read the last in January… your guess is as good as mine as to why this took me until May!

 

Homeland by Barbara Kingsolver. 3 stars.

An old Cherokee woman who ran from Cherokee lands with a new husband just in time to avoid the US government’s forced relocation of Native American tribes is now a great-grandmother whose ancient culture lives on only in her heart and through the stories she impresses upon her granddaughter. Her oblivious American descendants take her to visit her birthplace, but the modern town they find in her tribe’s old place is no more than an inauthentic tourist trap.

This is a lovely and sad little piece about culture stolen from native peoples, and that culture living on as best it can through memories passed down to further generations. It is also a scathing critique of Americans’ irreverence for native history. That said, between the blurb on the jacket mentioning the disappointing trip to the Cherokee town, and the first two-page “chapter” providing the concept of culture living on as a seed inside living descendants, the reader has the entire formula of the story already within grasp just 5% into the read. I didn’t find much payoff in reading the rest, with the Point and the method of making it laid out so early, even though the writing is propulsive enough. Furthermore, I did have a fair grasp going in on the unfair and atrocious fates forced upon native tribes by US settlers, which made this story feel a bit predictable.  In any case, it’s a worthwhile point that Kingsolver is making, and she makes it well- it just wasn’t new to me at this point, which is no fault of hers.

Upon further inspection, this story was actually first published in 1989, so perhaps the trouble is simply that it’s a bit dated and would’ve had more punch for earlier readers.

” ‘I guess things have changed pretty much since you moved away, huh Great Mam?’ I asked. / She said, ‘I’ve never been here before.’ “

 

The Cheater’s Guide to Love by Junot Diaz. 2 stars.

In this volume, a Dominican-American man is going through a breakup; his girlfriend has discovered he’s been cheating on her (to an extreme extent), and dumped him. His best friend advises that the best way to get over the heartbreak is to find another woman- both struggle to find and maintain healthy relationships with women.

If there is anything positive to be found in this story, it eludes me. The MC and his friend have little respect for women, including those they supposedly love. When their misbehavior does lead to heartbreak (and complicated parenthood), they pity themselves without taking any responsibility for their mistakes or putting real effort into ditching bad habits. Yunior (the MC) does try exercise as a coping mechanism and distraction, but when it leads to injuries the story seems to be suggesting that there is no point in trying to resist cheating and objectifying women, it only leads to further punishment. I kept waiting for this to turn into a commentary on how awful this sort of behavior and mindset is for everyone involved, but right up to the final sentence it seems instead to be a wistful longing for being able to cheat in “monogamous” relationships without facing consequences. The men of the story seem to expect to sleep with whoever they want, when they want to, drop those women whenever it pleases them, and pop in to see any resultant children only when it suits them. I found the humor contemptible, felt no sympathy for these men, and gained nothing from this story.

hope I’m missing something. The only upside was that it was a quick read, at least.

 

Giacomo Joyce by James Joyce. 3 stars.

Only a story in the loosest sense, this little book is full of poetic vignettes about a man (clearly modeled after Joyce) in the midst of an affair with a student he teaches.

I think there’s going to be a very particular audience for this story, and I wasn’t it. There are a lot of references and similarities to other Joyce works, which I wouldn’t have noticed, not having read any others through- but nearly half of this volume is actually dedicated to pointing out and explaining these many ties. As a Joyce novice these didn’t have much meaning for me, though perhaps  someone better versed in Joycean lit would find them more appealing. The prose is beautiful, though very dense and somewhat impenetrable. Poetry connoisseurs might also have better luck.

Ultimately I thought this was lovely, though a terrible place to start with Joyce’s work as a relative beginner. If ever I were to become more knowledgeable and interested in Joyce’s life and work, I’d want to revisit this story to see if it would have more to offer me at that point.

 

Shanti by Vikram Chandra. 3 stars.

Set in India, this is a set of stories within a story within a story, set in the wake of WWII in 1945. The main characters are a man whose identical twin has died, a woman on a futile search for her missing fighter pilot husband, and a couple of their friends.

The jacket copy claims that this is “a spiraling tale of loss, and two wounded people becoming something new.” Without that hint of direction, I’m not sure I would have found the themes of this one out at all; there are so many layers to this tale and so many details given; it felt both elaborate and strangely empty. By which I mean, the biggest obstacle for me here was simply the fact that despite reports of how these people were dealing with their grief, I never felt a hint of emotion. And thus, no matter how each of the individual narratives might have worked for me, it never quite came together to a meaningful point or payoff. I believe the innermost level of narratives is meant to capture some of the characters’ unspoken emotions, but the fact that this is all told through a friend of this man and woman rather than either of them or even a neutral 3rd-person narrator puts the action too far distant to be properly effective.

All in all I found this a rather frustrating read, with moments of beauty overshadowed by my difficulty in sympathizing with the characters at the heart of the tale.

“They would go home, and even if nothing was finished, not ever, they would batten away the memories and find new beginnings.”

 

faberstories9

Concluding thoughts:

Despite high hopes for at least two of these stories (Homeland and Shanti), this has turned out to be perhaps my most disappointing batch of Faber Stories yet. I don’t regret picking these up and rounding out my experience with this series of stories, but I had wished to end on a higher note. From this round, I’d say Homeland has probably been my favorite, and I’d read more from both Kingsolver and perhaps Joyce, based on these offerings.

 

To amp up the fun, my revised ranking of the Faber Stories, in order from most to least favorite! I’ve linked each title to its respective review set in case you’re interested in learning anything further about any of these in particular.

  1. Mostly Hero by Anna Burs – 5 stars
  2. The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes by Alan Bennett – 5 stars
  3. The Forester’s Daughter by Claire Keegan – 4 stars
  4. Come Rain or Come Shine by Kazuo Ishiguro – 4 stars
  5. Mrs. Fox by Sarah Hall – 4 stars
  6. Mr Salary by Sally Rooney – 4 stars
  7. Let the Old Dead Make Room for the Young Dead by Milan Kundera – 4 stars
  8. Paradise by Edna O’Brien – 4 stars
  9. Intruders by Adrian Tomine – 4 stars
  10. The Inner Room by Robert Aickman – 4 stars
  11. A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor – 4 stars
  12. The Lydia Steptoe Stories by Djuna Barnes – 4 stars
  13. Ghostly Stories by Celia Fremlin – 4 stars
  14. Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom by Sylvia Plath – 3 stars
  15. The Victim by P. D. James – 3 stars
  16. Three Types of Solitude by Brian Aldiss – 3 stars
  17. Fairy Tales by Marianne Moore – 3 stars
  18. Dante and the Lobster by Samuel Beckett – 3 stars
  19. An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah – 3 stars
  20. Homeland by Barbara Kingsolver – 3 stars
  21. My Son the Fanatic by Hanif Kureishi – 3 stars
  22. Daughters of Passion by Julia O’Faolain – 3 stars
  23. Shanti by Vikram Chandra – 3 stars
  24. The Country Funeral by John McGahern – 3 stars
  25. A River in Egypt by David Means – 3 stars
  26. Terrific Mother by Lorrie Moore – 3 stars
  27. Sonny Liston was a Friend of Mine by Thom Jones – 3 stars
  28. Cosmopolitan by Akhil Sharma – 3 stars
  29. Giacomo Joyce by James Joyce – 3 stars
  30. The Cheater’s Guide to Love by Junot Diaz – 2 stars

 

faberstoriescomplete30

Set Reflection:

I would read more of these. I’ve absolutely enjoyed my time with this series overall; it’s nice to come to each story fresh- a new author, a new subject, pretty packaging. My average rating is 3.5, which is a bit low to get excited about but far from terrible. I still think this is a great way to sample authors’ work in bite-sized pieces; I’ve added several of these writers to my TBR as a result of reading this series (though shamefully I’m yet to pick those additional works up) and I just love the look of them. It’s been a good run. I probably wouldn’t recommend reading all of them unless you’re a die-hard completionist (welcome to the club!), but you can hardly go wrong picking up a few of these that appeal!

Who’s your favorite short story writer? (Feel free to mention someone who’s not included in this set!)

 

The Literary Elephant

Mini-Reviews: Faber Stories Pt. 8

I’ve been reading my way through Faber’s new collection of individually bound short stories this year, and am nearing the end of the titles published so far! Today I’ll feature the three stories I’ve read most recently, which will leave me with one more batch of four coming up around the end of the year. In case you missed them, here are the links to my previous Faber Stories mini-reviews: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

Now let’s dive in.

My Son the Fanatic by Hanif Kureishi. 3 out of 5 stars.

In this story from 1996, a father watches his teenage son’s changing behavior with growing concern. Both are Pakistani Muslims living in England. The father is becoming, to an extent, “Westernized,” even as his son is learning about his cultural heritage and becoming more staunchly Islamic. The two cannot agree on a compromise between their religion and the Western ways of life, finding themselves at irreconcilable odds.

This is a straightforward piece with themes of assimilation and loyalty- to family, religion, and nation. The main focus is on the relationship between the father and his son. It’s an interesting glimpse into a clash of cultures, of how adapting to a new country can alter people in different ways, and even create rifts in families.

What didn’t work for me was the humor. The blurb in the front flap of the book calls this story a “comedy of assimilation,” claiming that it is “both uproariously funny and so prescient it’s barely funny at all.” Perhaps when the story was first published it came across differently, but I found the attempts at humor bothersome rather than amusing. First is the father’s fear that his son is selling his possessions to buy drugs. Rightfully he’s concerned, but his response is to tell his colleagues and spy on his son, and then makes light of it when it turns out to be religion-related instead, as though drug abuse is anything to joke about. There’s another detail about a friend of the father’s who is a prostitute, whose final scene in the story revolves around her being insulted for her profession and the father failing to defend her or their friendship. I didn’t find any of the writing outright offensive, and I don’t think it’s exactly meant to have the reader rolling in laughter anyway, but even so the tone just seemed a bit unpalatable to me.

“There was more to the world than the West, though the West always thought it was best.”

Let the Old Dead Make Room for the Young Dead by Milan Kundera. 4 stars.

In this story, originally written in Czech in 1969 (oddly there is no mention anywhere in this little volume of the identity of the translator), an aging woman returns to the city where her husband was buried to attempt to renew the lease on his grave. After receiving some bad news on that front, she runs into a man with whom she had a brief affair years previously. In thirteen tiny chapters, they spend the afternoon together, remembering their past encounter and wondering whether they are too old to change the way they left things.

There’s not much plot to this story; the unfortunate situation with the grave (and the meaning of the title) are revealed within the first five pages, and the rest of the story is spent in a will-they-or-won’t-they exchange between the two old lovers. Most of these pages are spent simply ruminating on how age changes things, no matter how much we might want to deny it. The constant presence of death as a theme in the background, combined with the beautiful writing, also lends the story a delightfully morbid air and the impression of a ticking clock.

This has got to be one of my favorite pieces about an affair written by a male author, ever. The woman seems like a real person, and isn’t objectified even though much of the story revolves around whether or not these people are going to sleep together again. The man is equally well-sketched. Both are concerned about how age has changed their physical bodies, and yet the details reflect their mental states and maturity rather than a shallow interest in appearance. Though this is on the surface a sort of romance, the reason it works so well is that ultimately it’s about the passage of time and the things that give life meaning. Is it better to remember a good experience and close the door on it, or to keep experiencing new things, even if they might tarnish the memories of the old things? This is the question that will decide these characters’ fates. Not much happens in these pages, but I thoroughly enjoyed the read all the same.

“Just as she could not have prevented her husband’s death, so also she was defenseless against his second death, this death of an old dead who is now forbidden to exist even as dead.”

Mostly Hero by Anna Burns. 5 stars.

At 144 pages, this is by far the longest of any of the Faber Stories published so far, but I did not want it any shorter. Having already loved Burns’ Booker Prize-winning Milkman last year, this was one of the Faber Stories volumes I was most excited to read, and even though my expectations were high going in, it didn’t disappoint.

In this story, which is a sort of spoof on sci-fi superhero narratives, our main characters are femme fatale, superhero, and Great Aunt. There are also assorted supervillains and a misguided cousin. Burns draws on what the reader expects from these “types” of characters to create interesting personas that both conform and defy conventional norms. The plot is fun, fast-paced, and continually surprising, beginning with a secret spell designed to make femme kill her boyfriend (superhero) without knowing what she’s doing, complicated by a backstory involving superhero’s tragic family past, and progressing into a plot for temporary world domination. No one is quite who they seem at first, and every revelation both takes the story a step farther and leaves the reader questioning what we typically expect from superhero narratives. It’s a captivating romp with deeper themes of expectation vs perception, of the blurry line between good and evil, of the messiness of love.

Similar in style to Milkman, with long sentences and paragraphs, a convoluted doubling-back of plotting and backstory, and the use of simple qualifiers in place of actual names,  the brevity of Mostly Hero makes it a bit more accessible though I think ultimately the writing will appeal to a similar audience. The topic is very different though, which means a reader who loved Milkman for its Irish focus might not get on with this one quite as well, while sci-fi fans might fare considerably better. Mostly Hero is still a literary story at heart, which is most apparent toward the end of the story when the plot begins to drag in favor of introspection. That was really the only downside to the reading experience for me, and the only reason I might have considered lowering my rating, but in the end I had such a fantastic time that a shift in focus at the end of the story couldn’t impact my overall impression. I absolutely loved this one.

“This was just the twist of fate and of incestuous Greek playacting to be expected in the dark, umbrous world hero lived in.”

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Concluding thoughts: this batch just kept getting better and better. I appreciated the commentary in My Son the Fanatic, though otherwise felt lukewarm about it, only to love the writing in Let the Old Dead Make Room for the Young Dead and to find myself overjoyed with every single detail of Mostly Hero. I can’t believe I haven’t gotten around to reading more of Burns’s work yet, but this story has reminded me of how much I love her writing, and I’ll definitely be trying harder to pick up the titles from her backlist going forward. It’s hard to imagine any of the Faber Stories I have left to read topping Mostly Hero for me, but I’m certainly hoping to find another gem!

 

The Literary Elephant

Mini-reviews: Faber Stories Pt. 7

My Faber Stories journey continues! In case you missed it, I’ve been reading through the 2019 collection of Faber Stories- individually bound short stories from a wide range of celebrated authors- since early this year. Originally a set of 20 stories (though always meant to expand, I think), there have been 10 more recent additions to the collection. I’ll link my reviews for the first 20 stories here: ( Mini-reviews part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, and part 6). Below are the first three I read from the new batch; I’m aiming to wrap up the rest of the new volumes in two more sets of mini-reviews before the end of the year. For now:

Ghostly Stories by Celia Fremlin. 4 stars.

This volume contains two short pieces by Fremlin, originally published in 1968 and ’70. Both are stories of hauntings, and both highlight a fraught mother-daughter relationship. The first features a teen girl home alone, ruminating about the house and her parents, when a mysterious girl her own age stops by and seems to understand everything. The second piece is the longer of the two, and focuses on a woman who, after the death of her sister, has spent years acting as a mother figure to her niece. Now that the niece is engaged and preparing a house of her own, her aunt has a terrible sense of doom hanging over the girl, and recounts her own past as she tries to piece together the reason for her increasing worry that her niece is in danger.

Both of the stories contain a twist at the end that answers the main “mystery” of their story, though neither are framed as a mystery, and neither has much of a plot. Where they excel is in their discourse on difficult parent-child relationships. The first story touches on the disparity in viewpoints: the child thinking she has some special insight into her parents’ personalities, the parents harboring a layered past to which she’s not privy. Building on this idea, the second piece shows the aunt’s backstory in the midst of her present fright, which contains enough depth to entirely explain the current situation. In this story, the protagonist’s history with her niece’s parents proves to have affected her entire relationship with the girl, though until this recent incident neither of them knew it.

In the end, though the broad strokes seemed fairly obvious, I enjoyed the depth revealed in each relationship, perhaps even more so in the final implications that each ending is actually a beginning of a new phase of life for these characters. The first story seemed the most predictable to me, and didn’t delve deep enough to really impress me, so that was a 3-star; the second piece I found much more intriguing, and landed on a 4-star rating. Overall I went with 4 for the volume because the themes and details did make these two pieces a very apt pairing.

Intruders by Adrian Tomine. 4 stars.

I had no idea until I picked this one up that it’s actually the first graphic short story to appear in the Faber Stories set (originally published in 2015). Each page includes a bit of text, with an image beneath, comic-square style.

The story here centers around a soldier back at “home” between tours of duty; though he’s staying elsewhere, day after day he comes back to look at the old apartment where he once lived with his wife. Someone else now lives in the apartment, and the soldier, after learning this new tenant’s schedule, begins to let himself into the place with his old key. Things eventually go wrong (of course).

Though the surface details of the plot are certainly intriguing here, making this a quick read aided by expressive art that furthers the story, what really drew me to this one is the subtle between-the-lines commentary on this soldier’s state of mind. It’s clear that his time in service has altered his behavior and perspective, which likely led to the split with his wife. In that respect, I think this is an excellent piece depicting some of the hardships soldiers can face, even after returning home. I was a little disappointed that Tomine shied away from greater conflict with the ending, but I appreciated the psychological insight nevertheless.

Fairy Tales by Marianne Moore. 3 stars.

Translated from Charles Perrault’s original French dating back to the 1600s, poet Moore here shares three early fairy tales. (“Early” here meaning that Perrault was the inventor of the fairy tale genre.) The pieces included in this volume are “Puss in Boots,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “Cinderella.” Though these are all familiar stories now, the original versions vary a bit from their modern counterparts, meaning there are still a few surprises for the curious reader.

Unlike the two volumes above, the plots are the selling point here. The conflict is introduced early on, a magical element comes into play, and the hook is invariably, “how will this good hero/heroine get out of this mess?” From the introduction and Moore’s background in award-winning poetry, it’s clear that much attention has been paid to wording, and these stories are indeed very readable.

They’re also very dated. My biggest qualm here is simply that these tales are absolutely a product of their time, and were not modernized in translation. Princesses are supposed to be beautiful and charming and otherwise helpless while the king gives them away to whichever suitor he pleases, or a prince sweeps in to rescue them; the mother-in-law who doesn’t like her son’s wife is literally presented as an ogre; a man with hardly any property to his name impresses the king with gifts of small game, and easily gets away with lying about his title and land ownership. Some casual misogyny and pre-internet lawlessness are to be expected from this time period of course, but even so I wish we could celebrate this genre and these stories without perpetuating some of those less desirable elements that haven’t aged as well.

Even so, I found “Puss in Boots” clever and amusing, “Sleeping Beauty” captivatingly dark, and “Cinderella” simply a very pleasant read- she’s such an amiable character in this version that it’s impossible not to root for her happy ending. My only complaint about plot is that “Sleeping Beauty” really felt like two separate stories: one about the princess pricking her finger on a spindle and falling asleep, and one about the princess become a secret bride in a dangerous family. Both interesting, though the second half doesn’t quite flow logically and smoothly from the first. All three stories are engrossing and amusing, though unless you want to ruminate on helpless women and tricksters becoming rulers, there’s not any sort of moral to be drawn or thought path to continue down after closing the cover.

“A prince, young and in love, is always brave, and this one, true to tradition, went boldly to the forecourt of the castle. There, what he saw would have frozen the blood of the bravest. In the fearsome silence, everything everywhere had the look of death…”

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In conclusion, these were entertaining reads I’m glad I picked up, though none of them is compelling me to pick up further works by these authors. These all helped keep me going when I hit a bit of a reading slump in October/November though, so I’m grateful for that, but hoping for even better luck as I continue through this collection!

Have you read any of these, or have your eye on any of the other Faber Stories?

 

The Literary Elephant

 

TBR 11.19 / General Update – I’m back!

I’m finally making my return to the blogosphere!! After a few very long work weeks that kept me mostly offline, I am (at last!) back to business and so ready to talk about books. I have a lot of posts to catch up on, both in terms of viewing and writing, so unfortunately it’ll probably take me a while to be fully back to “normal” here. I was hoping for some periodic breaks in my work schedule to allow me to keep up a bit better this month, which really didn’t happen. The good news: while I’ve been cut off from the internet, I’ve still been reading and making tons of plans for post ideas, 2020 book/blog goals, etc. so you’ll be seeing a lot of new stuff here soon and I’ve got ALL THE EXCITEMENT for it!

To start off, I’m catching up with the last post I had partially drafted: my October book haul / November TBR. It seems like as good a way as any to fill you in on a bit of what’s been happening with my reading and what I’m planning for the rest of the month, even if it is late for a TBR.

As per my 2019 TBR goal, I’m *supposed* to be reading all the new books I’ve acquired by the end of the following month- this hasn’t been working well for me, but I’m continuing to track the info and make a small attempt, so first up below will be a list of new books that came to my shelves in October. After, I’ll mention any other books that I’ve *actually* been reading this month, with an overview of the reviews I’ll have coming up.

New books I haven’t read yet:

  1. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. This is one of the 2019 Booker Prize winners, and one of the longlisted titles I was most looking forward to reading. I put it off during the Booker craze because it wasn’t out in the US yet, but I finally caved and ordered a copy when it won (and I believe it is now available in the US in paperback as well). This will probably be my next read, which should mean a review in early December.
  2. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates. My October BOTM selection. I suspect I’m going to appreciate Coates’s nonfiction (I still haven’t read any of it yet, the shame!) more than this novel, but after skipping my BOTM boxes for a few months (very unlike me, even though I haven’t been thrilled with the selections this year) I just couldn’t resist.
  3. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. I enjoyed Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and have heard nothing but praise for this latest novel from him. It’s historical fiction about racial prejudice in the southern US that’s been nominated for the National Book Award (though I believe it didn’t make the shortlist) and the Goodreads Choice Awards (which I don’t hold in much esteem but still vote and view).
  4. The Vagina Bible by Jennifer Gunter. This is a nonfiction book that I hear is both useful/informative and also fun, as it debunks popular misconceptions about female health. (And is written by an actual medical doctor.) I ordered a copy as soon as I heard about it. I’m hoping to dip in and out of this with the aim of finishing before the end of the year.
  5. The History of Bees by Maja Lunde, translated by Diane Oatley. This is a translated novel I’ve been meaning to read for a couple of years now, am pretty sure I’m going to love, and for some reason keep refraining from checking out at the library. I found a copy on sale and am hoping that having it on hand will be the final push I need to reach for it! I’d like to read this one yet in November.
  6. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. I found this one on Book Outlet and couldn’t help picking it up, even though I don’t really know much about it. I believe there’s a writer who finds a diary from a Tokyo girl, and as she gets swept up in the story she finds there she’s not sure whether the diary writer is still alive? I’m uncertain about that, but enjoy going in blind. I know this one’s been on several award lists and it’s been recommended to me, so I was pleased to find a cheap copy.
  7. On Beauty by Zadie Smith. Apparently I’m building my collection of Women’s Prize winners. I’ve picked up several others from the winners list in the past few months, and it looks like the trend is continuing. I know nothing about this book other than its inclusion in that literary award list, and even though she’s been on my TBR for years I’ve not yet gotten around to reading anything by Zadie Smith! Hopefully that will change soon.
  8. Kitty Genovese: A True Account of a Public Murder and Its Private Consequences by Catherine Pelonero. This is a nonfiction book about a case that’s intrigued me since high school psychology class. Kitty Genovese was a woman murdered in New York in the 60’s- there were many witnesses who saw or heard what was happening, and no one helped her or called the police. I need to know more.
  9. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Another nonfiction, this one focuses on the effects that humans eating animals have on this planet. It was actually Foer’s more recent We Are the Weather that caught my eye, but after looking into it I decided to read this one first.
  10. Foe by Iain Reid. I read and enjoyed Reid’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things a while back and have been meaning to pick up this new novel. I wasn’t planning to buying it right now, but Book Outlet had a cheap hardcover available and I found it in a moment of online retail therapy when my defenses were low (which explains why this list is getting so long). I know very little about the story- I believe there are a pair of siblings living on a secluded farm, and something creepy happens.
  11. All Systems Red by Martha Wells. This is a sci-fi novella I’ve seen around but only added to my TBR fairly recently. I’m pretty sure I’m going to love this, so even though I know my library has a copy I couldn’t pass this one up on Book Outlet either. I know it features an android main character (“murderbot”) who is not fond of humans. I suspect I’m going to want to binge this series as soon as I get started.
  12. Faber Stories. After reading and (mostly) enjoying all 20 of the original Faber Stories (and also seeing some of those prices rise absurdly as the year has progressed), I went ahead and ordered all 10 of these new stories before they had a chance to become ridiculously expensive. I expect to read these all before the end of the year, probably resuming my habit of reading and reviewing in batches of 3-4 titles. the newly added stories are:
    • Let The Old Dead Make Room for the Young Dead by Milan Kundera
    • Giacomo Joyce by James Joyce
    • Shanti by Vikram Chandra
    • The Cheater’s Guide to Love by Junot Diaz
    • My Son the Fanataic by Hanif Kureishi
    • Homeland by Barbara Kingsolver
    • Mostly Hero by Anna Burns
    • Intruders by Adrian Tomine (I recently read this one)
    • Fairy Tales by Marianne Moore (And this one)
    • Ghostly Stories by Celia Fremlin (And this one)

New books I’ve read:

  1. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling, illustrated by Jim Kay. I’ve looked at all of the illustrations and read the text in an older edition, so I’m counting this as read even though I technically haven’t read the text from this copy and I am planning a series reread including the 4 illustrated editions. I don’t think I’ll be starting that reread before the end of the year, but Kay’s art makes it so tempting!
  2. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I read this back in high school and loved it. I’m not in a hurry to reread it, but I’m slowly adding to my personal collection the books that have made the biggest impact on my reading life or been memorable for some particular reason that I don’t own; this was the book that convinced me I like reading “weird” stories, with a bizarre/unrealistic element. Also, I think my mom will enjoy this one so I’ll lend it to her.
  3. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. I read and loved this sci-fi classic a few years ago, before I learned some things about Orson Scott Card that turned me off of his work. While I don’t think I’ll be continuing to read this series, I do want to hold on to my fond memories of this story. Book Outlet’s excellent prices meant I could pick up a copy without feeling like I was offering Card my full support. Distasteful authors can be hard to navigate.
  4. No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg. This is a tiny compilation of some of Thunberg’s speeches on climate change, and this busy time of year was perfect for me to enjoy a short, inspirational nonfiction bind-up. I didn’t find it quite as informative as I’d hoped, but fascinating and compelling nonetheless. More thoughts coming soon.

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That brings us to the end of the book haul portion of this post.  (I know the stack pictured is incomplete, I took the photo before my Book Outlet box arrived and don’t have sunlight now to update it- sorry!) I’m certainly not going to be reading all of those books before the end of November. I am planning to get to a few more Faber Stories, and, as I mentioned above, Girl, Woman, Other and A History of Bees. I’m currently reading Stephen King’s Firestarter in preparation for an upcoming buddy read of King’s The Institute, which I’m expecting to read between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m also tentatively hoping to finish S. A. Chakraborty’s The Kingdom of Copper before the end of the month, an adult fantasy sequel I started much earlier this year and had to put down at about the halfway point due to other commitments intervening.

And, before I close, here’s a recap of what I’ve read in the time I’ve been away from my blog. These reviews will probably be coming up in this order, or close to it; I’m also hoping to post something for Nonfiction November and my 2019 Almost-Favorites, so there’s plenty on my plate. Some of these books I mentioned in my October wrap-up, but I thought an updated list was in order:

  • Wilder Girls by Rory Power
  • The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
  • Faber Stories mini-reviews, including: Ghostly Stories, Intruders, and Fairy Tales
  • Nonfiction mini-reviews, including Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions by Valeria Luiselli and No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg
  • Hannibal by Thomas Harris
  • Unbelievable by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong

By the time I post these reviews, I’ll probably have finished a couple more of the titles I’ve mentioned above, so I probably won’t be entirely caught up until early/mid December. But I’m hoping to be caught up on reading blog posts within a week! Please bear with me while I’m settling back in, but feel free to chat-

Have you read any of these books?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

 

The Literary Elephant