Cluny Brown

This 1944 novel by Margery Sharp is so pleasant. The conflict and drama are minimal, but significant to those experiencing it. The people are decent, but not perfect. There’s a recognition of the wider world beyond the story. And there are some surprising turns along the way.

At age 20, Cluny Brown is described as “good-tempered, willing, as much sense as most girls —” yet her uncle, a London plumber named Mr. Porritt, can’t figure out how to “handle” her because “she doesn’t seem to know her place.” I know that Mr. Porritt sounds terrible, but he really just wants to help Cluny live a life that’s safe and secure. He’s not mean-spirited; he just doesn’t get Cluny’s willingness to do the unexpected, like have tea at the Ritz or go out to resolve a plumbing problem when her uncle can’t be reached. Cluny acts in the moment in ways that make sense to her, without much thought for social convention. And that’s the root of the problem.

Mr. Porritt decides that life in service would be good for Cluny, so he arranges for her to take a position as a parlour-maid in a country house called Friars Carmel. There, she does well enough to retain her job but doesn’t go out of her way to excel. And she continues to break convention by, for example, taking the neighbor’s dog out for walks.

As Cluny adjusts to her new life in the country, the family at Friars Carmel is adjusting to the presence of a new guest, a writer from Germany who has left to evade the Nazis. This is, of course, a potentially serious story line, but Sharp treats it with a light touch, focusing on the personalities involved, rather than the peril, which remains theoretical and distant.

Much of the novel focuses on Cluny and the family’s daily dramas, but those dramas are not without weight because so many of the characters are on the cusp of making monumental decisions about where to live, whom to marry, and what sort of person to be. And the choices they make are sometimes predictable and sometimes surprising — one in particular just about took my breath away it was so unexpected, but in the end it seemed entirely right.

I also have to share the wonderful fragment in my copy of the book. I found this for a couple of dollars at a local thrift store. It was missing the original paper cover, but I’m so happy that this back flyleaf was preserved and remained inside the book. What a wonderful piece of history!

Paper fragment of book flyleaf explaining that the book was printed using methods intended to save paper because of wartime rationing.As for the actual printing of the book, it didn’t seem particularly substandard to me, but perhaps that speaks to the typical condition of modern book printing. The paper is slightly more yellow than I’m used to, although some of that is due to age. The print is clear and readable, and the margins are sufficient. The text doesn’t feel at all crowded on the page, nor does the paper feel particularly thin. It makes me wonder how it would have looked a year or two earlier! As it is, I found this pleasantly light and enjoyable to read, both in print quality and story quality.

Posted in Classics, Fiction | 8 Comments

Seed to Harvest: The Patternist Series

Octavia Butler’s Patternist series is a series of Octavia Butler’s earliest novels (although she wrote Kindred as a standalone during the time these books were published). Four of the novels that make up the series were published in a single edition titled Seed to Harvest, and this is the version of the series that I read.

The Seed to Harvest version of the series presents the books in chronological order, rather than publishing order, and  leaves out the 1978 novel Survivor, which Butler disavowed. Although I liked the series a lot, I think the publication order might have been more enjoyable, as the final book — Patternmaster, which was Butler’s first published novel — felt sort of simplistic after the complex setup of the earlier books. Then again, maybe I would have been less enthusiastic to read more after reading Patternmaster. At any rate, I read them as presented in Seed to Harvest, and I was happy to read them.

The first novel, Wild Seed (1980) is the story of two people with supernatural powers caught up in a battle of wills. Doro, who can live forever, taking on the form of those he kills, is attempting to create a society of others with special powers. When he meets the healer and shapeshifter Anyanwu, he wants to make her part of his family. He convinces her to come with him from Africa to America, but she refuses to give in to him entirely.

In Mind of My Mind (1977), Doro and Anyanwu have achieved a sort of balance between them, but Doro continues to build his family of mind readers and healers (Patternists) by breeding those with potential together. Now in the present day, a latent telepath named Mary comes into her power and gathers a family of her own.

Set in the near future, Clay’s Ark (1984) appears to have no connection at all to the earlier books. It involves a father and his daughters who encounter an isolated community that has been infected with an alien virus. They’ve build a society where the virus can continue to survive without reaching the wider population, but they must periodically bring in new members who will themselves become infected and produce mutant children.

Patternmaster (1976) brings the Claysark mutants and the Patternists together in an even more distant future. The book’s main character, Teray, is a Patternist who is just out of school and preparing to start his own household. But he’s perceived as a threat to a fellow Patternist. And the Claysark mutants are a constant threat to the Patternists.

I read this series while also rewatching Agents of Shield, and the story of the Inhumans echoed that of the Patternists in some interesting ways. In the first two books in particular, you have an immortal Patternist trying to control the fate of all those who come after him, but his motivation is murky, not unlike that of Jiaying on Agents of Shield. And not all of the Patternists are going to go along with Doro’s ideas, no matter how compelling a case he can make. Perhaps the Patternists are better off listening to him, but why? Doro asserts his authority, but he does nothing to earn anyone’s trust. It’s just power and magnetism that keeps him in place.

The whole series, particularly the books about the Patternists, tosses around ideas of power and submission and free will. The Patternmasters and heads of households and families maintain their power with a mix of convincing and outright coercion, sometimes even convincing people to become mentally enslaved, voluntarily giving up their free will. There’s some degree of choice, but it’s a choice to give up choice. It reminded me of ideas that I think Butler develops with more sophistication in Fledgling, where vampires develop a symbiotic relationship with humans.

As for Clay’s Ark, there’s a power situation there, too. Eli Doyle, the astronaut who brought the virus to Earth, had to transmit the virus in order to survive, and the family he infects and builds had no choice but to be infected. And now they have no choice but to stay with him if they don’t want to infect the whole planet. Plus, the virus itself wants to survive and procreate, bringing new mutant babies into the world and filling the parents with the instinct to care for them. Mostly, though, this book just struck me because of its relevance to the time we’re in right now. One of the characters explains it this way:

We’re infectious for as much as two weeks before we start to show symptoms — except for people like you who won’t have two weeks between infection and symptoms. How many people do you think the average person could infect in two weeks of city life? How many could his victims infect?

Infection is always a peril. At least our COVID-19 doesn’t drive people to spread it. Let’s hope our pandemic of ignorance stays at bay enough to keep us safe.

Posted in Fiction, Speculative Fiction | 5 Comments

March Reading in Review

So, we’re three days into April and the beginning of March feels like another world, doesn’t it? Yet despite it seeming like the longest month ever, I ended up doing very little reading, and when I did read, the results were not great. The call for self-isolation hasn’t really put much more time in my hands because I’ve been working at home on my normal schedule, but with more to fret about.

My March books were ones that in a different time, when my mind was less overwhelmed, I might have liked better. But right now, I think a strong narrative and absorbing story was more necessary that I realized. And the less concentration required, the better. By the end of the month, I was spending my time watching an old season of Project Runway—OMG, the twins!—and movies I’d seen before. And my favorite book of the month was a reread.

 

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. This is a fascinating account of the medical history of a Hmong girl in California who developed epilepsy at a young age and the medical establishment that couldn’t navigate the language and cultural barriers. Fadiman is both generous where people were making honest mistakes but trying their best and critical where people were letting stereotypes get in the way of giving good care.

The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick. Vivian Gornick’s memoir of her life in New York City is a book that I might have liked better if I’d read it at a different time. As it was, the meandering style failed to really draw me in. I liked bits and pieces of it, but it hasn’t stuck with me at all.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. The first part of this western was a little too episodic for me (again with the wanting a strong narrative arc), but it got much better toward the end, when the brothers finally meet the man they’re supposed to kill.

 

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. This may be the biggest disappointment of the month, only because I could imagine liking it so much more than I did. But, as it was, each story that made up this novel in stories wasn’t quite exciting enough on its own, and my brain was too distracted to hold onto the connections between the characters so that I could see how it all fit together — and I think that the novel’s brilliance is in how the pieces fit together. I did think the story in PowerPoint was clever and surprisingly moving. Thinking about this in comparison to Girl Woman Other, I can see where Evaristo succeeds in making a novel where each individual story is great on its own and the connections are fun to pick out. For me, Egan only succeeds on the latter front, and I was simply unable to appreciate that aspect of it.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. This was my second time reading Mantel’s second book in the Thomas Cromwell series, and it’s just as good as it was the first time. One of the things I love in this series is how portentous every supposedly triumphant moment is. In Wolf Hall, we saw Anne Boleyn’s rise alongside plenty of clues that it wouldn’t last. Now we see her fall, as Cromwell’s rise that began in Wolf Hall continues. And Anne’s arc is full of portent for Cromwell himself. These are such delicious books.

As for April, I received my copy of The Mirror and the Light from my local indie, which is relatively new to the neighborhood and now struggling after having to close for COVID-19. I’ll probably finish reading it today. I’m also continuing to read Come Be My Light, about Mother Teresa as my Lenten book. I managed to get to the local library the day before it closed and pick up The Good Lord Bird, which I had on hold. That will be my last library book for a while, unless I decide to borrow some ebooks.

Natasha, one month into FIP remission

I hope to do more reading in March. My work schedule has changed, giving me more time off, and I’ll probably take a full week later in the month. As worrying as this time is, in a lot of ways, I’m very lucky. I have a comfortable home and a cuddly cat who herself is in remission from a bout with FIP, a mutated version of a feline coronavirus that was previously fatal. (If she makes it to the end of May, she’ll be considered cured.) I have a whole bookcase full of books and plenty of entertainment to stream. And social media makes it possible to reach out in a way that would have been inconceivable 20 years ago. As it happens, my mood this month has swung between really appreciating social media and really wanting nothing to do with any of it. But I’m glad the option is there.

I hope all of you are doing well in these strange and difficult times. Stay safe and healthy everyone.

Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments

March Reading

Hi everyone! It’s been so long since I’ve been here that I hesitate even to greet you; I looked back and I find that I took a “break” in August 2018 (too depressed by politics to blog) and kept telling myself that I’d come back in a little while. But I’ve been wanting to write about some of the things I’ve been reading (I was reading, just not blogging!), so here’s a start.

Before I start, though, I want to extend my very warmest wishes to you in the pandemic. I hope all of you are well — healthy and safe — and that your loved ones are safe too. I hope you have enough supplies and that your anxiety is at a manageable level. It would seem as if readers would be excellently suited to our present time, but I am finding that my concentration span isn’t very good, and I read in short bursts. Much love and care to all of you and those you love.

I thought I’d start whatever return this is going to be, by doing a March roundup. It was a good reading month for me:

 

I’ll just hit the highlights! The biggest standout for me was Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year. I didn’t read this book on purpose because of our situation — it was just next on the TBR list, because I try to read at least one pre-20th century book a month. But as I read it, I was blown away by how interesting, touching, and above all relevant it is. Defoe wrote the book in 1722 as a faux “memoir” of the 1665 year of plague in London. It was eighty years before anyone realized it was a fake, because it was so realistic and because he drew from historical sources to make it ring true. But even though I don’t know much of the history myself, it still rings true: the difficulty of quarantining people, the way an epidemic weighs harder on the poor than on the rich, the hoarding and the panic, the fear and grief, the way leadership matters. I can’t recommend this more strongly.

Other Jenny has been recommending Rumer Godden as long as I can remember, and I absolutely loved In This House of Brede. The practical view of life in an abbey — the reality of a vocation, and the highs and lows of life with the other nuns, and the issues of administration — it was so well written and satisfying. I didn’t know anything about Godden, but it turns out she was almost exactly a contemporary of my grandmother, who also grew up in India (the daughter of a Scottish missionary) until she was sixteen, and then came to the US. I wonder if my grandmother knew and loved Rumer Godden; it seems like the kind of book she’d have adored.

Zora Neale Hurston’s Hitting a Straight Lick With a Crooked Stick blew me away. A colleague of mine loaned me this book of Hurston’s short stories, some of which have been “lost” for many years. Some of these stories are tragic, some are hilarious, some show Hurston’s anthropological background as she observes her community. I enjoyed every single one. Have any of you read Barracoon?

Bend Sinister is the ninth book of Nabokov’s I’ve read, and it’s the most overt: this is a book about being trapped in a nightmarish dictatorship, and how that changes, and eventually crushes, everything worth while. Nabokov was equally against fascism and Stalinism, and this book is a sort of mashup of the two; Adam Krug, the philosopher at the center of the story, is a heavy-set, hairy man, but he’s still like one of Nabokov’s beloved butterflies as he tries to escape the impossible. It sounds depressing (and in many ways it is sad, though no great book can be really depressing), but it’s also funny, and dazzling, and even hopeful.

I’ll stop now, before I review every book I read this month! If you have questions or thoughts about other ones, let me know in the comments! There was only one book this month I did not like, so I’m just leaving off before this gets too long, not because I didn’t enjoy the other ones. And… it feels good to be back.

Posted in Uncategorized | 25 Comments

February Reading in Review

I hadn’t intended to read all of the 2020 Tournament of Books contenders, but once I’d read most of them, I couldn’t help myself and ended up finishing the list. Alas the TOB brackets have my favorites (Girl Woman Other, Mary Toft,  and Nothing to See Here) clustered together, alongside Lost Children Archive, beloved by many readers, even though it didn’t exactly work for me. I still haven’t filled out my bracket, but I’m rooting for any of the three favorites or Your House Will Pay to take the rooster this year. And those all seem fairly well liked, so they have a chance.

As for the rest of my February reading, I caught up on a lot of newish books that I’ve been meaning to read for ages and got started on the books for the TOB Tournament of Champions, which happens to include a bunch of books I’ve been wanting to read anyway.

We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin: For TOB. A really smart satire about future in which people of color can escape the effects of racism by undergoing a medical procedure to turn themselves white. The father at the center of the story will go to any (sometimes humiliating) lengths to get this treatment for his biracial son, even though the son and his white mother want nothing to do with it. There were some terrific and uncomfortable scenes in this, but I didn’t end up loving the whole of it. There was, for me, too much going on and little time to rest in the ideas presented. (I do think this is the best book in the TOB play-in round, although I enjoyed Golden State more.)

Saudade by Suneeta Peres da Costa: For TOB. A short book about a young woman living in Angola in the 1960s. It was fine, but I think I didn’t know enough about the history to really get it. However, it made me curious, so that’s a good thing!

A Grave Talent by Laurie King: The first in King’s Kate Martinelli series. I started and gave up on this decades ago because I was annoyed by the obvious trick King was playing in introducing Lee, a major character in this series. But the trickey only applies to this book, and I love King in general, so I finally got around to trying again. It’s a solid crime novel about a series of child murders that takes place in a closed community. I like Kate as a character, so I’ll certainly read more.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson: For TOB. This was a delight about an unlikely caretaker to a pair of kids who happen to catch on fire. See my full review for more.

Come Closer by Sara Gran: A short novel in which a woman comes to suspect that she is possessed. Very creepy!

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong: For TOB. A very sad story of abuse and first love and trauma. Told non-sequentially and in fragments, it was a little too pretty for me.

Heaven My Home by Attica Locke: This is the second in Locke’s Highway 59 series, about black Texas Ranger Darren Matthews. The central mystery involves the disappearance of a 9-year-old boy whose family is linked to a white supremacist group. This is good, but I didn’t like it quite as much as Bluebird Bluebird. Sometimes Locke’s mysteries get too intricate, and that was the case here. But Matthews is a character I want to keep following.

Plainsong by Kent Haruf: This was a beautiful book about people in small-town Colorado, all adjusting to massive changes in their previously uncomplicated lives. It’s the kind of story where not much happens, but everything happens. I absolutely loved it and expect to read Eventide, the next in the series, very soon.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: Ingeniously structured, but it took me a while to get into it. I think it suffered a bit from the hype for me, as I just couldn’t get into the individual pieces as much as I’d like. It only really became great when I stepped back and looked at the whole.

All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg: For TOB. A family drama about a dysfunctional family awaiting the impending death of its patriarch, a crime boss and abuser. Lots of terrible people in this book, but Attenberg manages to make at least some of them sympathetic. I appreciated her effort to draw in members of New Orleans community that surrounds the family, but those scenes felt thrown in. I didn’t mind reading this book, but I also didn’t care about it much.

The Accidental by Ali Smith: I normally love Ali Smith, so I was looking forward to this but ended up not loving it as much as I hoped. The story is basically about a mysterious woman who turns up at a family’s vacation home one summer and throws each of their lives in disarray. I think I would have liked it better if it had dove deep on the mom, whose arc is the most interesting. The father and son are particularly shallow and unpleasant, and not in a way that I could bring myself to care about.

For March, my library stack contains The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman, The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick, and The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt. I also hope to read Bring Up the Bodies in anticipation of the release of The Mirror and the Light. I’m also reading Mother Teresa’s Come Be My Light for Lent. I want to get back into reading from my shelves, particularly some of the older books there, but we’ll see if that happens.

 

 

 

Posted in Contemporary, Fiction, Mysteries/Crime | 16 Comments

Nothing to See Here

A month ago, I was pretty discouraged with this year’s Tournament of Books line up. Everything I read from the shortlist was just … fine. Sometimes pretty good. Sometimes worth discussing. But nothing was knocking my socks off. Well, now, after Mary Toft, Girl Woman Other, Your House Will Payand Nothing to See Here, I can say that this year’s TOB has brought me four fantastic reads. (I have yet to read All This Could Be Yours and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.)

I freely admit that Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson is completely ridiculous on multiple levels. And the children who catch on fire is probably the least ridiculous of the ridiculous things. Perhaps most ridiculous is the simple fact that fiery 10-year-old twins are placed in the care of 28-year-old Lillian, a childhood friend of their step-mother. Their father, Jasper Roberts, a senator from Tennessee, is likely to become the next Secretary of State, and he wants these troublesome kids kept out of the way, but their mother’s recent death has left him entirely responsible for them. That’s how Lillian gets involved. Madison, Jasper’s wife, went to boarding school with Lillian, and they’ve stayed in touch ever sense. For some reason, Madison decided Lillian was the right person to keep these children quietly cared for and secret for the summer, until some other arrangements could be made. It is a preposterous plan, not just because Lillian has shown no interest in children, much less children who spontaneously catch on fire.

But, here’s the thing, as ridiculous as it all is, it works. There’s an emotional truth inside this book that makes it work. Lillian and twins Bessie and Roland need each other. They have no reason to know it, but somehow the prickliness and desperation of all three characters comes together to make … maybe … a family. Lillian really doesn’t know what she’s doing, but she just does what she can thing of … then she does the next thing … and the next. It feels like how many (most) of us operate in the face of a crisis. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but a choice comes and we make it, and sometimes we surprise ourselves by getting it right. For Lillian, caring seems to be the key. She finally has someone to care about, and all her decisions come from that.

I also loved the way Wilson depicted Bessie and Roland. I’ve not been around 10-year-old recently enough to know how authentic these kids are, but they felt real. They observe and understand more than adults realize, but they’re still figuring out how to manage their feelings. They know that their life is badly off course, but they don’t know what to do about it any more than Lillian knows how to take care of kids. So they, like Lillian, just make the next choice, and the next.

There are also some interesting things going on here regarding class, money, and power, but none of that is as powerful to me as the key relationships in the book. I loved spending time with this trio in their little ridiculous and impossible world.

Posted in Contemporary, Fiction | 12 Comments

Your House Will Pay

Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay takes a nuanced look at the difficulties of living in a world filled with intergenerational racist violence. It tells this story through the lives of two characters who come at the problem from opposite sides. Shawn is a black man still grieving the death of his sister Ava, who was shot by a Korean woman who believed Ava was trying to rob her store. Grace is a Korean-American teenager who has grown up unaware of that history. Her main worry as the book begins is her sister Miriam’s estrangement from her parents for reasons Miriam will not explain.

Grace and Shawn have never had any reason to know each other. But a new act of violence puts them in each other’s orbit while bringing the past —  forgotten by some but never by others — back into the light.

With this story, Cha shows how the past remains with us, even when we choose to ignore it or are unaware of it. Grace doesn’t know anything about Ava’s death, for example, but the ramifications of it still touch her. She benefits from an injustice in the past without herself having committed that injustice. And Shawn suffers for it every day, although he hasn’t always handled his pain in the healthiest ways. It’s not easy to get past the past, and mistakes will happen, whether they come from wanting restitution or wanting absolution.

One of the things I loved about this book is how it manages to be big-hearted and grace-filled without getting soppy or treating forgiveness as an easy answer. This is not a book that pretends we can just hold hands and make things better. There are real injustices that require some kind of answer. But there’s also a sense here that resistance can be misdirected and the injustices compounded. When that happens, no progress can be made.

The book is not making an argument for non-violence exactly, but I think it is making an argument for thoughtfulness and care. It’s not a simple “both sides” argument where everyone can just stop fighting and call it peace. It this story, one side has done greater wrong and been supported by a system that refused to levy consequences. To decide to forget that and start fresh is itself an injustice. I like that the book doesn’t let its characters off easily, but it does offer hope, hope that comes with seeing people as individuals and recognizing the systemic wrongs that individuals get caught up in. It’s not tied up with a nice bow, but it is, ultimately, a hopeful book. I appreciate a hopeful book that doesn’t pretend that moving forward is easy.

Posted in Contemporary, Fiction | 8 Comments

In the Dream House

Bluebeard’s greatest lie was that there was only one rule: the newest wife could do anything she wanted—anything—as long as she didn’t do that (single, ordinary) thing; didn’t stick that tiny, inconsequential key into that tiny, inconsequential lock.

But was all know that was just the beginning, a test. She failed (and lived to tell the tale, as I have), but even if she’d passed, even if she’d listened, there would have been some other request, a little larger, a little stranger—and if she’d kept going—kept allowing herself to be trained, like a corset fanatic pinching her waist smaller and smaller—there’d have been a scene where Bluebeard danced around with the rotting corpses of his past wives clasped in his arms, and the newest wife would have sat there mutely, swallowing the egg of vomit that bobbed behind her breastbone.

In her memoir about an abusive relationship with a former girlfriend, Carmen Maria Machado draws on the imagery of fairy tales, as well as other genres, to show how her own supposed fairy tale in her supposed dream house fell apart.

Each short chapter (sometimes just a paragraph, rarely more than a page or two) looks at the dream house from a different angle. Dream House as Picaresque, as Daydream, as Lesson Learned, as Love Lucy, as Pop Single, as Choose Your Own Adventure. And so Machado proceeds in a roughly chronological order to chronicle how her own Bluebeard tested her again and again, creating a tense balance of happiness and terror that makes it impossible for Machado to leave. She also considers how abuse in lesbian relationships has been depicted in pop culture and in actual court cases.

The fragmented style worked well to keep this book from feeling like an unrelenting misery, and it does so without seeming to minimize the darkness in the actual relationship. The device provides a framework, a way to understand. Machado seems especially interested in fairy tales, and she notes throughout the book when some sort of fairy tale image or device (falling in love with person never seen, sickness or weakness for breaking taboo, ghost moans, flood from tears) appears in her own story. Abuse runs through all sorts of stories, and all sorts of stories can be wrapped inside an experience of abuse. And it doesn’t always seem clear when you’re on the inside.

Posted in Memoir, Nonfiction | Leave a comment

Girl, Woman, Other

Bernardine Evaristo’s Booker Prize winning novel Girl, Woman, Other tells the stories of a series of characters, almost all of them Black women of varying social classes, backgrounds, ages, and sexualities. All of them individuals, all of them complex. She tells each story one at a time, with each new narrative focusing on a minor character from a previous section. As the book goes on, more and more connections between the characters emerge. This woman taught these characters in school. This woman is the grandmother of this nonbinary person. These two women went to school together. And on and on.

One of the wonderful things about this book is how beautifully it demonstrates that there is no single story of the Black woman’s experience in Britain. Although certain kinds of experiences and struggles come up regularly, when placed in context of a complete life, each experience is unique. And sometimes we’ll meet a character in one story and learn in a later chapter that we got a totally incomplete picture the first time, which is what happens when you only view people from a distance and through someone else’s eyes.

I think it’s possible to get really caught up in trying to put together all the connections between the characters (and this character map shows how complicated those connections are). For me, though, it was most rewarding just to look at the person Evaristo put in front of me in the moment and understand them as presented. Those other images of them in other chapters just provided some enjoyable texture.

At first, I wasn’t sure I’d get on well with Evaristo’s style. She doesn’t use standard punctuation or line breaks, as in the example below, from the first page:

   Amma
is walking along the promenade of the waterway that bisects her city, a few early morning barges cruise slowly by
to her left is the bend in the river as it heads past Waterloo Bridge towards the dome of St Paul’s
she feels the sun begin to rise, the air still breezy before the city clears up with heat and fumes
a violinist plays something suitably uplifting further along the promenade
Amma’s play, The Last Amazon of Dahomey, opens at the National tonight

This is the kind of thing that could be annoying in the wrong hands, but Evaristo’s writing is so fluid that I honestly forgot that I was reading something other than standard English. I’m not sure what this stylistic choice added to the book, except in a few instances where she used lists or short fragments to call attention to some heightened emotion. For the most part, though, it was simply something that worked, meaning that it never took me out of the story and sometimes helped me get further in.

Posted in Fiction | 9 Comments

Call Down the Hawk

The interactions between the Lynch brothers were one of my favorite parts of Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series, so I was delighted to learn that she would be writing a new series focusing on Ronan Lynch (with, presumably, a lot of attention paid to his brothers Declan and Matthew). And, indeed, the three brothers begin the book on a road trip (!!!!) to Cambridge, so Ronan can see his boyfriend, Adam, at Harvard and, perhaps, begin making plans to move there.

The idea of moving to Massachusetts is complicated by the fact that Ronan is a Dreamer, meaning that he can bring objects back from his dreams. This ability comes with a price — a sickness that appears if Ronan spends too many nights away from his home in Henrietta, Virginia. But Ronan wants to try it. Declan, Ronan’s buttoned up older brother, is worried about the idea. And he’s worried that Matthew, their younger brother, will learn the truth about his own origins.

So that’s the situation with the brothers as the book begins. As they’re trying to organize their lives and futures, other forces are brewing to make things difficult. A Dreamer named Hennessy is making a living as an art forger while trying to cope with the fact that she keeps bringing back doubles of herself from her dreams, and those doubles’ lives depend on Hennessy because it’s known that if a Dreamer dies, any living being brought back from the dream world goes to sleep forever.

At the same time, a woman named Carmen Farooq-Lane has been given the task of looking after a quirky and difficult young Visionary who can see the end of world, all while she seeks out Dreamers at the behest of her bosses.

Early on, these three stories operate on separate tracks and, for me, the book came to a screeching halt whenever it left the Lynch brothers. They have such delightful chemistry, well-established in the Raven Cycle, that I fell right into their story. Hennessy and Farooq-Lane don’t have the benefit of being pre-established characters that I cared about, and their stories don’t have anything close to the zing of the Declan brothers. But, over time, I got more interested in them. I was especially delighted by Farooq-Lane’s relationship with her exasperating young charge, Parsival. And when Hennessy and her dream doubles start getting to know the Lynch brothers, my interest in their lives increased as well. By the end, I was deeply invested in what was going to happen to this poor young woman who was both entirely on her own and responsible for an entire family.

This book is intended to be part of a trilogy, so the ending is open-ended, a cliffhanger even. And I’m already excited for the next book to come out in November!

Posted in Children's / YA Lit, Fiction, Speculative Fiction | 4 Comments