Wednesday, January 17, 2024


Flight: A NovelFlight: A Novel by Lynn Steger Strong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Flight: A Novel by Lynn Steger Strong is a good domestic novel of three grown children and their spouses and children gathering for Christmas now that the matriarch, Helen, has died. They try to maintain old customs and some are more entrenched in family memories than others, a couple are artists, each has concerns of their own. Most rue the mother's passing. There are mishaps and challenges with the five children present, and the last quarter of the book steps up the pace considerably when a child is missing in a snowstorm. At that point, it went from a three-star to a four-star for me. I thought the writing admirable with a nice balance of scene and dialogue plus introspection. In the beginning with six adults and a neighbor, I struggled to keep track of who was married to who, made their living doing what and who had which kids. I put notes in the front of the book to guide me. Kate, whose mother has died, remembers her: "But she's the only person in the world who ever saw me the way she saw me, who loved me like that, who remembered me as all the things I'd ever been and also thought of me as all the things she still thought I might become...It feel harder--fucking terrifying--that there is no longer any person in the world who loves me like she did." A poignant sketch of mothering and mother loss.

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Saturday, January 13, 2024


TremorTremor by Teju Cole
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Teju Cole's book is a learning experience. He writes beautifully, talks about historical tragedies, and the book has a challenging shifting narrator scheme and the same with many locations, starting in Maine, then Cambridge, MA to Mali and Nigeria and back. He discusses J.M.W. Turner's painting "Savers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying" which we've seen with its foreground of roiling seas and brilliant red sky and the ship Zong, plus the Africans, some in chains, which the slaver is throwing overboard, cargo he is transporting to America. Lloyds of London has since offered reparations. There were at least 130 who drowned in 1781. According to the BBC this ship and the crime paved the way for eventual abolition of the slave trade so something was learned by someone.

He also fields an interesting discussion of the unreliability of Western custody of artworks citing the WWII destruction of work by Van Gogh, Courbet, Murillo, Rubens, Titian, Goya, Botticelli, Tintoretto, and Caravaggio. by allied bombs. And there are references throughout to so many paintings (i.e. Chris Ofili's "Mary Magdalene" with a "violet so deep it could drown the eyes, in whose "Raising of Lazarus" there is a violet so base it could raise the dead."

In the beginning of the book, Cole includes a scene where his partner and he are shopping for antiques at a rural warehouse in Maine and find a couple of things they wish to buy including a ci wara, a ritual object representing an antelope and used by the Bambara people of Mali. Later, he goes to Mali for a conference and buys others of these sculptures. He also spends evenings listening to the music of the area at a club and the music is available on a playlist:

I'll skip a recap of the serial killer mentioned by a student in his creative writing class.
He also watches The Searchers and a 1994 film by an Iranian director, Abbas Kiarostami, Through the Olive Trees.
Art and music predominate but fewer books from this creative writing professor at Harvard. except for a handful of titles, Virginia Woolf's "The Death of a Moth." Susan Faludi's The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America about captivity narratives; Invisible Cities and Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali. But I remind myself it is not about a WRITING professor, it's about a photographer! I had a hard time not reading it autobiographically.

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Thursday, January 4, 2024

The Door

The DoorThe Door by Magda Szabó
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Door by Magda Szabó is about a hard-working cleaner who is hired to look after the writer-narrator's apartment and performs impeccably until she is struck ill, found by neighbors immobile in squalor and sent to hospital with no help from the narrator who has writing obligations elsewhere. "Emerence was pure and incorruptible, the better self that each and every one of us aspired to be. With her permanently veiled forehead and her face that was tranquil as a lake, she asked nothing from anyone and depended on no-one. She shouldered everyone's burden without ever speaking of her own, and when she did finally need my help, I...left her, in the squalor of advanced illness, for others to witness the single moment of degradation in her life." The author began her writing life as a poet and has written numerous novels, non-fiction and short stories and won various awards. A compelling read.

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Winter in the Blood

Winter in the BloodWinter in the Blood by James Welch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A teacher recommended this book and I dutifully picked it up and inhabited another world, a Montana reservation where members of the Gros Ventre and Blackfeet tribes live outside of towns such as Harlem, Dodson, Havre, where they grow grain and run cattle. James Welch writes with humor and truth. His dialogue skills are rich and authentic: "Why don't you settle down?" I said to my hands. "Pay up," said the bartender. When he left, I said, "If you settled down you'd be a lot better off; you'd be happier, believe me, Agnes." "You bore me," she said. "You should learn a trade, shorthand," I said. "There's a crying demand for secretaries." She looked at me as if she didn't recognize me. "Shorthand?" she squealed.
His images of nature and characters put you right out on that flat grazing land of the West. "Evening now and the sky had changed to pink reflected off the high western clouds. A pheasant gabbled from a field to the south. A lone cock, he would be stepping from the wild rose along an irrigation ditch to the sweet alfalfa field, perhaps to graze with other cocks and hens, perhaps alone. It is difficult to tell what cocks will do when they grow old. They are like men, full to twists." Welch started as a poet and is quoted in Louise Erdrich's introduction: "we are storytellers from a long way back. And we will be heard for generations to come." The book was published fifty years ago and I am as excited about reading it as if it were just out, a new discovery. And his storyteller credentials are evident in the braided tale describing a cattle drive perfectly paced with a bar spree. The narrator describes his mother, "she had always had a clear bitter look, not without humor, that made the others of us seem excessive, too eager to talk too much, drink too much, breathe too fast...I much she had come to resemble the old lady." Highly recommended.

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