Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

This book moved me; it is so much more than the tragic story of a dead teenage girl and her confused and grieving family. You know from the first line that Lydia, oldest daughter of a mixed race family has been found drowned in the lake. It is not an unusual plot line that the family is unraveling as the police work to determine what happened but Celeste Ng explores so much more. Her emotional, precise prose shows the reader the world of the 1970’s where a Chinese man married to a white woman raised eyebrows and set the family apart, where a woman who “gave up” her career goals to become a “stay at home mother” was unable to express her frustration but was determined that her daughter would fulfill her dream, and where the children tried to never disappoint. It is a story of family, of gender, of race, of alienation and achievement. It is a story that is so much bigger than the crime itself. It stays with me and reminds me to care, to look closely at those in my world and to really see them for who they are.

This is a beautifully compelling first novel and I look forward to more work from Celeste Ng.

The Snow Queen – Michael Cunningham

First let me say that this is a literary novel – the kind with lots of angst and deep thinking by the characters. So if you like that kind of book or feel the need to read something that is darkly enticing this may work for you.
Cunningham, of course, took the title from the Hans Christian Andersen story of the same name and the plot line runs along the same storyline. I’m not sure if the Snow Queen herself is Barrett Meeks’ vision that begins this book, religion, or cocaine but the theme is definitely learning to see clearly as it is in the original Andersen fairy tale.
Did I like the characters? Not particularly. I don’t really have a lot of patience for people who wallow about in self-pity has they are declaring that they are looking for transcendence. All the reviews of this book talk about Cunningham’s “ subtle, lucid prose, and his profound empathy for his conflicted characters and a singular understanding of what lies at the core of the human soul”. I didn’t find any of that to be true. I read this book all the way through only because I loved his writing in THE HOUR and I kept hoping it would get better. It didn’t but fortunately it’s a small book.
Everything about this book seemed contrived to me. Beginning with Barrett’s “vision” as he is walking through Central Park after failing once again at love to his cocaine using brother who’s trying to write the ultimate love song for his dying of cancer fiancé this just seemed like a book where every possible cliché was pulled out and forced into use in no particular order.
It did occur to me that maybe I wasn’t reading this in the “right way” but I read for pleasure and this book gave me none of that. So tell me, did you read it? Did you like it? What did you think?

Short Stories and ME

I have been on a short story reading binge lately and I want to tell you about three very different collections, all of which I love. But first a bit about short stories and me…….

As a young child all stories are short. We had the MY BOOKHOUSE BOOKS at home along with the Encyclopedia Britannica and I had read or been read to from each volume and perhaps that’s where my love started but I think it really started with those anthologies that we used in elementary school as reading books. They were chock full of short stories, poems, novellas and short essays. I still remember some of those poems although I don’t remember the name of any of the books; I imagine it was a series.

By the time I was 10 or 12 I had progressed to reading every story in every magazine I could find at home or in the library and there were a lot of magazines in the 50’s and 60’s. I wrote stories and poems and submitted them to kid’s magazines like American Girl and The Children’s Digest but the only place I managed to be published was in The Weekly Reader who took a little essay on the Mississippi River (no money). I wasn’t completely discouraged because in 1963 I published a short story in REDBOOK magazine and then for the next 7 or 8 years I managed to have work accepted in several of the woman’s magazines, I just wrote something whenever I need a $100 to pay a bill, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to be meeting with success. $100 now and then wasn’t enough so I stopped submitting and got a job but I never lost my love of the short story and I greatly admire writers who have mastered that format.

Without a doubt LORRIE MOORE is at the top of my list of wonderful short story writers. Her new book BARK, her first story collection in 15 years, is a work of art. Each story is thought provoking, sharply observant of humankind and their interactions with one another. At least one “Debarking” is political but not to any extreme. These stories are set in our very real world and therefor they are realistic stories, exploring real emotions. I like the way current (or semi-current events are mentioned to set context). There is one ghost story “The Juniper Tree”, something I don’t remember reading by Ms. Moore before, which tickled my fancy since I’m a big believer in the strength of female friendships. The included novella “Wings” was my least favorite story because I really didn’t like “those people” but I’d read it again. This is not a collection of stories around one theme. Each stands on its own independent and strong and completely pure.

Next up would be the new MAEVE BINCHY collection entitled CHESTNUT STREET. I’ve read all 16 novels that she wrote and I love every one. Maeve (I call her by her first name because she feels like a friend) died in 2012 but her strong clear eyed depictions of women’s friendship, marriage and Irish village life will be read for many years by many generations. If you can read one of her novels and not want to visit Ireland I would be greatly surprised. This collection of stories all involve characters that live or have lived on Chestnut Street. Each stands alone however you can read straight through the book and enjoy it like novel. Full of the usual faithless lovers, unwanted pregnancies and even deaths the female characters almost always learn to live, quite capably, despite the problem male be it father, son, or wandering husband and as always their female friends support them – life as it should be! Read this and enjoy a vacation away from your own stressors.

And last of my 3 but certainly not the least is SYNCHRONIC: 13 TALES OF TIME TRAVEL. Now don’t stop reading this blog because this book is science fiction! The 13, unknown to me, writers featured in this book were chosen carefully and asked to write a time travel story. The results are wonderful and far ranging. Each of the 13 have very different take on the subject and they are not “woo – woo” fantasy stories. The stories are written about very human characters caught in the paradoxes and pitfalls that when/if time travel is possible will/are certainly true. I downloaded this book free from BookBub but I have to say it is well worth purchasing or if you aren’t sure about time travel just borrow it for your eReader. It’s fun! All 13 writers are people to watch. They are in no apparent order; Michael Bunker, Isaac Hooke, Susan Kaye Quinn, Nick Cole, Jason Gurley, Edward W. Robertson, Irving Belateche, Christopher G. Nuttall, Jennifer Ellis, Ann Christy, MeiLin Miranda, Samuel Peralta, Eric Tozzi, David Gatewood.

And as a final word, let me just say perhaps I like short stories best because unlike most books I can read and reread and reread them again. Like greeting cards each time I read a short story I seem to get a different message or insight.