Sunday, November 21st, 2010
Three books I read this summer that I wanted to write about but didn't much of substance. Either of the first two would be great by itself, it was a real treat to read them both in succession.
- Stranger Here Below by Joyce Hinnefeld. This is Hinnefeld's second novel and seems like a real breakthrough. I liked In Hovering Flight a lot but it did not seem like a "masterpiece" the way I can picture talking about this book (once I get around to/figure out what to post about it).
- Out of the Mountains by Meredith Sue Willis.
I talk to Vashie on the phone and visit occasionally, but I never run her errands. I don't drive her to the doctor, and I don't pick up her groceries.
Such a clear, genuine voice.
Her daughter Ruth doesn't either, but Ruth is a classic agoraphobic, a direct result of having Vashie as a mother, in my opinion. Vashie was even worse as a mother than as a third grade teacher. We're all widows now, Vashie, Ruth, me, and my friend Ursula Rose, who was having the tag sale in front of her late husband's mansion the day Vashie came lurching toward us on her walker, pausing to rest when she thought we were watching.
-- "The Scandalous Roy Critchfield"
- The Elephant's Journey by José Saramago. This book seems almost the equal of Balthazar and Blimunda to me but I'm not sure how to back this up -- my plan was to write a review of it to submit to Quarterly Conversation or similar, but I got stuck on recommending it rather then writing about it. Really a sheer pleasure to read.
Saturday, October 23rd, 2010
Stranger Here Below is a little devious in its rendering of characters in the shifts of focus, Hinnefeld likes to lull you in to thinking of the other characters as fitting comfortably into the background of whatever character's story is currently in focus. Here is a switch of focus reminding the reader suddenly that Maze is still in the foreground, when you've gotten used to tracking Mary Elizabeth's story:
The bus ride up from Lexington had been miserable. Endless and miserable. By the time she got to Indianapolis, she had a sharp, stabbing pain that ran up her right side, from her ankle to her armpit, and no matter how she shifted in the crowded seat, she couldn't get comfortable. Sciatica. Vista'd had it, too, she'd said, when she was pregnant. But Maze wouldn't touch any of the herbal remedies Vista or Georgia tried to get down her. She didn't trust either of those disappointed women.
That reminder of the complexities in her relationships with her mother and Georgia brings her suddenly into focus -- this is the beginning of one of the most dramatic confrontations of the novel (in which much of the conflict has been repressed or sub rosa), between the Pilgrim and the Stranger.
Friday, October first, 2010
We've been to a couple of local author events at indie bookstores around NJ these past few weeks -- not long ago we went to Words in Maplewood to hear Meredith Sue Willis reading from her new book Out of the Mountains, short stories about Appalachia in the 21st Century; and tonight we headed out to the Clinton Book Shop to see Joyce Hinnefeld and get a copy of her new book Stranger Here Below, coincidentally also with an Appalachian theme. (Plus Ron, the shop's gregarious manager, sold me on Exley by Brock Clarke, which he said was the best book he had read this year.)
The picture to the right is of the river which flooded over its banks yesterday in the center of Clinton, marooning a big piece of construction equipment. The constant roar of the water flowing by was amazing.
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