Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Murakami-esque

I swear I did not read the blurb on the back of this book when coming up with this comparison myself. So, Vendela Vida, I agree. Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen is quite.

Never read Murakami? Start here.

Never heard of Galchen? Start here.

Never mind? Go here for other authors on The New Yorker's list of 20 under 40 to watch. And read.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Before I Was Gone

The summer I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I read The Living by Annie Dillard.

Before I moved to Japan, I read everything I could by Banana Yoshimoto.

Since my husband recently accepted a neurology fellowship in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I reread Charles Baxter's The Feast of Love. This time I was attuned more to place names and landmarks than silly things like character and plot. Thus, I noted when someone was walking along Stadium Boulevard ("GO BLUE!"), attending a backyard barbecue in Burns Park, seeking out the tarot card reader in Ypsilanti, or playing in Allmendinger Park. Unfortunately no one mentions elementary schools or where to get a decent vegetarian meal.

Searching for more clues, I picked up Baxter's collection of stories called Believers. Although the stories aren't explicitly set in Ann Arbor, the characters have Midwestern backgrounds. The collection opens with a story about Glaze and Jodie. Jodie's wish to fall in love is granted by a genie at a breakfast counter. In the next, a dinner party has turned to talk about reincarnation. Were you a swan or a swain? Following that one is Harry's story about his finding a would-be-bomber's sketch on the street. Everyone he shows it to is confident they can identify the location. I would have liked to have read more, but the library's copy started smelling a bit too musty around page 123. I'll be sure to purchase a copy before we go.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

that calculating a person

It's been ages since I had to resort to reading the large print edition for a popular new title. I'd forgotten, or maybe never noticed, that words that would be italicized in a regular edition are bolded (emboldened?) in a large print edition. In the textbooks I use in my reading class, I'm accustomed to seeing the bold words as target vocabulary words. I was easily distracted then by the stark she donates fiancée playwright is dotting the pages.

In a way, Sue Miller's The Lake Shore Limited redefines is. It reexamines the familiar, revisits the past, rethinks impulse. Four characters, loosely connected, watch, perform, and write a play. We sit through opening night, rehearsals, the true life events that inspire the lines, and talk on the phone about what it all might mean after the curtain falls.

Leslie is in Boston to see a play written by Billy (short for Wilhelmina). Billy was dating Leslie's brother Gus, who was killed in the 9/11 attacks. After the play, Leslie has invited Billy out for drinks along with an old friend, Sam.

Before we meet Billy, we read lines with the play's lead, Rafe. On stage, Rafe's character's wife is on a train that has been attacked by terrorists. In real life, his wife has ALS. Prior to opening night, Rafe goes out with Billy, and they delve into an ulterior motivation for Rafe's character.

After Rafe's performance, Billy meets Leslie, Leslie's husband Pierce, and Sam for drinks. After bidding Sam a rather unpromising goodnight, she reminisces about Gus. Before his death, she was a few weeks away from breaking up with him. Instead she finds herself playing the role of the distraught not-quite-fiancée when he dies. Soon after the play, Sam asks her out. They go for a walk that ends in a sprained wrist, tears, and a lost earring.

Sam had had to call Leslie for Billy's number. They discuss the play. Everyone thinks it's about him or herself. Sam is reminded of his divorce and then about the time he loved Leslie. He takes his son to see the play. Billy icily dismisses him. And then he finds her earring. (Curtain).

Applause.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Room of One's Dead

A small, quiet dimly lit room. The walls adorned only by the portraits of the dead. This is the place Viji slips into first thing in the morning before her triplets have awoken, or her father-in-law has peed on her roses, or her professor husband has left to flirt with the undergrads he teaches.

Shanthi Sekaran's The Prayer Room examines the life of Viji and George Armitage. After meeting in an art history class in India, they marry a short time later, and find themselves on a plane back to George's home in England. After a tense stay with George's parents, they soon board another plane to the land of pudding pops and flip-flops.

Viji and George's triplets are eleven the summer George's widowed father Stan comes to Sacramento for an extended stay. They are soon won over, as are the neighborhood women, by his British charms. Viji , alone, is not amused and spends even more time cleaning her prayer room. However, Stan's presence attracts the visit of an Indian expatriate neighbor, Kamla. Soon Viji's laughter is again filling the kitchen over cups of tea with her new friend. Kamla's friendship also gives Viji the confidence to take her children for a long-put-off visit to her sister in Madras. Viji's absence proves taxing not only to her marriage vows but to her own self-perception.

If you've shooed your own on-summer-vacation kids out into the backyard, and are looking forward to a few moments of quiet, somewhat dark, contemplation, The Prayer Room may just be the refuge you seek. No dusting required.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

In the Spring

Some of my regular readers ("Hi, Mom!") might be wondering if I stopped reading two months ago. The short answer is no. The long answer, well, it all started with Toronto.

Despite reservations at the Downtowner and an afternoon crying while watching a Canadian-Irish film, I did enjoy the parts of the trip I spent reading. I hadn't planned on reading that much, and set out early on Saturday to see the sights. However, as most of the Toronto shops didn't open until 11, I hunkered down in the Second Cup and took out the novel I had packed, Jeffrey Lent's In the Fall.

Divided into several generations of stories, In the Fall lent itself well to the sporadic timing of travel reading. A few minutes on a metro here or several hours in the park across from there and I was back in Vermont with the Pelhams. I opened to the point where Norman is walking home after the Civil War with his new bride Leah.

Later that afternoon, on a long bus ride to here, I began the part where Norman's youngest son Jamie leaves home and tries to make his way as a bootlegger.

The next day, after I had passed through customs and "turned my change into GOLD" for the Canadian ski team, I ended up at my gate several hours too early. I welcomed the wait, though, since I had also arrived at the most gripping part of the book. After Jamie dies, his son Foster finds a stack of letters from an aunt he never knew about. Foster meets his aunts and learns that his grandmother was a runaway slave. He has just knocked on a door in Sweetboro, North Carolina to confront a man about his grandmother's past.

So after arriving home and sitting down to write a reaction, I succumbed to a bout of writer's block. Who wouldn't after reading a writer like Lent? But then all blogging got shelved for a funeral, a disheartening parent-teacher conference, a box of Bob books, 72 final exams, a job offer in Ann Arbor, a graduation, an uninvited house guest or two, and a potty-training toddler.

We'll see what happens in the summer.