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As of my "maternity leave," here are the stats of the past year: 74 books reviewed 9 guest posts 4 independent bookstores 3 d...

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Alternate Side: A Novel


Anna Quindlen's Alternate Side popped out at me because I both enjoy the author's work and the premise of a sinister event taking over a neighborhood block interested me.

Nora Nolan has lived on the same block for a decade and a half, and her children are now off to college. Her husband constantly wants to leave the city but she is a New Yorker down to her bones. They could sell their home for a pretty penny, but they have a hamlet in Manhattan that cushions them from the outside world while providing a sense of calm in the midst of the New York City storm. Everyone knows each other, even if they don't necessarily like each other, and life is good in stasis. That is, until an act of violence shatters their neighborhood milieu and pits neighbor against neighbor in a fight in who is right, who is wrong, and who can forget the actions of others.

Being a New Yorker while reading a book where New York is a character in the story is always an interesting phenomenon. On one hand, I can relate totally to all of the characters in different ways, while at the same time being completely jealous of fictional characters who had the good sense to purchase a home on a developing block early enough that they could have a brownstone. (Yeah -- I absolutely have property envy of fictional characters and I'm not ashamed to admit it.) I found that each of these characters portrayed in this book are people I have either known or run into in my decade plus here in the city -- the New Yorker down to her bones, the man who can't wait to move out of the city, the annoying neighbor who feels he owns the block, the older woman across the street who has more class in her pinkie than anyone else has in their whole bodies combined. I even knew Ricky, the handyman with a good heart and a life that no one cares to get to know. Quindlen has a knack for creating characters with full and intriguing arcs, and that was definitely a highlight in this novel.

I found this book to be quite a good read if a bit repetitive at times. By the middle of the book you get that Nora has always dreamed of living in NYC and nowhere else, and by the third or fourth time I read that missive, I wanted to yell, "I KNOW THAT NORA BUT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, I AM TWO DECADES YOUNGER THAN YOU AND GOT OVER IT YOU CAN TOO." The build up to the violent act that rocks the neighborhood was a little overwrought; I was expecting something a bit bigger than what actually happened. I'm not discounting the events, because what happened has a lot of classist and racist undertones and is a hot topic in 2018, but I was expecting something more murder and mayhem-y in the way the blurbs were set up.

This was a lovely read that was thoughtful in so many ways. One thing I have been thinking on for days after finishing the book is marriage, love, and why we choose our partners. A marriage's demise is always due to many factors, and there is no explaining how one couple can stay together when they seem to be either one or two horrible people and another couple can fall apart when they seem so right for each other. The big theme that came out of this book is that marriages aren't always what they seem, and they serve different purposes for different people. It was an interesting and thoughtful theme, and well worth contemplating long after finishing this book. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch


My secret of the week is that I've actually had this book for about five years; I got it as part of a horrible internship experience at a literary-themed location and I have had it on my TBR shelf ever since. After wrapping up the second season of Netflix's The Crown, I decided that this would be a good read over the winter break.

I am unsure where to begin describing a biography on Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II. It feels like we all at a minimum know who she is, and depending on your birth cohort, you may or may not know very much about her. The basics, however, are very straightforward. Her father, King George VI, died when she was in her mid-twenties, and she is the longest reigning monarch in the history of England. beating even Queens Elizabeth I and Victoria, her great-great-grandmother. She assumed the throne when she was a young wife and mother, and has grown up in the spotlight. She has dealt with a great deal of crises, from experiencing World War II as a child in England to the current wars in the Middle East, she has taken on a great deal and has been the Queen we all never knew we were always looking for.

This book was published in 2012, as the monarchy was just past the Golden Jubilee, celebrating Elizabeth's 50 years on the throne. That year was actually Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee, which marked 60 years on the throne. This book enumerates the many events -- both celebratory and crises -- that the Queen dealt with in her first 50 years. The recounting of her relationship with Winston Churchill was particularly interesting, and well worth reading, and I very much enjoyed the connection between the Netflix series and the history I was reading about. I actually found that I retained quite a bit of information from the show, which I felt this book augmented well. That being said, once we were out of the narrative of the second season, where the show currently is, I started to find the political writing to be pedantic. My eyes glazed over, and I put this book down for a couple of weeks. I finally accepted that I could skip over the boring parts and just read the interesting ones. My one issue with this book is that it felt "sanctioned," as if they monarchy approved of everything in it and very little interesting tidbits were contained within its pages. I wanted more scintillating stories as opposed to a recounting of Elizabeth's relationships with her Prime Ministers. It is what it is, though, and I did find the majority of this book to be interesting, especially once we hit the last half.

I really, really wanted to get 1980 and the hear what Bedell Smith had to say about the relationship between the Queen and Diana. This is where I thought the meat of the book existed, even though the author tampers down what I think is really lying within the folds of that relationship. I very much appreciate Bedell Smith's honesty about Diana, as it was a side of her I didn't know. This is because I was born in the very early 1980's in America and I was only familiar with "The People's Princess" side of her, not the side that contained her insecurities, her mood swings, and her devious nature. I was always under the impression that Prince Charles was in the wrong, and I come to find out that this was public relations at its finest. It appears that's not why Diana got into the marriage, but it's clear that is what she wanted everyone to believe when she got out of it. I have a newfound appreciation for Prince Charles, and I see his relationship with Camilla in a different light. I had no clue that the infidelities started with Diana, and I felt that Bedell Smith gave a clear and strait story about the relationship that didn't rely on gossip (see -- it came in handy for some of the book's content!) but was just simply the facts as we know them.

The Queen elicited a great deal of sympathy from me after reading this biography. I can't even imagine growing up in the spotlight in that way, and having a set of living that you have done all of your life only to have to adapt and change based on a whole country's -- commonwealth's, really -- opinion of you and your job. Although really, it's more than a job, as it's something you are born to and brought to power by fate and luck alone. I am looking forward to moving forward in The Crown and I highly recommend this biography as a companion piece. 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Bitter Harvest: A Woman's Fury, A Mother's Sacrifice


I thought a good companion review this week to Tuesday's book would be Ann Rule's Bitter Harvest: A Woman's Fury, A Mother's Sacrifice. Bat shit crazy is bat shit crazy, am I right?

Debora Green had it all - a loving, supportive husband, three beautiful children, intelligence to spare, and a medical degree. It was never going to be enough. She lost herself in her novels, ignoring her husband, Michael. She pitted her oldest children against their father, always a push and pull to hold him close while keeping him at arms length. When Michael decides he has had enough and wants to leave, their home catches fire and is uninhabitable. This knocks him to his senses, and he agrees to give Debora another chance. He returns to his family, and they move into their new dream home. When things quickly sour again, Michael realizes that life in his marriage to Debora will never be what he needs it to be, he leaves. What he doesn't know is that this choice -- in conjunction with his affair -- will leave a trail of tragedy in its wake as his unstable estranged wife takes her revenge.

Y'all, this woman was batshit. Like, one hundred percent completely off her rocker. I do not believe that she was insane when she set fire to her home (the big one, not the one I mentioned in the summary above). I can buy that she was drunk, and that her mind tipped on vengeful, but I do not for one second believe that she didn't know what she was doing was wrong. I will let you read the book yourself to determine your own conclusion, but that woman had no regard for human life. Her inability to keep a job and get along with co-workers was just the tip of the iceberg. I am shocked that her husband stayed with her as long as he did.

I read in some of the reviews on social media that they felt that Rule was super harsh on Debora and way too forgiving of Michael, and I do agree with this assessment. I do not, though, feel that Rule had it out for Debora. Very few people, including those in Debora's camp, disagree that she set the fire that night. I will let you read for yourself the forensic evidence, as it's fascinating, but it's also fairly straightforward, even knowing 20 years on that fire investigation in the 1980's and 90's was not perfect. I felt the point of Rule writing this story, as she does many of them, was not to determine whether or not Debora was guilty, but more to explore what happened to try to understand why a woman would be willing to sacrifice her children. Was it revenge? Was it madness? Or, was she hoping to win him back? We will never know.

Where this book fits in the Rule cannon is on the fascinating end of the spectrum. We've seen that some of her anthologies can be reaching in terms of their content, but her full-length novels often hit the mark. Bitter Harvest was for sure one of those, and it was a fascinating look at a story that is not so clear cut. In order to not spoil some parts of the story (even though they are heavily foreshadowed), stop reading now if you want to avoid them.

There is no doubt in my mind that Debora was connected to the suicide of Celeste's husband. Whether she called him to rub in the affair or encourage him to jump off the edge, her goal was to continue to sow discord her Michael's life any way she could. Additionally, I hope that Lissa (real name Kate) has found peace in her adult life as the only surviving child of that inferno. I don't know that it would be something I could ever get over, but I hope there is a sense of peace somewhere in there. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Favorite Sister: A Novel


Just last month I posted about Jessica Knoll's Luckiest Girl Alive, and I mentioned that I was looking forward to her new book. Well, here we are! It's The Favorite Sister, out this week.

Goal Diggers is a popular reality television show featuring five women who will fight their way to the top at all costs. People tune in for catfights and sure, also for the feminism. You get what you pay for, you know? Brett is the producer's darling, the lesbian do-gooder whose scrappy beginnings are ratings gold. It also doesn't hurt that her feud with cast mate Stephanie, an author of a series of bestselling books with a new memoir of her surviving an abusive relationship, will be ratings gold. When Brett's sister and business partner Kelly joins the cast, and secrets that the five women hoped to keep secret start coming out in the press, the season goes off the rails and not everyone will get out alive. Literally.

Knoll's books are incredibly entertaining, and I think that she is entering into my world as one of my favorite writers. Her work is a little off in a world that may not be entirely realistic, and I love it. She writes about worlds that I don't live in, and I love that she brings to the page such full-bodied characters in worlds that I would never want to live in. It's really fantastic, and it makes for an engaging and (dare I say?) riveting story. Her build up to climax in this book is amazing, and she did the same thing in Luckiest Girl, but these books are not alike in terms of content. They both tell compelling, full stories that don't have any content overlap. I'm crazy impressed.

We know at the beginning that Brett is dead and her sister, Kelly, is playing the grieving sister. We know the who and the what, but we don't know the when, the where, they why, and the how. As Knoll reveals the details of the plot throughout the book, I found myself gripping my Kindle harder and harder and ignoring people more and more as we got down to business. She has this way of storytelling that peels away layers like an onion and it's amazing. She always reveals just enough to keep you moving on to the next chapter even when you need to go the &^%$ to bed because you have to work in the morning. (Not that I'm speaking from personal experience...) She makes it hurt so good because she knows how to tell you just enough to keep you flipping the page but not enough that you can figure out what's going to happen next until it's too damned late.

Another reason why Knoll is poking her way into my favorites list is her ability to create horrible, nasty female characters that I find myself loving in spite of myself. This is a true compliment, because it's hard to create horrible people that are so unlikable yet you can't stop thinking about. (I am reminded here of Amy in Gone Girl). It takes a sharp writing hand to be able to create characters like this, and that she can do this with women that are strong and principled (in their own, fucked up way) is just incredible. It reminds me of this:


Hats off to this lady who can write.

I don't want to give away too much, so I will end here and encourage you to pick up this book yourself. It's the beach read you are looking for.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Guest Blogger Charlotte: Gift from the Sea

While looking for new books to read, I found that Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh kept appearing on suggestion lists, and from its descriptions it seemed like a great way to start the spring.

As soon as I started reading this book, my expectations were completely challenged. From the descriptions I had read, I thought it would be more of a story format, but Gift from the Sea is more of an account of the author’s life. Taking place during her trips to Florida, the book follows her thoughts as she contemplates and reflects on her life and topics such as being a woman, marriage, children, and the different phases one goes through in life.

Pretty early in the book, I began to feel that although the book would be interesting to women of all ages, it was definitely more directed towards women who were older than me, probably married and with children. I sometimes felt that I couldn’t relate to the subject matter. However, I still really enjoyed reading the book as it went through different topics, values, and lessons that can be applicable to all.

I really enjoyed Lindberg’s style of writing and her ability to tie together memories with current experiences. For example, she compares the different stages of her life to seashells, allowing her to then go through the topics applicable to those shells. She discusses the need of people, especially mothers, to recharge in order to be able to live their lives to the fullest. Another point that I loved was her stating that we need to focus more on solitude. I thought this was so interesting because of our constant need to be with people or doing something with others. This is definitely something I hadn’t heard encouraged very publically, so I thought it was meaningful and it made the book feel personal to me.

I think this example is very telling of the book in general. The author speaks about and reflects on topics and conversations that are sometimes avoided in every day life. Every blog shows how we can connect more, take advantage of every opportunity, and be everything we want to be. But Gifts from the Sea gave a bit of a different perspective because it didn’t try so hard to impress. It reminded me that time alone to recharge and to focus on yourself is valuable too.

The only thing that stopped me from absolutely loving this book is that although it was really well written, the book was sometimes almost too cheesy. I had to take a break a few times to reset from the different comparisons. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it had lovely imagery and comparisons, but it could also feel long at times. I felt like some of the metaphors were a bit forced and that the book could have benefited from being a bit more raw from the author’s personal experiences and a bit less crafted to be inspiring.

All in all, this was a sweet and short read for spring break! I would recommend for the author’s more target audience, so I will be rereading when I’m a bit older. Otherwise, I think the topics discussed should be discussed by all age groups, so I definitely think it should be a book to add to your to-read list if you’re looking for a quick, uplifting read.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Educated: A Memoir


Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover stood out to me as it was an interesting premise: a young woman, raised in a survivalist family in Idaho with no formal education, fights her way to college and graduate school to become a historian. This memoir went way beyond that and became a beautiful story of love, loyalty, and self-discovery. 

Tara was the youngest of seven children, born to a fundamentalist Mormon family who did not believe in formal education. More than that, her father believed that the End of Days was coming, and he had his family preparing to outlast everyone on their mountain, isolated from neighbors, family, and friends. Their income came from the junkyard on their property, and her father spent hours on end rambling about the evils of the Government (capitalization intentional) and the gentiles, whom he defined as everyone but those who lived their faith according to his principles, including his fellow Mormons. When Tara follows in her brother's footsteps to BYU, she suffers from severe culture shock, and she must find her own place and her own way -- not just that of her father. 

This story is incredible, and not just for the sheltered-girl-makes-good story. At its heart, Tara's story is an achievement in self-study that follows her journey from an impressionable child who desperately believes her father's rantings against the evils of the world to an adult who has to find the answers to her questions herself. She has to face her past, which is her family, in the harshest light possible, and she has to make a decision between caring for herself and her own well-being or being a member of her family. It's heartbreaking, and in this story, you watch as her siblings all have to make this decision for themselves. The self-delusion that some family members live in is almost unbelievable, until you realize that we all have people who live in this state even if it is not nearly as extreme as a survivalist mentality. Tara tells of sitting in an undergraduate psychology class and hearing the symptoms for bipolar disorder and realizing that her father is a textbook case. It's not the first time that she begins questioning her upbringing, but it is a defining moment in her relationship with her parents. My heart hurt for her as she laid out her process of coming to grips with the differences between her and those who raised her. 

However, even if this story was just about Tara's work to overcome the odds stacked against her, that would have been amazing. Just her ability to be self-sufficient in terms of reviewing for the ACT on her own, and her seeking help with trigonometry from her brother, was amazing. It was enough to make me wonder if I could have that kind of drive. It's mind boggling that her father would give credit to their "home school," as there was next to no schooling that actually took place. Her family was not set up to succeed, from her father's rantings to her mother's capitulation, from their distrust of modern medicine to a fear of paperwork and schooling, Tara's success was just astounding, and the fact that she, along with two of her brothers, earned Ph.D.'s is amazing, and I applaud them. I know how hard this is. 

The most important part of Tara's story, to me, was her ability to come to grips with the abuse she suffered as a child and a young adult at the hands of her older brother. She calls him Shawn in this book, and he was incredibly violent to Tara, and later we discover many other girls, over a course of decades. I was expecting sexual abuse to come to light at some point, but that was not the case. He spent his time tormenting his sisters, girlfriends, and desired paramours. It's difficult to read, because you want to scream at the girls in the book to run as fast as they can. When one girl turns to Tara and tells her that God has provided Shawn with the ability to "fix" girls through violence, and that he is annointed, it's shocking. I was taken aback that someone could be so enmeshed in their faith that they would accept predicted violence to be God's will. I know it happens, but reading it so starkly was affecting.

Tara's writing is also lovely. In an interview with Vanity Fair, she writes that she studied short stories to figure out how to write for a general audience, and that she structured her chapters like short stories. The effect was beautiful, and the book was affecting and meaningful. I'm grateful that I was able to be a part of her journey as a reader of her story, and I look forward to hearing what the future offers her. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats are Closing the God Gap


Over the past year I have been interested in the vote of the religious sector of the United States, and one of the many articles I read was by Amy Sullivan, and it mentioned her book The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats are Closing the God Gap. It sounded right up my alley, so off to the library I went.

When you hear phrases like "family values," "values voter," or "the party of religion," your mind conjures up the GOP. Sullivan, however, argues that the tide may be turning. Written ten years ago, this book examines how the Republican party won over religious voters and the Democratic party lost them, and it then relays why the Dems are willing them back. At the heart of the issue is Catholicism, Evangelicalism, and abortion. It's debatable what cost Democrats their presidential elections for decades (with Bill Clinton being an exception who won over evangelical voters in great numbers), but it's fair to say that alienating religious voters may have factored into it. Are Democrats closing the God Gap?

Even though this book came out a decade ago, it is still timely and well worth reading. Sullivan, an Evangelical herself, is a liberal leaning journalist who writes extensively on religion and politics, and I find her writing to be insightful and thoughtful. I picked this book up because I was impressed with her analysis of the intersection of these two issues and the care she takes with honoring the delicate psychology of why people make the decisions that they do. That is also an assessment of this book, and she very clearly points out the weak spots in Democratic campaigns as well as examples of those doing it right. (This includes, interestingly enough, Tim Ryan, whose background made me stop in my tracks -- not only is from Niles, OH, where my father's family hails, but he is a Catholic who attended Our Lady of Mount Caramel, my own father's school for most of his education.) 

I find the abortion debate to be interesting because often those who are pro-choice are painted as people who celebrate abortion, which is a myth that Sullivan addresses and dispels in this book, much to my appreciation. She also addresses what I find to be the most important evidence-based argument for reducing abortions, which is what Representative Tim Ryan pushed a decade ago, which is pregnancy prevention (namely contraception) and supporting in varying ways women who are pregnant and feel they need financial aid to raise the child. Research and history has continuously shown that this is the best way to reduce abortions; abortion rates decrease during Democratic presidencies precisely for these reasons. (I urge you to look up peer reviewed research on Google Scholar or another reliable search engine.) Sullivan presents evidence that holding these views and making sure that this information reaches Catholic and Evangelical voters is what will help close that God Gap.

I found the presidential election in 2016 to be interesting in the fact that there is a swath of people who were willing to vote for the Republican candidate simply because he told them he would repeal Roe v. Wade. (This is another subject for another time, but it's fair to say that most people who buy this don't actually know what Roe says -- having read it myself, I can tell you that a simple repeal to ban abortion isn't super likely based on the precedent set in the majority decision, and plus, even if that was the case, it would not outright ban abortion nationally as states would still be able to individually opt to legalize the procedure, which Sullivan addresses in this book.) This is interesting to me because, regardless of my personal feelings toward the man, there are more than five egregious facts I can pull off the top of my head as to why religious voters should have turned away from him, not the least of which encompasses the "sanctity of marriage" argument. That a whole swath of people are so focused on being one-issue voters is wild to me, but it is eye opening in terms of explaining why Democrats need to close the God Gap by embracing religious voters instead of snubbing them.

Ultimately this book is well worth a read if you are interested in politics and how constituencies affect outcomes of elections, both nationally and locally.  

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation


Rebecca Traister's All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation has been on my radar for a while, and after reading an article somewhere (you know I can never remember what or where), I finally had the brain space to put this one in my library queue. Just in time for the midterm election season...

There have always been single women in the USA. However, the past few decades have seen an increase in the number of women staying single later in their lives -- women are, by and large, marrying later, putting off childbirth, and living alone in larger numbers than ever before, particularly in urban areas. So what does this mean for us? Whether it's the implications for marriage as an institution, childbirth as "stability," the electorate, or economics, the times, they are a-changin'.

Traister has written a thorough and fascinating account of the history of single women in the United States, from as early as there is literature on the subject to our current state of affairs. Single women have enormous social and political capital at present time; so much so that they are a courted political constituency and have flipped ballots for candidates. However, there is more to single women than just their political sway -- they are complex beings who have often made the conscious decision to keep their unmarried status for a variety of reasons, and those the not same for all women in the US. Traister traces the various reasons for singledom and the affect they have on the various facets of human life: dating, child-bearing, friendships, employment, and emotional states, to name just a few.

One thing that incenses me is the idea that marriage is an accomplishment. Weddings are treated with such high regard in our culture that I gag at the idea. My partner and I didn't have one -- we had a party to celebrate a year later, and even that is a litany of familial influence that did not endear my in-laws to me -- and even then, as much as I adore my partner and I love our life together, our marriage is not an accomplishment. I am a full person in and of myself, and the man I married just adds to my happiness and my satisfaction with life. I had an overall satisfaction with my single life as well, and while I bought into the "I need to get married" movement in my late 20's, for the most part I preferred my single existence to one in which I had to compromise my values and my worth just to have someone to come home to, and not even happily at that.

Interestingly enough, one of my undergraduates asked me about being an "independent woman" at the end of our last class. She is a brassy and strong-willed young woman, and her boyfriend was told that he should break up with her because she was independent. I told my students what I tell everyone -- that sometimes you will be too much for some people, and those aren't your people -- but that ultimately, no one needs to get married, and definitely no one should get married because you are feeling left behind. You can't change people, and you will end up in a crappy relationship with someone who never respected your singleness to begin with and doesn't respect the independence you have carved for yourself within the coupledom you create. That hits to the heart of what Traister wrote about in this book, that the power of single women as independent beings is more accepted yet still receives pushback.

Women make the decision to remain single for so many reasons. Some want to finish their education and work their way up in their careers. Others realize that the fathers of their children aren't marriage worthy. As 2018 moves us forward, we women realize that since we no longer need men to financially support us, we have the right to be choosy. As the average age of first marriage goes up, you can see in those numbers the recognition that marriage no longer serves the exact purpose that it did fifty years ago, offering security for women at least financially if not emotionally and physically. Now we need to build that sense of security in the young women occupying our education system and new to the workforce. Encouraging women to build lives for themselves and to add a partner (be it male, female, or non-binary) should be a value-added process and not a fulfillment of a requirement.

I love my partner, and I would marry him again every damned day because he is the bees knees and the cat's pajamas and the peanut butter to my jelly all rolled up in to one, but I'm also honest about why I chose to give up my singlehood -- and it wasn't because we were pregnant. I would have been perfectly fine, and actually quite preferred, to remain unmarried parents.

He had great health insurance. Who turns that down?


Thursday, April 26, 2018

Belzhar: A Novel

I picked up a review copy of this at Book Expo three years ago, and I finally cracked open Meg Wolitzer's Belzhar recently. It was a quick read (as it's Wolitzer's YA novel), but it packed a punch.

Jam isn't crazy, so she doesn't understand why she has to spend next school year at The Wooden Barn, a place for young people who have been through a hard time to "rejuvenate." What a crock. Her boyfriend died, and she is devastated. Was she just supposed to pretend like nothing happened? No one seems to understand. She's lost her friends at home and her family is unsympathetic; even her therapist doesn't seem to care. Her first semester at the Barn she is put into Special Topics in English, a selective class with only five students per semester. She doesn't know why -- she didn't apply for it. As the class begins to grow on her and she begins to grow closer to her classmates, odd things begin to happen as Jam re-experiences her time with Reeve, the lost boyfriend. Will she be able to face her own demons and move on, or will she be stuck in the past forever?

I dove into this book and didn't come up for air until I was finished. It was truly a wonderful piece of writing, one that just sucked me in and made me live in it for a few hours. Watching Jam's story unfold was like opening up a stack of porcelain Russian nesting dolls; every time I opened a new one, I had to set it down gently and turn to the next in order to get to the bottom of things. Jam keeps the details of her loss close to the vest, so when we find out what happened to Reeve I was blown away and not at all expecting to uncover the what happened to him. It hit me like a ton of bricks, and I felt the excruciating sadness that Jam experienced in my heart.

The characters in this book have all gone though some horrible things, and each is struggling with his and her mental health throughout the story. Wolitzer treats her characters with such deep respect and high regard that she removes a stigma of mental illness and replaces it with empathy and kindness. It's incredible to read, and I was thankful for such a book that does justice to young people facing such difficulties. No one is treated as crazy; everyone has a story to tell and issues to work through. There is one small thing that I would have liked to see addressed, but I can say nothing more without giving away an artery of a plot line, so let's just leave it at the wonderful book that it is. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

You Think It, I'll Say It: Stories


Curtis Sittenfeld is a darling in my eyes (her writing, I mean...I haven't actually met her, although I have no doubt she is lovely). I requested a review copy of her new book of short stories, You Think It, I'll Say It, with high hopes. I was not disappointed.

A newly single woman attends an academic conference only to make a decision that seemed like a good idea at the time. A happily married woman decides to have an affair with a family friend. A college student chooses a new friend unwisely. A new mom experiences the superiority of the perfectly coiffed pregnant goddess in her yoga class. An emotionally distant man enjoys single life save for the one secret woman he electronically communicates with about their shared love of classical music. A former magazine writer takes her new baby across the country with her to interview a celebrity, only to realize that her old dreams don't fit with her new life. A married mother despises the celebrity chef who used to sleep with her at camp years ago, who knows a secret that she longs to share with the world.

Short stories are hit and miss with me. Sometimes they miss the mark; sometimes they are absolutely everything. I have found that I particularly prefer female short story writers, and Sittenfeld fits into this mold. I was completely taken with this lot of stories and Sittenfeld's ever changing literary voice. She has a knack for finding the exact tone for her characters regardless of their age or gender, and it took practically no time for me to completely buy in to the plots of the individual stories. Reading her work was like eating a lemon cake with buttercream frosting -- it was light enough that I could eat three pieces, but rich enough that I could savor every bite while wondering how on earth something could taste so good. (This is also one of my highest complements, as this dessert combination is my life.)

There is so much I want to talk to you about each individual story, but I don't want to give you any spoilers because it's such a lovely book that you need to read it yourself. I found myself laughing out loud because Sittenfeld knows people at their basest human needs and desires, and she writes her characters and her stories to evoke this understanding. I think that's what makes her writing so accessible while still being something that you feel pleased to be given. There is a twist at the end of "The Prairie Wife," the story of the celebrity chef, that is so subtle that it was solidly brilliant. Not just good -- seamless. I found myself enraptured by "Off the Record," and the journalist who goes to interview a now-famous actress for a second time only to find herself with leaking boobs and losing the scoop. In "Volunteers Are Shining Stars," I loved the narrator although she was a terribly unlikable person. It was astounding, really, that I pulled for her even as she is jealously trying to ruin another person.

I often can't decide whether or not I like having an end to my short stories, because I love the ambiguity of a lack of ending but at the same time I want to punch someone for not knowing what happens to the characters. The most incredible part of Sittenfeld's stories was that I never got an official ending to anyone's story, but ultimately it doesn't matter because it was clear to me that I was just taking a small peek into these characters' lives for a small snippet of time. Even though I felt that I knew them deeply and intimately by the time I was halfway through their snippets, it didn't matter that I would never know what came before and what would come next. It reminds me of the question we ask in so many ways for so many reasons -- what makes today different than any other day? Sittenfeld takes just a moment from these lives and gives it to us to tell us why today is different than any other day in their lives, and their lives only. So when the stories end, they just end. I didn't feel like I needed more -- I finished very satisfied -- but by no means were ends wrapped up. Their lives would move on, and I will meet them again someday. (Right? RIGHT, CURTIS?)

Sittenfeld is one hell of a short story writer, and I would love to see more of this out of her. I love the rest of her work as well, and I may actually pull Prep now to read it earlier than I had planned, but I think this may very well be my favorite piece of her work. I'm completely blown away and in love with this collection.