Threshold: A Novel by Rob Doyle

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Some say it is self-indulgent to write about oneself but there is nothing more self-indulgent than writing.

Literature, Drugs, Buddhism, philosophy, psychoanalysis, staggering worries that manifest as a concrete fear of one’s own mind and lots of traveling… through this book you journey with a man who is older, but none the wiser. Travel extending through two years, trips that could take “a month at most” for others but for our narrator it’s journeying at a leisurely pace yet his mind is the real hive of activity. What are you to do, to think, to be when you are approaching middle age, and the wildness of youth is expired? Pondering the life and work of writer’s like Bataille, whose house and grave he visits, whom he once read with ‘great fascination’ and now feels a little sick of, he has moments filled with the sheer terror of being alive, of aging, of realizing he is the same as ever, that time hasn’t cured all.

He feels he is drifting, possibly fated for a lonely life. Addicted to literature, sex, drugs, and alcohol he has his own WHY to live, for now, he is following the footsteps of other artists like himself, in search of meaning. Not any less or more haunted by madness then they.  Through mind expanding substances, one of the most psychedelic drugs DMT, our narrator is searching to understand the purpose of existence or to throw off meaning and accept there is no core self. (Why DMT, you might ask, because people use it for it’s hallucinogenic purposes, inducing visions, alterations in perceptions, it is truly mind bending). If there is no meaning, why write? He is wobbly and yet darkly funny and intelligent, always questioning, likely philosophizing himself into irrational moments of terror but at other times full of pure euphoria. The narrator opens up about the bleakest moments, the wasteland parts of his brain, the human weaknesses and fears that lead us to myths, philosophy, religion, sex, drugs or any escape. It isn’t only the artists that feel ravaged by time, by the curious journey of being human, but certainly they will search ever corner of the world to find the beating heart of understanding, either to embrace it or deny it. If they have to ingest every substance, shuck all sexual inhibitions, and bum about the lesser traveled places, so be it, it’s the artist’s job!

He is nihilistic and witty but the drug theme, it’s not new material. I think it’s because I have read a lot of drug fueled stories in my time. A person who is already struggling with obsession and instability generally isn’t going to come out of mind altering highs for the better in life. Yet it’s makes sense why they reach for the drugs. Maybe as a man society does keep him from “acting on his violent urges”, and like it as not, men still lust after all those “untouchable women”, objectify them, likely easier to do if you are ‘elsewhere’ and hey, if there are establishments offering up youth well, maybe it makes sense why so many relationships are wrecked ships behind him. He certainly struggles internally with his baser urges whether it’s ‘acceptable’ or not. As a woman I read such encounters cringing, with such writing you don’t have to imagine what any leering man was thinking when he looked too long at you. However, what is easy for most of us to understand is our own minds turning on us. “You get spooked, you stop trusting yourself.” No one can say our narrator doesn’t reveal his fears, and shamelessly indulges while on the verge of mental collapse. It is self-indulgent but we often are when we’re lost  and trying to figure out which way is up and who the hell we are.

Does he really have a purpose, he doesn’t really know, only anywhere else is better than being still. I struggled through some of it but carried on. It had moments I could relate to and others not so much but it will have it’s audience.

Publication Date: March 31, 2020

Bloomsbury USA

 

 

Everything My Mother Taught Me by Alice Hoffman

 

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I shrugged and said nothing. A woman like my mother shouldn’t have children.

Fans who follow Alice Hoffman were more over the moon to learn that she will have a book out in 2020 about Maria Owens. There is something magical about the fictional women we can’t let go of. Add that to the HBO Max pilot of a series based on her prequel to Practical Magic, The Rules of Magic following “the Aunts” Jet and Franny as well as their alluring brother Vincent in the 1960’s. But while we wait, we have a short story you can read in less than an hour. Other authors that are a part of the inheritance collection through Amazon Crossings include Julie Orringer, Anthony Marra, Jennifer Haigh and Alexander Chee.

In Everything My Mother Taught Me young Adele (named after a soap her mother Nora once bought in a fancy shop) is more like a curse to her mother than a beloved daughter. Nora is a selfish, vain woman who loves all the things that don’t belong to her, especially other women’s husbands. It is seeing the true ugliness beneath the surface of her mother’s beauty, of witnessing her shameful ways that forces Adele into silence, even things done against her own gentle father. She is ordered  by her mother, “don’t say a word” and she doesn’t, she simply stops speaking altogether. She is the sole keeper of all her mother’s lies, secrets. After her beloved father’s sad death, her mother Nora finds a job as a housekeeper at a lighthouse on an island in Essex County. With Adele in tow, Nora brings her conniving ways to the island, that could destroy more than her daughter’s future. Adele’s silence is a protective shield, and for those around her whose lurid behavior demands safekeeping, her quietude benefits their deviousness. What they take for granted is that there is power in silence and there will come a time when Adele will have to find her voice.

When a woman vanishes, it is what Adele knows that could become the key to freedom. Will Adele be brave enough to use what she knows to solve the mystery?

Not all women should have children, this is an inheritance of pain. Set in the 1900’s, children were expected to remain fiercely loyal to their parents. But what about rotten, sour mothers? What is a child, especially a young girl to do when her mother is all she has, her only means of survival? Will she discover bravery? Grit?

A coming of age under a cloud of misery, but as with many of Hoffman’s stories, women always have power if they are strong enough to find it.

Publication Date: December 19, 2019

Amazon Original Stories

 

The Look-Alike: A Novel by Erica Spindler

 

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“Being around your mother, it’s like she infects you or something.”

One night, one horrific night on campus has followed Sienna Scott for ten years, the night she nearly tripped over the fresh corpse of a murdered young woman. This act of violence, the strange fact that they had both been wearing the same coat plants the seed that maybe it was she the killer was truly after! In the aftermath of the crime, her father believes she is making connections that aren’t there, that Sienna is fragile, like her mother who suffers from a delusional disorder. That her mother has passed on more than her looks to her daughter, that one particular cop (Randall “Randy” Clark) has been getting too close to Sienna and fueling her mad theory that she was the intended victim while trying to catch the killer. The only way to save her from a mental decline is to send her away to London, far away from her mother and the stink of the crime.

Ten years later, her father has been dead for five years, her half-brother left behind to watch over Sienna’s mother feeling resentment and fear that she is falling under her mother’s influence again, adamant still she was the intended victim. His life is crumbling too with his own relationship woes. Sienna longs to move on, to open a restaurant but her plans are being thwarted at every turn and everyone seems to have their own miserable secrets. It isn’t family trouble alone that is reviving the past, the murder case has been re-opened. Officer Randy is once again on the scene, the reason she was sent away to begin with! The cop her family feared was playing with her mind to benefit the investigation all those years ago but he was her friend, he made her feel safer. Her mother is far more frail than Sienna could have imagined, worse than when she left. Afraid of the police, armed with a gun, suspicious even of Sienna’s half-brother Brad and Sienna being home seems to be triggering her mother’s mental decline.

Across the street is the new neighbor Jonathan, renovating the place, a ‘house flipper’. Despite not knowing much about him, there is instant chemistry and desire but with the past haunting her, how does she know who she can trust? Being in his arms is the most exhilarated she has ever felt, maybe it is time to let him in, to finally open up about the torment her life has been since the murder, and to admit that it wasn’t so charmed before growing up with her mother’s illness. She’s had enough playing it safe, if she is meant to fall it may as well be in his arms.

Something is lurking though, and maybe her mother’s paranoia has some basis in reality, maybe Sienna isn’t slipping into a delusional state. But just who would want to kill her, and why?

This novel is just the right blend of mystery, thriller and romance for your winter reading.

Publication Date: January 28, 2019

St. Martin’s Press

Follow Me to Ground: A Novel by Sue Rainsford

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There is something Cures don’t know about their curing. The sickness isn’t gone. It just goes elsewhere.

Ada and her father are some sort of creature that is both human and not. Of course, her father is wilder than her, hunting in the night on all fours, but not Ada. She has her own desires. Their purpose is to heal the “Cures”, the local humans who come to them for help for all their maladies. Sometimes its requires rooting around through the body, a singing and for others it’s to the ground they go, never remembering quite any of it but always feeling refreshed, cured! This mysterious ground where both Ada and her father come from, a hungry ground, opening and closing as it will, where it will is all they know of their origins, they are not meant to be a part of the people so it serves them well that the locals remain weary of them. Beyond the healing, no one gets close to them, which is a lonely existence but doesn’t much bother Ada, until Samson.

Ada is tired of the healing, of her father’s control and adherence to the ‘tradition’ they have been born for. Ada has yearnings of her own, like any ‘human’ child does and through Samson she feels she can be different, life can go another way, she can be more human than creature. She has heard a lifetime of warnings about the ground from her father, it is an entity of it’s own, it has a dangerous power, but must she always heed his warnings? Does father really know what’s best? They’ve been chasing away the sickness inside of people’s bodies, but some sickness can’t be seen, understood, healed. The healing can feel so good, too good maybe for some Cures. Love can be trouble, but Samson becomes so much a part of her days, a pattern, the poetry of her heart. What troubles him most is his sister, the widow Olivia. Samson’s sister Olivia is a schemer, but his loyalty is always with her, as orphans they have only had each other. Samson and Ada have many secrets between them, but as Ada abandons the ways of her father everything begins to sour. Just what will she do, to protect her love? She can’t hide what’s between she and Samson, and she cannot, will not give him up. Desperation darkens the mind. Regret has no place here, what’s done is done, then comes the crush of years, the waiting.

What happens has far reaching consequences, that lead to more creepy secrets. This tale feels like a love story but how it bends and exposes horror, both human and creature. It is about sickness, disturbances in humans and ‘monsters’ alike. It is a fascinating blend of magical realism, family dysfunction, love and horror.  Need is greedy, and a starving heart can attend to all sorts of horror, in the name of desire. Yes, read this! A nod to the beautiful cover too.

Publication Date: January 21, 2020

Scribner

 

 

The Hills Reply by Tarjei Vesaas

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Yet the face is deformed now, distorted and unlike itself, the result of the misfortunes that have come like avalanches- there behind him, where he has left his half-lived life. 

In prose and poetry this is the last book by Norwegian Author Tarjei Vesaas, said to be one of Norway’s greatest writer’s of the twentieth century. Memories flow, with nature ever present, indifferent to human longings, joys, love, and sufferings. Nature both capable of beauty and brutality,

As It Stands in the Memory, a father and son stand in the “sifting snow and sifting thoughts”; the silence of the snow disrupted only by the sternness of the father and his failure. A boy who doesn’t know his father, who keeps his thoughts, his forgotten dead dream to himself. A moment, when the son is shamed and will carry it on for the rest of his life, snow and a wounded horse as witness.

In the Marshes and on the Earth he feels eyes upon him, and these eyes belong to the cranes. The beauty of the birds so beautiful he wonders, is this a dream? He is the eyes now, the watcher, delighting in the dance of the cranes. He is in thrall of the flock.

Spring in Winter is about snowdrifts, heartbreak and the bewilderment in the holding of hands. How can one burn when they are so frozen by the elements, chilled by waiting for the heart’s desire? Sent as the bearer of bad news, only to see a beautiful girl in a different light?

Smashed mirrors, kicking out blindly for survival, the danger in the reflective surface of bodies of water, the “wet body is as heavy as stone”, so easy to drown. A thing (a person) can drown as easily as be saved. Rain falling upon the dead, “Five men. That’s not many. One for each finger on your hand.”  How did those five men end up where they are, forgotten, nothing. “No one will find them but the flies.”  Lyrical writing for so brutal an ending. A deadly ‘quiet’ in a grove. Nature absorbs what a young man feels, about a blushing girl.

It is a book moving through an old man’s life, I think. What better way to tell it then through lyrical delights? Sure, ‘the heart grows lonely’ and everything changes with time, ‘laws, highways, waterways’ and yet the memories plant themselves and remain waiting to be plucked.

I am also, after reading this fine book, very interested in reading The Birds by Vesaas, about a disabled man being cared for by his lonely older sister in an isolated land. I think nature as character is one of the hardest and yet most rewarding works one can conceive. It feels like a mystical experience, a dream (as with the cranes verses within) when one moves with nature, and it is perfectly captured here. A beautiful literary fiction book for anyone who loves lyrical prose. Tarjei Vesaas (1897-1970)

Publication Date: December 10, 2019

Archipelgo

The Better Liar: A Novel by Tanen Jones

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She’d loved me, in her own disgusting, sharp-toothed way.

It is often said there is no relationship more fraught than the one between sisters at odds with each-other. In The Better Liar, a joint inheritance forces Leslie to find her little sister Robin Voigt.  Robin, who ran-away from home one night when she was just a teenager, leaving Leslie to always be the responsible daughter, tied to their dying father, forced to care for him to the bitter end. Sure, Robin dropped a line here and there when she needed saving from one jam or another, and daddy always came through, but she never earned a bit of his love and loyalty. Tracking her down in Las Vegas Leslie discovers she is too late, her drug addicted sister is dead, and now what? It’s just like Robin, to do this to her, as if she hasn’t already ruined her life. She isn’t going to see a penny of it now, where is the fairness in that, the inheritance was to be split between them both or no one gets their share, there is nothing she can do, right? Until… she sees Mary.

Mary looks so much like Robin. What if… what if Mary pretended to be Robin, just long enough to sign the paperwork, she can have Robin’s share and go off on her merry little way? Mary understands all too well the need for money, this is ‘the perfect job’, she wants to be an actress, how better to test her mettle than to pretend to be someone else? She is sick of working at the restaurant, and she has her own troubles to escape, it’s a way out of town. Leslie’s plan is wildly crazy, even if she does share a resemblance to the deceased, how could it work? True, Robin was never a part of Leslie’s adult life, never met her husband nor child and has been gone so long surely no one would know what she would have looked like now. Still, it’s a madcap plan, but likely will be a lot of fun and Mary is always one for fun. Leslie tries to keep just enough distance while letting Mary in on the sister’s shared past, there always seems to remain a little mystery and something isn’t right about her. Why does she need her half of the money, what is she hiding? She has quite the cozy life, a handsome, successful husband, beautiful son whom she doesn’t seem to want Mary (aka Robin) to be around. Why is she so unhappy? Is she involved in something, she doesn’t seem to be in financial trouble at all. Why is she lying? She may control the story of her past with Robin’s death, but Mary isn’t so easily led about. She is getting too close for Leslie’s comfort, and Leslie doesn’t owe her a thing beyond their agreed upon plan.

Robin’s fading, she’s nothing but a ghost now reminiscing about the relationship she had with her sister. Dear Leslie, who once used to care for her like a mother, since her own couldn’t be bothered. Was Robin really too much for people, as her sister seems to have believed, because Robin remembers things quite differently? As Leslie tells Mary things in order to help her become Robin, it doesn’t ring quite true. In fact, with this farce, who is the real schemer now? In her memories, Leslie wasn’t always the stand in mother she tells everyone she was, full of tender love and kindness. There were times she wanted Robin out of sight, when she was tired of caring for her little sister’s every need. She pushed her away first, with her cruelty, Robin well remembers it, there were reasons, things that made Robin’s heart hard. The way Leslie tells it the change in her sister’s temperament happened in junior high, suddenly she was hateful overnight, no rhyme nor reason. As soon as she got her own room she was mean and ugly, but there are two sides to every story, just which version is the truest? Robin loved to feed people stories, as much as she loved the attention she got from boys, even girls, and later men. There was a time she loved her big sister but she knows that Leslie isn’t the responsible, flawless person she portrays to the world. It reminds her of their damaged mother. She tells stories too. Ghosts are all seeing, and with her death, she is able to be more present than her choices in life allowed her to be before. She is now the held breath in the room, lurking in a sense.

Everyone is a liar, but who is The Better Liar?

A dark story about sisterhood and twisted loyalty. The biggest liar wins.

Publication Date: January 14, 2020

Random House

Ballantine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Majesties: A Novel by Tiffany Tsao

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Blood does run thick. Even if poison trumps all.

A  wealthy, successful, prominent Chinese Indonesian family has been poisoned, every single one of them, by one of their own. “It was caught on a surveillance tape, so there’s no denying that Estella was the culprit”. As Gwendolyn “Doll” lies in and out of consciousness she is left trying to comprehend how her sister Evelyn could commit so evil an act. Why would she want to destroy their entire family, and herself? Why did she want to put an end to the family line? Yet… “the wealthy don’t need reasons”,  for anything else they may do, is the reigning belief in Indonesia about the affluent. Doll knows first hand the rot in the line, the many calculated actions of her entire clan. How can she possibly find the one moment, the seed of destruction?

Scavenging through her memories, family secrets are brought to light. What exactly happened to their mysterious young aunt “Tante Sandra” who was there one day and tragically gone the next? What are the sisters to think when it dawns on them that you can’t take your family’s ‘stories’ as fact anymore? How are they to to understand that evil is excusable if in the name of snuffing out any threat to the family’s reign? How much can the reader rely on Doll’s own retelling, when she herself has often “blinded myself” to the family she moves through?

Doll takes us back through her memories, in their youth “despite our mother’s disgust” the sisters had been enthralled by bugs, ants, carpenter bees, and grasshoppers, as if there was something ‘illicitly fascinating’ about their ‘indulgence’ in the world of creepy crawlies. College abroad, they find themselves studying in America with the freedom to explore as they wish “infected with American enthusiasm” though they now stick out as outsiders due to their ethnicity and all that difference entails. They take a class on entomology, which leads to a fascinating career for Gwendolyn, something she can create on her own after she feels cast out in the cold when a man named Leonard enters Estella’s life, as insidious as a disease. It is this love that comes between the sisters, that serves as the measure of family loyalty. A brutal, abusive love, but with the alliance of two prominent families their future success is iron clad, one must endure, one must always save face. Married life changes Estella, ending the closeness Doll once felt for her big sister, who now faces her days feeling like she isn’t good enough, brow beaten by her mother-in-law, confused by the changing behavior of her husband Leonard. In the meantime Doll’s busy with her own life, from the rise of Bagatelle to it’s success as other empires begin to fall.

When her sister needs her the most, she admits to falling short, but there is so much more to the story, and we must wait for Doll to divulge it, while she can still draw her breath, ravaged by poison.

This is a story of sisterly bonds, family loyalty and shame, and the atrocities only the wealthy can commit. Who is the victim, who is the criminal? It is a strange novel with a dark ending, yes read it.

Publication Date: January 21, 2020

Atria Books