Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir by Jean Guerrero

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Brains are mystical. They perform alchemy in a place no one can measure. Yet the stories they yield exert as obvious an effect as gravity. 

Jean Guerrero’s father was elusive, misunderstood by himself as much as the rest of the people who orbited his life. Born in Mexico, later migrating to California, it is a cross border memoir of not just his physical existence, but of his mind as reality crosses myth. This is a crushingly raw, beautiful love story, in a sense, between father and daughter. “I’m sorry, Papi. Perdóname. I know how much you hate to be pursued. You’ve spent your whole life running. Now the footsteps chasing you are mine.”  Marcos owns his own reality of who he was, but who he became is at odds with it.  Incredibly gifted with all things mechanical, he houses a brilliant mind that is haunted by his mental illness, if everything he claims isn’t true. As he traveled the world and neglected his family, is it really possible that the CIA was performing experiments on him, or was this just a spiral into madness, extreme paranoia? Jean is on a mission to find her father, to understand who he is and to understand his splintered mind. Of course, one must start at the beginning. Her father is much like a mythical being. When he explains about real mind-control experiments that occurred in the 1950’s, it’s harder for Jean to dismiss the possibility of what he is telling her.

When her parents met, it was as if fate brought them together. Her beautiful mother was a Puerto Rican medical student, her father an magnetic man, his body fit from physical labor, a perfectionist in his welding. In his free time a voracious reader, nothing more important to him than stuffing everything he could fit into his hungry mind, Jeannette is like a gift from the universe, an equally curious mind, a twin soul! He lended his intelligence and strong English-speaking to his step father’s business, overseeing things, despite prior issues between them, past abuses. When he met the beautiful Jeannette, he knew she was the one. It wasn’t long before their love was cracking under the strain of his suspicious nature, there were signs early on of his illness. Yet, life went on as it does and warnings at the time were easy to dismiss as Jeannette had her career and a family to raise. Jean is born, “Fatherhood gushed purpose through his veins like a drug, but it wouldn’t be enough to tame her father. As her mother becomes a popular physician it seems Marco is healed by the birth of their child. Another child, her sister is born in 1989, they move into a home but then there is a betrayal by his half-sister, Amy involving  the family business he worked so hard to make a success. Marco breaks, despite his wife’s attempts to interest him in other endeavours. Soon, he is no longer the doting father. Unable to find his own purpose, he begins to resent his wife’s success, to feel emasculated and begins to use prostitutes, then gets obsessed with creating a garden but like everything else, once he has exhausted his passions, he collapses into himself. His adoration turns to contempt for his daughter, family. Life darkens, and his angry eruptions lead her mother to kick him out by the time Jean is 6. So begins the disappearing of her father.  With her medical knowledge, Jean’s mother knows it has to be ‘schizophrenia.’ Drug usage, escape through travel, her father is no longer the loving Papi who used to film his family’s every precious moment, in his own creative vision.

His absence is a wound, a dark hole she will spend years trying to fill, even emulating her dad, wondering if she too is suffering his affliction. She becomes a journalist, and this is the skill she will use to excavate her father and his family history, one rich with mystics, such as her grandmother who may have been a healer, or a witch. Exploring the madness, myths and truths of her father and his past she wants to regain possession of the man he once was, to atone in a sense for the wrongs he committed, to salvage the cracks in his mind and discover if there is truth in his ravings. What caused the split in his thinking, what are the voices he hears, where are the really coming from? This has been the year of beautiful, raw memoirs and Crux is another gem. How do we measure ourselves and each other, how do we steady ourselves as life, the world rushes us? How does a child come to terms with the embarrassment, resentment, fear, love, hope and cope with the crushing weight of loving someone who is a phantom? How can Jean extract the traces of poisonous anger she feels towards her Papi? In order to understand Marco, she has to enter the realm of his reality, to honor him by turning away from the protestations of logic and give his vision a voice. I was deeply moved by the idea, because the minute someone is labeled with mental illness or a disability of any sort, people dismiss their humanity. Everything they think and say is suddenly suspect, or without merit. Why do we do that? Is it some sort of deflection, self-preservation? The thought process seems to be,  “if I can see the sense in something that ‘crazy person’ says than I am not of sound mind”, there is cruelty in that, isn’t there? It robs people of their humanity. It’s easier to make them a non-person, isn’t it? Until that changes, we will never understand how to move forward, never be able to help people heal.

The American way is to trust in logic and science, to scoff at all things mystical or spiritual. Her father’s culture marries religion and superstition, with its beautiful myths and history. How is a man between two worlds meant to anchor himself in life? How is his daughter Jean meant to make sense of her own existence, to plant herself, make roots that honor both cultures and to make peace with her father? This is a fascinating journey, a gut wrenching memoir that manages to reach for light, hope. It is one of the most unusual memoirs I’ve read in years. Yes, add it to your TBR list.

Publication Date: July 17, 2018

Random House Publishing

One World

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The Drama Teacher: A Novel by Koren Zailckas

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Too old to play the ingénue, I took on the role of pampered housewife instead.

Gracie Mueller isn’t about to let her husband sink the perfect life she has created for her precious family. With their home in foreclosure, she is grasping to save them from financial ruin. Luckily for her, she has skills that her husband doesn’t even know about. Her past has been shrouded from him, that other self is dead. If she has to turn his gaze in another direction anytime he comes close to uncovering her deceptions, she knows just how to do it. She has floated on her lies for years, kept her secrets locked deep beneath the surface of her housewife facade. Always a step ahead of the chaos her past leaves behind, there is nothing for her to do but find something or someone new to manipulate and if she must commit crimes to do it, so be it, it’s nothing new.

This time, however, she is getting messy and committing acts that make one question whether there is any humanity within her soul. Through a friendship, she seeks salvation and once she sets her plan in motion, no one is safe. Then we, the reader, go backwards through snippets of her life with her father and the ways they began to leave her mother. Is she a victim? What is the point of lies, what if lies are the only way a person has been taught to survive? Just how damaging is a life of constant renewal and creation? What did dear old daddy teach her, what about her first real love? Her past is poisonous and there are secrets she doesn’t know either.

Gracie is a complicated character, she is disturbed but there are times when I felt empathy while being horrified and disgusted. Monsters really are sometimes made, but can they change? The children, I love that the author lends innocents to the story. Her children are young but not so young that she can always control what comes out of their mouths, and it’s heart breaking to hear the confusion when mommy lies and her child corrects her! Does she love her children? In the only way she knows how, but not enough to stop living the only life she knows.

When she invents another life, she seems one breath away from collapse. It’s shocking how easy people slip out of their suspicions, how their own emotional state blinds them. I didn’t want her to get away with what she’d done, and I also wanted salvation for her and the children. I would love to dissect the entire novel, but I don’t want to give away what happens. Could people really be so gullible? Yes, of course. At the start of the story she is conning people, nothing really dark, easy cons- until the rot emerges through opportunities. Sometimes the devil is in the people you let in. Who better to be a drama teacher than a woman who lives an artificial existence? Just who are you Gracie Mueller?

Publication Date: August 7, 2018

Crown Publishing

 

The Island Dwellers: Stories by Jen Silverman

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I am concerned because Camilo is inherently clumsy with things like words and money and other people’s feelings.

I devoured these interconnected stories that are about being shipwrecked in loneliness yet in constant motion, and every character seems to be in a sort of emotional underground. There was something so funny to me about Girl Canadian Shipwreck, the performance art had me laughing about the discomfort the girlfriend feels when she’s meant to rally support for her lover, at her desire to escape the very thing her boyfriend feels so passionate about. White People is perfection as Cynthia falls for Venezuelan Elias, and builds in her mind such ridiculous cultural clichés that you can’t feel bad for her in the least. Tired of white conversations, the rich meals and the sterile, privileged life she was living, Cynthina imagines (while in the process of divorce from her husband Seth) how different a life she could lead, now that she’s found Elias. There is meat to a bohemian existence, so what if she has to forsake creature comforts? But does she really? Can’t she just return to wealth, isn’t this just ‘slumming’ for her, so very brave she imagines she is for this love? Can she really remove herself from her charmed life, can someone’s ‘ethnicity’ rub off on you?  Isn’t he just another ‘exotic dish’ she orders? I love the reaction Elias has later when he uncovers the past Cynthia has invented for him. There isn’t a story in this collection that failed to engage me with intelligence, humor or devastating sorrow. Whether characters were adrift, spinning in circles, begging for love or using it to manipulate as a means for survival, I was invested in the outcome.

Expats living in Japan deal with more than complicated relationships, there is the threat of the yakuza shadowing lovers when one becomes a kept woman. A body in a suitcase manages to be a sexy date story for a girl named Rachel in Wolf. Love hotels paint the scene in Mamushi,  where a tale of  brutal sexuality encompasses a tender love story that explains so much about the distance inside of Ancash. Love that can’t be spoken, something broken inside of Ancash that makes him cold, the desperate violent desire he inspires in others, so many  swoon for him but the one he loves, wanting nothing more than to keep him for their own. Ancash appears to have a fluid sexuality, but there is someone, only one person whom really has teeth in his heart, and doesn’t even know it. Because sometimes the one you want to understand you can’t, and you protect them from yourself.

Some of the stories are light and funny until the next tale plunges you into the dark, disturbing pain of other characters yet all of them are equally captivating. There is so much said in every terrible choice made. There is avoidance in easy blindness, in what we project unto each other neglecting to really see what is inside of someone. We all do it, to some degree. It’s hard to review this collection because the tales are all different, though they are connected and unique.

 Pike interestingly had me remembering one of my favorite biographies, it is mentioned in the story. Lover of Unreason by Yehuda Koren and Eliat Negev, about the woman who came between Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, Assia Wevill. If you get a chance, read it, you won’t be disappointed.  I was tickled to read about Assia Wevill again, as I swallowed the afore-mentioned biography years ago, Silverman’s story about Cora was like a confection, poisoned by the ‘other woman’ that gives rise to another Assia. Innocuous meetings are often the ones we should pay attention to, as they can be the beginning or ending of our own love stories. Much like Hughes and Plath, a woman named Cora enters the colony of artists and stirs more than passions, is such a powerful presence that she cannot be ignored, nor her magnetic appeal denied. Is she an act? Cora resembles Assia in her hunger and need for company, that bottomless pit that can never be filled. “She’s like a tornado, everything she touches ends in destruction.” The highs and lows of love, the gaping wounds of betrayal, that ever-present other… other woman, other man, other something we all face in relationships, fuels the story and is painfully relatable, if your eyes are open. When love is young and fresh, we don’t notice the looming threats waiting to brutalize it. A tale of trust and it’s absence, the Pike is the perfect ending to this gorgeous collection of biting, intelligently written stories. Yes, add this to your to be read pile! I cannot wait to hear what other readers take from it!

Publication Date: May 1, 2018

Random House

Last Trip Home: A Memoir by Wanda Maureen Miller

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I buried Daddy on Christmas Eve in Arkansas. Even in death, he was inconsiderate.

Grace Marie grew up in poverty, where men dominated through brutal abuse (verbal, physical, and sexual to name a few). Men wearing women down so much they aged before their years, evident in the lined falling faces of her mother, grandmother, aunts. Grace’s father in particular crossed the line with his groping and ‘teasing’ as she was coming of age. In order to escape the curse of the women in her family, such a long-suffering line full of nervousness and ‘female shame’, she marries young. As with all the things we grab when we’re drowning, little did she imagine it would bring her right back to the place she hoped to escape and suffocate her. Racism has its grip in her town, too young to understand the slurs and hatred it’s no surprise her first marriage and attempt to escape is with a member of the Klan. But that is all to come later.

Living in small homes with absolutely no privacy, it was normal for her to listen to the grunts and groans of her parents nightly intimacies. Bathing with a complete lack of privacy isn’t so alarming when you’re little and haven’t developed but when you are becoming a young woman and your father is turning lecherous, it is downright shameful. Being poor isn’t a thing you’re much aware of when everyone else around you is poor too. But there are things, soul deep wrongs, that one can feel are unnatural. Why doesn’t her mother protect her? Things were different before Daddy came home from the war, but with him came all the darkness that would surround her life and settle in her spine long after she fought for her education and found a way to rise above her hardscrabble beginnings.

Her father had secrets, as it seems her entire extended family did. Murder, mental illness, sexual abuse, mysterious children, there is more she didn’t know about her parents than she knew. The sexualized behavior between her parents seemed more a way to demean her mother in front of the children. Women did not stand up to their men, in fact, her dad is such a threatening presence that no one did, not even strapping local men and extended family. Fathers should protect their children, clothe and feed them, funny that the dark woods surrounding their home, which would terrify even grown adults, is less a fright than the ever looming threat of her dad. “When he was in the house, he dominated every room.” You can’t really comprehend the gut sick terror of living with an abuser, the way children cave into themselves for fear of being hit, or touched. Walking on eggshells, afraid to disturb the beast and even at your perfect behavior , you know the peace and quiet cannot be trusted and won’t last long.

Naturally, as Grace and her siblings come of age they are humiliated by the antics of their father, the hardest part for them about growing up is the awareness of their family dysfunction. His lecherous teasing even chases Grace’s friends away. As the violence escalates, she loses her brother Joe Buck in the mayhem. For many years, he is unable to return to the land that belongs to them, missing even their mother’s funeral. Her younger sister Violet was born with difficulties, ridiculed by her siblings and later at school, Grace is both sympathetic and ashamed of her. It certainly wasn’t a time kind to children with learning difficulties or physical handicaps, much worse within an abusive family structure. It’s hard to imagine she ever stood a chance to become anything more than she did. There is an incident when Violet is trying to spell Cat, and it gutted me, it is such a disturbing, disgusting reaction, so much rage over her inability to ‘learn.’ Sorry to say this happened back in the day often, and I know there are children today who suffer such violence. Not every child with a disability is born to loving parents. If it’s hard to read, imagine Violet’s suffering because no amount of shrinking into herself can make the bad man go away, she couldn’t close a book like we can. Imagine what it does to the siblings witnessing it. It got me to thinking about the damage dysfunctional families do, whether you are the object of abuse or not, witnessing it is horrifying, there is guilt in that you can’t do anything to stop it. Resentment that her difference causes such disruption in the household, inspires rage in their father and absolute horror and shame that Grace felt resentment for her sister, who she also loved.

It seems nothing short of a miracle that Grace was able to gather enough spirit and strength to make a good life for herself, and a successful one as a college professor. The Last Trip Home never really happens, because you carry your home inside of you forever. Old wounds heal, scar over but they are still tender. No one can give her back the years of lost innocence, no one can rewind time and give the siblings happy surroundings so their bonds can strengthen, so that Violet can get all the education and support she too needed. That is the brutality of family dysfunction! It is lives beneath your skin, in your bones, at the base of your spine. A person can heal, can build a beautiful future, but the scattered bones of your haunted past is always present.

I was thinking about how young girls feel as they are going through puberty, all those changes to our bodies that we can’t hide. How it’s awful enough, the way men’s gazes change, the sudden sexualization of your body when your mind has yet to catch up, and the lines that blur between what is appropriate and what isn’t. There are humiliations you can’t quite accuse people of committing, inappropriate jokes or touches (that too long hug, that slide of a hand across your chest, oops) all the stuff everyone laughs off. The lecherous perusal from strangers far too old to be gazing on a girls young body like that, fear of walking past a group of rowdy men, this is the world for girls. It’s horrific enough coping with the threat of strangers, I cannot fathom it coming from your own father. I wanted so badly to save Grace, but she could only save herself.

There are racial slurs in the memoir, of course there are, and as uncomfortable as it is to read, imagine not understanding the scope of hatred from the exposed child’s perspective. Children learn to mimic their parents, learn right from wrong, how to speak, how to navigate the world. The child didn’t give birth to racial slurs, that is taught at home.  Grace doesn’t feel the same as her family,  nor her first husband, with their vile racism. Living with that hatred is abuse, it is forced upon you day after day. There is a violence in bigotry, prejudice that she cannot hide from. It strips a child of dignity, to be force-fed hate, it is against the tender nature so many of us are born with. We feel it when something isn’t right, and Grace certainly doesn’t understand why her father demeans those with different colored skin, knowing what she observes is in direct opposition with the constant accusations her father makes against the black community. Mark my words, children who grow up in racist households don’t always fall into line with prejudice. Thank God for that. It’s abuse of a child as much as everything else that befalls Grace and her siblings.

Her mother, through Grace we learn why she didn’t do more. It makes sense, there ia a circle of abuse. We don’t accidentally choose damaged people, history loves to repeat itself, and patterns of abuse continue. How do you recognize normal when you see it if you’ve never had it? It’s hard to accept tenderness if you’re offered it, when all you’ve known is hard living and meanness. It’s not a mystery to me why people self-sabotage, even in trying to escape brutality. Better the devil you know. Kindness is as painful as abuse, because how do you trust it? It was never meant for you, you’re nothing.

I love that Grace isn’t feeling tender and forgiving at the start of the memoir. People have a tendency to think kindly of those who have passed on, as if in death they are suddenly saintly. You think, ‘Wow, that’s harsh,” until you read the history of her upbringing, boy how fast your thirst for forgiveness disappears. Hard to stomach, but an engaging read.

Publication Date: May 15, 2018

She Writes Press

 

In The Midst Of Innocence: A Novel Deborah Hining

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Jake Hatton came by today, looking for a pint of whiskey. I told him never to come to the house, but to hide out in the woods by the creek and wait until he sees me out in the yard. He can whistle a hooty-owl call to me, and I will meet him down by the big  sycamore.

It is the Great Depression, 10-year-old Pearl Wallace lives in the mountains of rural Tennessee. In this holler, she makes money by skimming off her daddy’s homemade whiskey, in a time when prohibition is in effect, this dabbling in criminal activity is a bit of a worry for her, after all Al Capone has the law after him and he bootlegs, and it’s a sin but going without nice shoes and being unable to give much-needed to gifts to her loved ones makes it a sort of necessity, if you will. Her best friend Darlene is a ‘white Negro’, whose step daddy is a mean bully, beating on her and her mamma. She fears for her daily, even if she is a catholic!

Emily Weston is a missionary come to save the hillbillies  from their  savage ignorance, to be a holy guiding light to the boys and girls of the holler so they can one day become God faring young men and women. She has led a privileged life in the city among the elite, and while heart is in the right place, she is the one blinded by ignorance. She will be shocked by their sins of drunkenness and humming, Halloween celebrations. The charm of this novel is that the telling alternates between both Pearl and Emily. Pearl makes is delightfully humorous and tender.  Emily’s perspective is given through letters to her parents, much more reserved than the letters to her sister, and letters to Jonathan whom is in love with her. Pearl’s voice is heard through her journal entries for class (Miss Emily’s idea) and her own private, grittier version that she writes for herself. Her childlike innocence in not understanding why ‘kilts’ would scare ‘colored folks’ perfectly expresses childish naiveté. Emily will come off her high horse as she begins to see just how knowledgable these ‘hillbillies’ really are, their godliness is evident in their community, brotherhood. Some speak French, teach it to their children, not so uneducated as Emily thinks. Just like anywhere else, you have the good, bad and the ugly.

Emily is much more likable as the teacher becomes the student. Young herself, her heart is lost in confusion and she is all mixed up, with her feelings toward Jonathan in particular. Pearl wants so bad to be good herself, and is ashamed of her anger and sins (stealing and selling his moonshine), especially when she thinks life would be easier without her daddy and his drinking. To say times are lean is an enormous understatement, but the people of this community pull together to survive. Not everyone has someone to protect them, and sometimes standing up for someone who is different can endanger your own family. Pearl and her family have courage, even with the threat of violence, Pearl cannot allow fear to stand in the way of solving Darlene and her mamma’s troubles. Emily will be a changed woman, fall in love with the very people she once held in scorn, set out to save. There is a murder, and sometimes lies are necessary to save others.

Beautifully written, I felt like I was in the holler myself. I have a tender spot for mountain fiction, I’ve likely mentioned that so often that people are sick of hearing it. This book is a delight, but isn’t as light as it seems, it deals with some weighty topics of  bygone days. Most people will love Pearl, she is a fierce little thing!

Publication Date: April 17, 2018

Light Messages Publishing

 

Lost In The Beehive: A Novel by Michele-Young Stone

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“You’ll get better at this place. They’re going to make you like everybody else.”

Nothing scares people more than someone who strays from the ‘norm’ and nothing is more horrifying than loved ones trying to fix you, to make you just like ‘everybody else’. The bees have always come to Gloria Ricci, she is touched by them, and they tell her things in their own way, always near for pivotal moments in her life.  Sometimes sad, terrible things unwelcome things like death, and others a presence When she meets Isobel, she feels alive for the first time, to understand intimate things about herself, feelings and emotions that feel natural but are damned by others. When they are caught in an intimate forbidden kiss, the police are involved. It is decided that Belmont is the place to cure her of her illness, homosexuality. It is easy to feel disgust towards her parents, but mind you this was 1965 and there is a lot of fear for their child fitting in, that having this ‘unnatural predilection’ will make life hard, make her a target. If others were successfully cured, then why not their daughter? Surely, it is in her best interest.

At the institute she must hash out every intimate detail, and is shamed, told she is a sinner, the devil’s instrument. The only joy is meeting the beautiful boy Sheffield “Sheff” Schoeffler, who breaks the rules with a simple smile directed at Gloria, who needs the gesture badly. Sheff has the same illness as her, in fact he’s a repeat offender and his humor is the alliance she should stay away from but can’t resist. Fast to learn the rules and speak the words Mrs. Dupree wants to hear during their sessions, it isn’t long before she is allowed to return home, to be a good straight citizen.

There is a sweet tender moment between Gloria and her mother once she is home again that made me warm to her, to forgive her in a sense. I think as parents fear can sometimes make us think we’re acting in our children’s best interest. Most of us just want to make their lives easy, thinking about the time period of the 1960’s, it would be natural to be scared knowing  that others see homosexuality as an abomination, and the terrible things people do to ‘teach lessons’ to people who are different. I imagine it’s scary still, decades later.

Most of us know people, some in our own family, who were shamed into hiding their sexuality. Homosexuality was something you didn’t admit to, a very hidden lifestyle. It brought shame upon your family, if you were lucky you were loved and your family didn’t disown you. But certainly you weren’t free to show affection even if you were able to find love and live your life with a same sexed partner. Even in being open you still had to hide signs of affection, too shocking for society, criminal even. These therapies that claim to be cures, seem more to be forced suppression than anything else.

When Sheff encourages her to leave for Greenwich Village, a far more accepting place, they find like-minded people. It’s a city where she can have anything she wants, even according to a fortune-teller. For once, both Sheff and Gloria are free to be their natural selves. But New York isn’t all thrills and funky jazz clubs, it has its darker side and Sheff’s ‘job’ troubles her, easy money or not. Her Peter Pan “Sheff” doesn’t ever want to grow up and it isn’t long before their New York dream descends into darkness.

Something horrific happens and then part two brings us into the future, it is aptly titled with a quote from Jack Kerouac. “This is America. Everybody’s doing what they think they’re supposed to do.” Gloria collapsed, is a former shell of who she was becoming. The bees aren’t done with her, even if she is ‘living’. She tries for a normal life, meets one Jacob Blount and marries him but then there is Betty. Her Peter Pan, “Sheff”  never leaves her either, not entirely. All she wants is a home, but where is the right abode for her and with whom? Jack has his own history, his own past, and demons. The ending is bittersweet but what gutted me was the author’s acknowledgements and her inspiration for Sheffield.   Without giving any more of the story away, I will say I wait to see books coming out by Stone, I loved Above Us Only Sky and this book is just as unique and meaningful. I can’t wait to hear what others think! I read this months ago and seeing as how my Goodreads buddy Elyse commented how much she loved the novel, I hit myself in the forehead and realized I needed to post a review!

Out tomorrow April 10, 2018

Simon & Schuster

 

 

 

Open Me by Lisa Locascio

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Inside I felt sloppy.

In Open Me, Roxana Olsen, is a young American whose original plan to summer in Paris with her best friend Slyvie falls apart. If she has sharp pangs of want, Sylvie’s life is filled with everything she’ll never have. Due to administrative errors, she learns the day after graduation that she will not be going to Paris with her best friend through a work study program after all. There is an oppurtunity though, she has been booked for a trip to Copenhagen, because there are low numbers of students who applied to the Hoogah Danmark program. The program runs the same amount of time as the one she was originally signed up for. When Sylvia doesn’t seem all that crushed by the prospect of Roxana’s absence, and doesn’t offer her a place to stay with her Aunt in Paris, Roxana decides she’s on her own and a flight to copenhagen is better than being stuck, sifting through the wreckage of her parents recent divorce and working a crappy summer job. She doesn’t inform her parents that Paris is no longer an option, and keeps up the farce that she is in Paris via emails. Once she reaches Copenhagen, she meets Søren and so begins a sexual exploration of her body, a sexual awakening that flirts with danger.

To say that Roxana is naive is an understatement.She soon finds herself wrapped up in the charms of Søreneverything that is foreign about him is exciting. He purposes a plan, a romantic idea to go home with him to Farsø, and after a night of passion and release, she decides to live in the moment. Søren is older, wiser about love and relationships. Recklessly she rushes into a domestic arrangement of sorts with him, lets her life take a new shape, but it distorts. No one knows where she is, she is free to be reborn. It’s shocking that she plunges into such a plan with someone, who was only hours ago a stranger, but it is also exciting. As an older jaded woman (and a mother of a 20-year-old daughter) I just thought, this is what the damage of romantic movies does to common sense. The older you get, the more you look into what is waiting at the bottom of the cliff you’re about to jump off and the less you believe a mysterious stranger will be the answer to your every dream but likely to off you.

In his town he becomes more formal, strange. Maybe it’s just cultural differences, maybe his aloof behavior is a Denmark thing. If whatever this is between her and Søren becomes too intense or sours, well she can always figure something out, right? Soon she is more a kept woman waiting for her lover’s return as he is free to come and go as he pleases. Without a key ( for most of this it sounds like imprisonment, for him it’s more an erotic dream and convenience) she finds ways to escape their love den. It’s not a torture story folks. On her little jaunts outside, she meets Zlaten whom she had an embarrassing moment with already. Here we get a taste of racism, class differences in another country because America isn’t the only country full of Xenophobia. What she experiences with Zlaten is completely different, and in many ways Zlaten is far more worldly than what she imagined Søren to be initially. There is tenderness, not just electric hot attraction between them. As to the erotica, I’ve read my fair share and I’m too old to find anything shocking. There is passion and then there is something meaty, deeper, full of meaning. Roxana is sheltered when she meets Søren, and looking for a great love story, or at least a grand passion, God knows what her head is filled with but Søren’s goal is to disabuse her of the ideal of perfect love. If Søren is detached passion, and raw pleasure then Zlaten is euphoric desire, heart, connection. Some of the sex scenes may be too graphic for some readers, but it serves it’s purpose I think. We are all animals in moments of passion, and it’s not always born out of love, but lust. Uncomfortable, exciting, whose to say what is passion for one person or the next that’s sex for you.

I have to mention the very beginning while not as stimulating as erotica it still bears importance and that is the difference between Roxana and her best friend, how much easier life is for Sylvie with her pretty looks and money. This seems the driving force for Roxana wanting to feed the pangs of desire, to not always be the one left longing for things that seem off-limits. As she disconnects from the dream of Paris, she wants a grand adventure of her own, at any cost. Some light is shed when the anger that her friend doesn’t even bother to message her once she’s off on her own Parisian trip comes to the surface. It seems like such a small thing, but I think it fed into her throwing caution to the wind. A sort of ‘screw her, this is my time to shine!’ It’s hard to watch her throwing herself all over the place, just winging it. How painful youth and growth is! I am a little disappointed in Søren as a character. It felt a little rushed, which of course is the point, but sometimes he didn’t feel real. I think he was a believable hook at the start and then fizzled out as a person, I think there could have been more time spent on him. Zlaten was wonderfully fleshed out though. Short of telling you what she does, who she ends up with I will say this, she does behave sloppy and a little stupid in the way youth allows us, if we’re lucky and not in danger of say, a predator. Danger comes in many forms, usually she is more a danger to herself  with her rash decisions but to be fair, without that fearlessness she wouldn’t have experienced this maddening passion. It’s much more sexual liberation than growing up. Traveling all this way she spends more time between the sheets, so don’t expect a ton of sightseeing or bumping shoulders with the locals. She is confused, wet behind the ears, desperate to quench that bottomless hunger that haunts not just the young, but the old. Does she come to some profund epiphany, well… she certainly understands the desires of the body vs the heart.

Is this just an erotic adventure before college or a meaningful lesson in love?

Publication Date: August 14, 2018

Grove Press