Your Father Sends His Love: Stories by Stuart Evers

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“It is a curse of old age to one day assume you have said everything, and the next assume the opposite.”

Of all the stories in this collection ‘There are Days’ is my favorite. It doesn’t require a long drawn out explanation of what happened to make Ben’s son so angry and resentful towards him. That estrangement becomes a guest of it’s own as soon as his granddaughter Anna visits (which he embraces happily) and her father finds out. Maybe he was uncommunicative or hard on his son- whose to say, but he writes letters to Anna and his intention is just to be her Grandpa, not to hurt his son. The story is short but it rings true in how we misunderstand the intentions of others, and none more than our own family. Does Ben deserve to suffer lonely exile for all the grievances his son has against him? I don’t know. But there is something tender about his feelings for Anna. The story was unexpectedly touching.

This is a lovely collection of relationships about men mostly, and beautifully written. Something for everyone to get you a bit emotional. Yes, read it.

Tracing the Bones: A Novel by Elise A. Miller

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“Neil and I slept in separate rooms for the first six months. Now we sleep in the same bed, but in separate universes.”
This story is a taste of the paranormal with a stinging cynical tongue. This isn’t what I would call a romance, it is darker and just the right side of meaty. And the cover, something about it beckons. Eve Myer doesn’t just have back pain, she has chronic being alive pain with alternating moments of being underwhelmed by the monotony of daily life and overwhelmed by family demands. Her husband is flawed, and we learn early on why she is exasperated with him and ‘sleeping in a separate universe’. Her new neighbors Billy and Anna bring a a spark to her daily boredom. It isn’t long before she is fascinated and envious of gorgeous Anna and lusting after healer Billy. Who wouldn’t grab the chance to heal their chronic back pain, there isn’t anything suspicious of that? Not her fault Billy oozes sexuality. But something isn’t right and Eve is getting a little too close to the family. Why is she having strange experiences induced by Anna’s presence? When Anna dies a tragic, suspicious death people on the outside begin to judge Eve’s choices and it isn’t long before secrets rise to the surface.
What I really enjoyed about this novel is that the ending was not what I expected at all. The cynicism is far more believable in Eve than the usual ‘everything is bright and wonderful and I have no complaints’ characters we usually get. You can love your children ‘And there are times when I well up with a love so vast and fathomless that I could eat them.’ and still be exhausted by the demands of mothering. I love when her son, her brilliant boy is looking for his bionicle. That is how real children behave, one track minds and rudely disruptive, not like the mannered little robots that are as interesting as wallpaper. You can feel envious and snarky about women like Anna who have perfect bodies and homes and still be a good person. Does she make the best choices? Of course not, but no one does really. Her mother and sister are wonderful characters too. This novel begs the question, is it realistic to have a life with a man that consumes you? I think of all the wonderful tales of star crossed love, of love so great the entire world disappears… but then there is the ugliness of the everyday. The snoring when you’re trying to sleep and toxic bodily excretions, screaming children, in-laws that interfere- fact is, there isn’t so  great  a love that it can remain a constantly in a high? Love waxes and wanes like the moon. Now it’s time for some ‘noxious woolgathering’, as Eve calls it.

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

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“The beast is a projector too, every day throwing up before me pictures of what I’m incapable of.”

This novel made me catch my breath. Every reader experiences a story differently, especially when the fiction is close to realities they have lived or witnessed. Anyone having dealt with mental health issues will feel a deeper pain for the characters- every single one of them. Every person in the novel has a pain that is rightfully their own. Such pain doesn’t require permission, it is like another family member. It all begins with a choice Margaret makes to marry John knowing that something is wrong with him. When the children come along Margaret has to deal with a balance that seems to weigh far more heavily on her side and there are signs their son Michael is different though brilliant. It isn’t long before things crumble. As the children grow up, they both love their father and resent his illness. The struggle between the shame and guilt they feel is written beautifully. “I can see in his eyes how hard he’s trying not to pity me. This is what I do to them. Over and over.” My heart broke so much, and I am reminded of how little we really do to help those who have mental disabilities. It isn’t a feel good novel where some cure or solution appears and suddenly everyone is happy and functional. This is a raw look at one family moving forward and coping the best they can, trying their hardest to support their husband, son, brother. But this story took a big bite out of my heart. It’s a brave fight for anyone dealing with mental illness themselves or their loved ones. It is depressing and it doesn’t have to be this way- this is a tragic tale. There are people that are finding great treatment and support, and those who aren’t should be and deserve it. But this story is heavy and isn’t positive, but some stories do end in tragedy.
If anything, I think this sheds light on just how much families need support as much as the person suffering through their illness (mental or otherwise). We all need someone to lean on, we can’t always just be a rock. There is still a big stigma on mental illness regardless of what people lead you to believe. Much of the ignorance is fear based , and there is so much more that needs to be done because everyone deserves a fruitful life. We really should explore the human mind more.
A very painful story but the insight is gorgeous. Michael humored me through his musings.  You can’t just ‘snap out of it’ like a passing mood. It’s deeper than that. Parents want so much to see their child thrive, and in this case it’s enough sometimes to know your child got up, got dressed and made it through a day. It’s crazy to think this is the best that some of us can hope for. Small victories can mean more than winning the lottery in families that want nothing more than to see their loved one freed from the beast of depression. The siblings have to grow up so much faster, and you certainly see how Celia and Alec take on parenting responsibilities in a sense for their older brother Michael. It is crushingly beautiful, and rather than just putting a smile on it the reader sees how this condition effects each child and passes from father to son. And the wife, the burned out wife. Thank God for Love. We can only do the best we can, all of us.

Before We Visit The Goddess by Chitra Banerjee

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“Granddaughter, when you are poor and ill-educated, how unequipped you are to read the world. All you know is your place in it: down near the bottom. You believe you are meant for better things, but how will you ever climb out to get them? The first opportunity that appears, you grasp at it to pull yourself up. You don’t check to see if it can bear your weight.”

Grandmother is wise indeed. If only that wisdom could be had without screwing up your life, but no… the only good in it, the only use for it is to pass it on and hope your loved ones can benefit from it and to avoid the messes you stepped in. Sabitri has landed herself the chance for better things, an education through a well to do woman. As the young are wont to do, she makes a mistake- and some choices cannot be undone. This is the unraveling of her dreams. What does she do but step in it again in grasping at the first thing that shines in the hopes she can salvage a respectful life. But how can a woman ever know if the life she has chosen will be the right fit, particularly when pickings are slim? And how is it that the heart always seems to disobey us and understand things too late?
This is the start of all the struggles women in one family line face. From mother to daughter and on…Nothing is as they thought it would be, regardless of how sure they are they have escaped a difficult fate (like their mother’s). What one takes away- men are not the escape hatch they appear to be, no matter how charmed or passionate the beginning.
This is a story about mothers and daughters, in the Indian culture in particular but all women can relate. We never seem to be good enough, we screw up regardless of our choices. Poor love seems to be contagious for Sabitri, Bela and Tara offering neither protection, love nor companionship. Don’t expect love stories to pan out, this isn’t about happily ever after- this is a story of women, and how they fub their lives and yet still carry on. It is an exploration of the mother/daughter relationship more than anything else. I actually enjoyed Sabitri’s thoughts for her american granddaughter, kept from Sabitri by Bela and her husband. Reading about Bela’s struggle in her American life shows how much better having her mother’s support and presence would have changed things. It is also a window into cultural struggles as Bela tries to acclimate to America. It has to be said both Bela and Sibitri were manipulators to an extent, but sometimes it’s the only choice. Without giving too much more away, we follow 3 women who are estranged for various reasons, stupid reasons, because isn’t that usually the way of things in a family? I felt crushed for Sibitri, I cannot even imagine being in her shoes. Not sure she will be anyone’s favorite, but she was mine.

 

Of course, as a mother of two children now in college- I relate differently to each character than I would have when I was a young mother. All the ideas we have for the future, for ourselves and the hopes and dreams for our children. We imagine we will do things right, better than those before us. We have picturesque dreams of how loving and loved we will be. Mothering is hard, the hardest thing most of us will ever do. Our intentions don’t always match the outcome. We can do damage sometimes with a simple thoughtless word, you will never really be enough. Your child is their own being with different needs and desires, it’s so much easier when you imagine a child will think exactly as you do. That is the challenge of mothering, teaching but learning too and embracing that they are their own person. You can be a model mom (whatever the hell that is) and still let your children down and heap some serious issues on them. We are human, that is our beauty and our flaw. I think more than anything this story expresses how divided our dreams are from our reality and sometimes that disappointment can stain our children. But it doesn’t mean you can’t find a way back to understanding and love, even if you have to suffer first to make sense of the choices our mothers, and we ourselves, have made.

The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel

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“I once heard someone refer to Breathed as the scar of the paradise we lost. So it was in many ways, a place with a perfect wound just below the surface.”

Why I loved this so much, because the devil is in the details… cough… or the people… or all of us. Revisiting the 80’s was a delight for me, even though it was a strange time this author writes about, something I nearly forgot. The ‘satantic worship’ craze, where the devil was everywhere!
But the novel isn’t necessarily focused on that, instead it delves into a small town and everyone’s secrets. A little boy named Sal, who answers an invitation from Autopsy Bliss for a visit from the Devil. The story creeps along, unpeeling every characters facade until they shed their old likable selves. The story burns bright to the end, such an unexpected horrifying end at that! I held my breath, my heart burned, I was so angry and sad! Small town prejudice, cult-like mentality (because it’s so much easier to hate when you have a leader making choices and pointing the finger for you), self-righteous beliefs, living a lie.. there is so much happening in this story. Even the sweet love between the devil (Sal) and the little beauty Dresden (such names in this story!) can’t remain untainted, turns bitter in my heart. No one gets out unscathed! I highlighted like a nutcase reading along, my heart sinking- relating to every person in the story. I love this line “Granny was my first loss, my first emptying.” But she was just the beginning. And “All love leads to cannibalism. I know that now. Sooner or later our hearts will devour, if not the object of our affections, our very selves. Teeth are the heart’s miracle. That a mouth should burst forth on that organ without a throat and crave another’s flesh, another’s heart, is nothing short of a miracle.”
From Fielding Bliss, we find out why the devil (Sal) was blamed for setting off events and tragedy that touched everyone in Breathed. His own brother Grand, his mother and father welcome the devil to stay and it isn’t long before Fielding sees with clarity who his family really is, what they hide, what was once experienced as normal comes into question (even a mother who can’t seem to leave her house). It’s funny how you don’t question the oddness in your own home until seen through another’s perceptive eye.
It’s hard to review without giving the novel away so I refuse to ruin it, but I loved it. Literary gold, the sentences and writing was often strange but beautiful. The story itself is unusual and I felt a little of what the town experienced with Sal’s presence. Heartbreaking, horrible, loving, such a strange sad mixture of emotions evoked by a book with a strange title. The title makes sense at the end! I am going to recommend this novel like crazy.
What Autopsy didn’t know when he offered the invitation to the devil was… you don’t have to offer an open invitation, the devil is already residing in us all.

Siracusa by Delia Ephron

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“Although you never know in a marriage who is responsible for what, do you? Husbands and wives collaborate, hiding even from themselves who is calling the shots and who is along for the ride.”

True words to be sure. This novel didn’t take me where I expected to go and at the end I just thought to myself ‘did that just happen?’. This is one hell of a tale! Every character is full of crap about something, hiding their deceptive natures, manipulating each other and no one seems to know what is going on in front of their eyes. Oh they judge each other, be sure, but in other matters, about themselves they are clueless. Taylor and Michael know that Finn and Lizzie might mean more much to each other than their spouses do, but Taylor is too busy suffocating her strange child Snow with motherly attentions to even bother to confront the possibility of the two carrying on. Michael, Lizzie’s husband- the gifted writer, has a complication of his own that has stolen his head-space and I can’t say all the things I want to or I will destroy the entire story! The reader gets into everyone’s head and no one is without fault. Snow is the most curious character of all, flirting almost with creepiness. Snow’s behavior and antics are funny and exhausting for those of us with children, and you still want to love her at the same time wanting to steer clear. How a seemingly simple story about two couples and a child vacationing together in Italy became an eye into the hard reality of marriage and the outside forces that always take a bite out of that love – I cannot say. More baffling is how a story I then thought was going to be about complicated love turned into a creepy tale, all I can say is she pulled a bait and switch on me. I loved every moment of it! Delia Ephron did a fantastic job of pulling me along.
A few lines I loved follow, and I know it’s not the final copy but I was a highlighting fool.

“There I am looking like winter on a June Day.”

“Spoken words are irretrievable. They can be bombs.”

“A secret is something you can play with, to keep or give away; a gift or a poisoned dart, it can be either.”

“You are a long trail through the woods,'” she said. “And in the woods people prefer a shortcut.”

“During our short life as a couple, his attraction to anyone or anything other than me was constant and indiscriminate.”

Read this book!!!

The Girls by Emma Cline

The Girls by Emma Cline

 

I waited for some time to get this arc and it was worth every day of longing. A friend and fellow book junkie on Goodreads had messaged me months ago about how much they knew I’d love it.

What had me hooked about this novel isn’t so much the crime later committed, similar to the Manson Family. It was the autopsy of Evie Boyd’s psyche, leaving nothing untouched in how a teenage girl (and let’s face it, many women) feel. It’s funny how women bury their younger selves and forget the fresh hell of never feeling at home in one’s own skin. I don’t think I have ever read a book as revealing as The Girls, you almost want to say ‘wait, don’t let on we have it this bad, that we’re this raw’. I spent the entire time highlighting everything that touched a nerve and there was a lot. Evie is struggling with being cast aside by her distant father once her parents divorce, and worse filled with equal amounts of embarrassment and revulsion about how hard her mother tries to please new men after living so long doing everything to appease Evie’s father -naturally she then feels a guilty shame for such mean unstoppable thoughts. To escape her sad household, Evie also falls under the spell of ‘the girls’. Seduced not just by a Manson like cult leader, but by the beauty and freedom of one older girl in particular- Suzanne. What is most disturbing is how easily Evie gives away herself, be it sexually or otherwise. Evie is, like most young women, hungry- for love, for life, for meaning, for attention, for everything- even if it means offering her very flesh to get it.
It’s the hunger that is her undoing.
“When I was that age, I was uncertain of how to move, whether I was walking too fast, whether others could see the discomfort and stiffness in me. As if everyone were constantly gauging my performance and finding it lacking.’

“She patted me, smiling so her face seemed to crack and reveal the full rush of her need.”

I could quote this novel until I kill it, but it would ruin the story for the rest of you. It was a painful read, and her poor mother with her own needs and awkward nature is easy to relate to. Most women wear this mask of confidence but life is just as hard in 2016 for a female as it was in 1969, maybe more so for how harshly we are judged now for our imperfections. Certainly the novel is about how Evie falls for The Girls and wants to cast off the world for the one Russell has created at the ranch. Here, she is family, they are one and she doesn’t have to be that unlovable, rejected average girl. There is enough love to go around, it is IDEAL- and we all know how things like that end. Human nature always bubbles to the surface, and how can any place be ideal when someone has power over you?
Russell is an expert in using his magnetism on the malleable and what is more malleable than insecure, lonely, lost teenage girls?
DIDN’T put this one down until the end. Loved it.