Melinda Camber Porter in Conversation with Joyce Carol Oates 1987 Princeton University ISSN Volume 1, Number 6: Melinda Camber Porter Archive of Creative Works by Melinda Camber Porter and Joyce Carol Oates Blake Press

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“Certainly feminism in the past decades has been very idealistic and has definitely modified the culture, not as much and perhaps not as permanently as we would like, but it has had some alteration of consciousness.”

I snapped this up on Netgalley because Joyce Carol Oates writing is wonderful. She has a way of disturbing me, always provoking the reader to question their morality, and the world. This is an intelligent conversation, focusing on boxing (the sport) at the beginning, it’s interesting to see Carol draw parallels between boxing and smoking. The violence of a sport, the violence we do to ourselves that doesn’t even inspire a mention. I chewed on the topic of poverty, prostitution, the under-privileged and the violence that arises, such as boxing. Yet she doesn’t claim to want to abolish it, is it even possible?

There is a section, where they are discussing celebrity and the weight of their opinions. in the sense that authors aren’t really listened to here in America. Celebrity though, I wonder how much that has changed since this interview with different platforms now, outlets for their thoughts to be spread. I still don’t imagine writer’s opinions are followed as much as say… a singer or actor. I would hope we would’t vote a certain way now, based on any celebrity, sadly I am guessing some people will sway their opinion based on a celebrity, which is sad to me. Should we ever align our thoughts with a celebrity,  Donald Duck or otherwise? (Read the interview) Lord I hope not.

“America has this long tradition of anti-intellectualism.” I wonder if it’s changing now, as more praise is heaped upon our trailblazers, but it does seem people are suspicious still of intelligence. We weren’t taught to ‘think for ourselves’, mostly to just memorize, regurgitate. I agree with Oates too about putting writers, or celebrities, in the spotlight of politics then as now, because it really is about dedicating to understanding politics, it’s not just ‘opinions’ and it’s a heavy burden to ‘thrust the microphone’ at them when their understanding isn’t as strong as those in politics. How many have ‘put their foot in their mouth’, maybe meaning one thing and not seeing the bigger picture?

The topics discussed resonate today, interesting as this conversation took place in 1987. I am always curious about the writers whose work I devour, what they think about certain subjects, how it relates into the creation of their characters, what they’re trying to say about the world through fiction. Not because I have to agree with them or disagree, simply I enjoy feasting on the food of their thoughts.

Publication Date: November 15, 2017

Blake Press

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Found Life Poems, Stories, Comics, a Play, and an Interview by Linor Goralik

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…the wife comes home and the cat smells like someone else’s perfume.

The thing about this collection is the style is different from the norm. There are snippets of thoughts and conversations, and they’re heavy, so much that a sentence standing alone packs a punch and condenses an entire story but it can also be the problem for some readers. You feel a bit all over the place, like your stuck in a big city with a thousand voices coming at you. It can be dizzying and yet Linor Goralik has a keen eye for life and people’s many emotions. Her micro-prose is solid but I truly wonder how much more I would prefer a full length novel by this author. This line ticked me, “and Mashenka woke up (“Oh look, Mashenka’s hatched!).”   

Some of the sentences simply set a scene in your head. “An eight year old deaf girl chatting to herself , using all ten fingers, on the steps of an escalator.” It’s talking pictures and scenes, and it’s moving fast. The reader is just an eye in the crowd, left to wonder about the strangers and stolen moments. “A cheap thirty-year old barrette in the elegant grey chignon of an expensively dressed lady.” Observations, and the thought ‘there is a story there.’  Just as we pass strangers wherever we go, tourists or not, all those strangers whose stories we will never know, it leads to a hunger, a curiosity of lives going on outside ourselves.

I liked it, but I’m the type of reader that wants more involvement. There is a distance I never bridged because everything flashes by. Dissecting the writing though, it certainly takes talent to move through so many souls, characters. There are great lines, and the writing really is beautiful but I think I have a hard time with this style personally. The author is said to be one of the first Russian writers that built her name through the internet, I find that interesting. It is a moody, light, heavy, cynical, hopeful, sad and humorous collection. It’s scattered humanity, in a sense.

There may be people out there that like the fast whip of many mini stories,  it’s just too much for me. I know I repeat myself, but I wonder if she could tell a strong story and stick with just a few characters.  I sometimes felt like there is  a loss of focus. I’m curious what other readers will come away with. I want more solid stories in my reading, particularly about Russia.

Publication Date: November 28, 2017

Columbia University Press

 

To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts: Stories by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

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Some things cannot last; some things last too long.

I wish this collection lasted longer, because the stories in this collection are some of the most beautifully written I’ve ever read. Not every author has the gift of reaching into human beings, pulling out all the parts that make us whole and then creating characters that you swear are real. These are flawed beings, struggling with different memories, fighting fears, curious, questioning, broken, dying and every emotion is raw, genuine. Every thought and feeling is intrinsically characteristic of human behavior. They have misplaced anger, are sometimes selfish, lonely, some are broken having only a ghost of a memory of their loved one, others are furious with their family and the many ways they’ve failed them. There have been accidents that altered the course of lives, one wheelchair bound and determined to run from the noise of it all, in the middle of nature not kind to wheelchairs. Another is dying in bed, cared for by his adult granddaughter in the story Fish Eyes In Moonlight, a title I absolutely adore. “My mind was the same, my soul was the same soul, but my body was a body I did not know.” I felt I was dying with him, slowly crawling to a final farewell, as this thing will one day happen to us all, the curling in, dissipating and yet the mind still violently alive, not quite ready to go and yet too tired to cling. He, for a while, becomes the child they wanted, in a strange sad way. It was a tender story, powerful.

In Geographies of the Heart, two sisters experience the withering away of their loved one  that puts a strain on their bond. As Sarah fumes, Glennie inexplicable absents herself and all she can see is her fury merged with grief. All the ‘should have beens’, all the expectation Sarah feels, but the things waiting to be said on her tongue have their hooks in the past. One wonders just what really bothers Sarah about Glennie’s abandonment. The angrier she gets, understanding dawns.

The first story, Tags is about children whose fathers are lost to war one way or another. From the moment I tucked into the book, I was catching my breath and aching. Jimmy has his dad’s dog tags and a habit of rubbing them back and forth. “That’s how I remember those days; Jimmy and me sitting on the curb, tired of marbles, tired of tin, him with that sound of his father, and me with nothing of mine but his name.”  There went my heart, this author plays with your emotions, because it seems so real. Because, I know, somewhere it is real for someone.

This is a collection that will reel you in.On the surface, it doesn’t seem as if anything enormous is happening, but it’s the quiet moments that murdered me. It’s the characters confronting their pain, struggles, hopes that had me enraptured. For a while, I lived in the emotional state of these characters, I think we all do at some point, if we’re alive to the crawl and claw of life. Each story moved me for different reasons, in many short story collections not every story resonates with me, but in To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts, they all did. I truly hope that Caitlin Hamilton Summie is already working on something new, because she has made a fan of me! Read it- beautiful!

Available Now!

Published August 2017  Fomite

 

October Buzz Books Monthly: Your Best Guide to Top Titles Appearing This Month by Publishers Lunch

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I just wanted to mention 2 books from this launch I am excited about. One I am currently reading, the Tan memoir I have to wait to buy at the end of this month.

I am currently reading and reviewing Phil Harrison’s The First Day. So far, it is not quite what I expected, it is much more than a forbidden affair. It spirals and manages to be a quiet disaster. The writing is wonderful, Anna is living ‘in the aftermath of love’. It’s painful and brutal, and a complex love affair. I go from hating Samuel to feeling empathy, because he struggles! So for that alone, I enjoyed this Buzz Books Monthly, I chose The First Day because of it. Also, I am seriously looking forward to Amy Tan’s Memoir ‘Where the Past Begins’.

As a an aside, a novel about a pastor ‘family man’ having an affair seems worn out, but it isn’t in Harrison’s hands. I am spending my evenings immersed in the mess the character Samuel has made and this quiet story simmers.

I will share my review soon.

Little Broken Things: A Novel by Nicole Bart

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She knew that their lives were far from perfect, that things shimmered just beneath the surface of their shiny facade.

Just who are ‘the little broken things’? Is it the scared little girl, ‘the something’ her sister Nora seems to be lending her? Just whose child is she and what sort of mess is her older sister Nora wrapped up in? How is Quin supposed to keep a little girl secret, especially from their uptight mother? Lucy is a mystery, and Nora is gone leaving nothing to fill the holes of the child’s mysterious existence. How dare she do this, but is it so surprising? Quin always comes when she beckons, almost like a slave. How does Nora seem to always call the shots?  Though the two have a strained relationship, Quin knows she must help her sister, whatever it is she is involved in is bigger than their damaged bond.

The things that make families drift apart are sometimes small, insidious things that eat away at them over time. Secrets we keep from ourselves and each other, though, have a way of coming out. This is the case with the characters in this novel. The matriarch watches over her daughters, but is also removed. Maybe once she was bold, but marriage to Jack Sr. turned her into the model wife, never saying no, keeping the kingdom running smoothly and comfortable for it’s master. Her girls are stronger, bolder- as she once had been too. Liz is order, and her children are chaos. Her Nora, the one to always ask “why”, Liz ‘ the secret keeper’, the one who doesn’t need her, and Jack Jr ‘JJ’ the same as his father, in control. Now with Jack Sr gone, she is free to watch over the lake and spy on her daughter- making hiding a child that much more impossible. Liz doesn’t approve of her daughter’s husband, she knows it won’t last, and watching them from Jack’s telescope, now hers, only proves she is right. Misunderstandings and the distance between mother and daughter paint a picture of a family that desperately needs one another, but are in their own way. Watching the struggle Liz has in showing her love is painful, how do people get to that point? Why do her children leave? She must prove how good home is! Why can’t she accept Walker, Quin’s husband?

Quin soon knows who Lucy really is, or does she? She is furious with Nora, because Lucy’s existence will ‘change everything.’ The reader begins to understand why Nora isdesperate to hide the child, it’s disturbing and at times confusing. We meet Tiffany through Nora’s chapters. Tiffany is a key player in the novel, and one has to wonder why Jack Sr hated her, judged the young girl so harshly. JJ isn’t close to his sisters, and he sort of floats on the edges of the story. You think you know where you’re going, but it flips on you.

I slowly began to figure things out before the end, which wasn’t quite the explosive ending I expected yet it works for this novel. The beauty of the novel for me wasn’t so much the danger, but the damage we do with our expectations. The blindness we suffer when our own emotions are at the forefront, the pain it causes those we want to protect. Families are a strange experiment, and seem composed of everything that tests who we are. They are all little broken things, in their own strange way. But the question is, can they be patched up? Can a mysterious child be a bridge, or will she be the final blow that fractures the family beyond repair.

I enjoyed some of the characters and others didn’t seem fully formed. I do think it will be a popular read though. I think it’s hard to accept Quin sort of going along, I imagine most of us would be demanding answers before taking any child in, but maybe that is to express just how much Quin follows her big sister’s lead, even against her will.  JJ never felt real to me, he just wasn’t in the novel enough for my liking. I felt frustrated and I am not sure how I feel about Tiffany and everything that happens, the ending left me with a few questions but I leave it to other readers.

Publication Date: November 21, 2017

Atria Books

 

Exquisite by Sarah Stovell

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“This weakness of mine for the unloved… it was probably pathological.”

This is a tricky, wonderfully dark read. It crawled in the beginning and I thought, ‘well this is going to be boring’ but then everything began to deteriorate in a good way. Bo Luxton has written best sellers but her talent is settling now. Living a charmed life with her husband and little girls in the Lake District, she is content if not feeling ‘to die for love’ for Gus well, she is living the life most people would give anything to have. She counts her many blessings, and loves nothing more than her young children. She is soothed by the nature of her surroundings (the mountains) sure of the idea the rest of the world is sick from being cut off from the natural world. Maybe all marriages become stale, it’s just the order of life. All she needs is her children and her beautiful world, away from the sickness of the city and human mess. She is about to attend a writer’s retreat, picking talent from a pile of hopefuls she comes across a disturbing story by aspiring author, Alice Dark. Entitled “Last Words” it tells a sinister tale, a relationship between it’s author and her dying mother, because surely something this intense has to be autobiography? Alice Dark becomes the chosen, creator of her favorite submission, and the meeting between the women takes place. The two are drawn to each other instantly.

Alice Dark is young, broke, living with feckless, useless boyfriends– her current, Jake. Jake, who refuses the ‘mainstream’ life, a talented artists making a living from his work but his talent can’t push him to thrive, and what once seemed like a promising relationship has expired.  Alice envies Bo Luxton’s “Lyrical Beauty”, where Alice’s writing is haunting and dark, Bo’s can only come from the angelic hands of ethereal talent. “Bo must write with feathers.” Alice and Bo are going to build a unique bond at the retreat, one that extends into emails back and forth and soon an invitation for a visit to Bo’s home. Both become too close for comfort.

This is a strangely complicated relationship the women form, dangerously intimate. Both are exquisite liars and truth tellers, chew on that! Each unravels in her own strange way, both cling to each other but for different reasons. Bo seems to both test her feelings for Alice and deny them, Alice is a wreck pulled this way and that by her emotions and Bo’s attention that seems to wax and wane. One moment their intimacy is raw, the next there is a feeling of indifference. Alice’s stays are more frequent, she wants nothing more than to see Bo happy. But is she seeing too much into their friendship? Does Alice just want a mother that will nurture her, heal the rotting wounds her own mother left? What is Bo getting out of this, is it Alice’s youth, thinking she can feel electric again, that some of Alice’s freedom and wild spirit will rub off on her?

Do we really know what the heck is going on? Who is the prisoner that speaks at the start of the novel? Why is Bo such a champion for young talent? What happened in her past, with another student? Both women are damaged, but who is ripe for destruction? Why won’t Bo ‘pick over old memories’, just what happened in her untouchable past? Why does she collect damaged people, ‘waifs and strays‘, as her husband Gus calls them? Why is Gus warning her to “be careful this time” ? What happened with her own mother, what was so bad that she assures herself she is nothing like her ? Is that why Alice’s story touched a nerve with her? Could the bond be created on the backs of terrible mothers?

The hunger is why things move so fast between the women, the hungry need. Both are empty for reasons we half understand, picking over the wreckage of their pasts, trying to find something solid and vibrant in the now. In Bo’s mind, Alice is ‘fragile’, ‘artless’ and only Bo can untangle her rotten past. It’s all about winning her confidence, taking her under her wing, and in doing so- Alice feels her real life has just begun. Has it?

The reader is on unstable ground, as much as the minds telling the story are unstable. How can a story be tender and brutal at the same time? It’s a mess, you go from passion to hatred, seeing vulnerability as necessary to regretting your character being careless and unguarded. At the end, everything happens fast and my my, strange to think exposure can be a relief to someone fueled by manipulation… but who? You have to read. This is one of those novels where if you dip too much into the review you ruin the shock of it. I liked it far more than I expected, because what is more dangerous and painful than trust and vulnerability?

Available Now (published October 1, 2017)

Trafalgar Square Publishing

Orenda Books

These Violent Delights: A Novel by Victoria Namkung

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There are so many sharks circling around young girls- in the streets, online, and in their very own “safe” schools- it truly makes me sick!

Dr. Gregory Copeland, chair of the English department, now a married father, beloved, popular with parents, staff and students and for many years seducer of young, lonely girls. The past is about to come calling, karma is ready to collect from Dr. Copeland a pound of flesh! Caryn is an intern working at a newspaper, under her idol Jane, she composes an essay, exposing a secret from her past as a student at the prestigious school Windmere and the sexual abuse she suffered while there. They want to go forward and publish the essay in the paper, and Caryn is struggling, she knows it will ruin a life, divide the community. She isn’t a victim in the sense of the usual word, you can’t see her wounds, she wasn’t left bleeding to death somewhere in an alley or ditch. Just what is a victim composed of? She feels sorry for her abusers children, wife, and for all those people who are going to see their favorite teacher’s darkest side. Is it worth ruining so many lives over such a small transgression, one she feels complicit in, as so many young girls are made to feel? But what about the school, Windmere and it’s own complicity in turning a blind eye? What will her family think? Shouldn’t she have just put this all behind her?

Sometimes it takes one person to give other victims the courage to speak. Dr. Copeland has an eye for the girls that need something, whether it’s praise, attention, a shoulder to cry on, literature, and he knows how to manipulate them into sexual favors. 15 seems to be his lucky number, girls on the cusp of womanhood, still unsure in their developing bodies, just noticing male attention, both unwanted and  sometimes welcome. Some stay silent, even from affluent families, hesitant to ‘bring shame’ upon their grand family name. Others know maybe they won’t be believed, but too- the girls believe this is love, deceived into thinking the shame is solely their burden.

Eva is a mother now, has kept her shameful secret from even her husband, and she must face the repercussions of omission in her life. It’s an interesting spin, I think, for the author to take on. That on top of carrying around the shame of having been manipulated as a young girl, Eva as a wife must too feel shame for ‘not being completely honest’ with her husband, appearing again as ‘deceptive’ through omission. Of course he feels wounded, spouses are supposed to share everything, no? But how is a woman to share all when she hasn’t come to terms with it herself? Jesse is a good man, there are good men in this novel, it’s not a ‘man- hating’ story. Of course, not all women are so lucky in real life. Many cultures over, the shame always seems the woman’s to wear.

Sasha’s fury is fueling her on. Far more angry than the others, the pain radiates off her skin still. He knew just how to work each girl into giving in. With Sasha’s bookish ways, lonely home-life, and lack of friends, Copeland knew how to win her trust. Sasha enjoyed it, the attention, the forbidden love that made her finally feel special, struggling with guilt because she began to seek him out too. He brought literature to life, those deep love stories with his words. That is how they hide, these abusers, knowing how to leave young naive victims hungry, both enthralled and disgusted with themselves. When things got too real for Sasha, a problem very ‘adult’ he tucked tail, shut her out and left her with the aftermath. The taint of it is still staining her soul, it’s time to see him brought down, it’s time to come together with other victims.

This special ‘club’ of victims, one no one ever wants to be a member of,  come together under the support of Jane, a reporter whose big story becomes personal. The community is divided, and the support some people feel for Dr. Copeland, rallying behind him, is like a gut punch, like being victimized all over again. As the investigation picks up steam, it seems everyone has something to say, more stories come out from other former students, and it becomes eye-opening just how many girls are victimized, but let it go, seeming like such a ‘small thing’, like a creeping hand on the knee, or intimate, inappropriate private conversations. In a time when we teach our children to speak up if something happens, so much still does, because navigating an adult’s world and actions can get muddy in a young child’s mind. Women have a hard enough time exposing abuses, how much worse is it when a young girl is lured in and shamed by the pleasure she feels of attention? How does a girl expose and label something when she isn’t even sure anything has happened? Maybe in her naive mind she just ‘misinterpreted’ what the adult intended to say? Abusers know just how to lurk on the edge, they test the waters, they are always keeping themselves safe until they know they have control of the situation, then the arrogance is shocking, as with Sasha and her encounters with Dr. Copeland.

Why do cover-ups even happen, in the most progressive and prestigious institutions? Sometimes, the silence is worth keeping dirt off the illustrious school’s name, even if it means leaving a wolf in the mix.  Some victims heal, some were broken before being further victimized by life and where it takes them. There is triumph, and tragedy.  The important thing this novel does is open a conversation, it’s chilling to think that a mother or father may read this novel, and their own child could be experiencing such a seduction by a teacher, a coach, etc. These things are happening more than we think, just turn on the news.

Most women can remember being in school and I think at least one girl who bragged about being with an ‘older guy’, which seemed ‘star-crossed’ or exciting maybe. Maybe some of you were shocked, disgusted, envious? Ask any two people, male or female, if they think the young girl is complicit? There will be many who think she is, because we’ve forgotten how insecure and needy the young are. How adult they trick themselves into feeling, but an evolved mind should know adults should never cross that line. That with young girls, and let’s not forget boys too, it’s easy for someone more experienced to manipulate them, what place in time is lonelier and more confusing than your teenage years? It’s exciting to play at being a grown up. It happens to the wealthy and the poor, every ethnicity and social standing, there isn’t a child alive that it couldn’t happen to.

Sexuality can feel powerful too, in both boys and girls. Adult attention can feel both humiliating and empowering, it’s a strange time in life. To be both a child and adult, in everything happening with hormones, the mind becoming so much more aware, testing their sexuality, flirting with the edge, some get too far ahead before they are aware of the danger they’re in. But what of that adult, guiding them over the cliff? You hear it all the time, ‘well look how old he/she looks and acts.’ As if a teen with an adult body is game. Let’s really think about the victims here, because it is not the ‘adult.’

Provocative, a wonderful selection for any reading group. As important today as it will be tomorrow.

Publication Date: November 7, 2017

Griffith Moon Publishing