Adèle: A Novel by Leila Slimani

40265073.jpg

She wishes she were just an object in the midst of a horde. She wants to be devoured, sucked, swallowed whole.

Adèle is more than bored, every desire she has is insatiable and nothing is going to fill that void. Adèle’s husband Richard is a surgeon who loves to spoil her with a gorgeous apartment in Paris,  has pulled strings to get her the job she has as a journalist for a successful newspaper but her enthusiasm has died at work, as much as her joy in mothering their son, Lucien. Apart from fearing a baby would ruin her body and rob her idleness when she found herself pregnant, she comes to love her son but even that love couldn’t tame her urges. There is a line, “For now, she remains in her filth, suspended between two worlds, the mistress of the present tense.”  Filth it is, she is numb, she isn’t really alive and there isn’t a sexual encounter anywhere that can cure what ails her. There isn’t anything erotic about her encounters either, and I don’t feel it’s meant to be, though I labeled this under erotica for readers, because of the sex. She leaves each entanglement more soiled and broken, a life mounting in lies, disappearing from her own child for seedy encounters. On a superficial level she is easy to judge, there isn’t much to like about her , she has so much more than most people and we all know the argument is you can be just as unhappy with everything as someone who has nothing, but let’s just say her standing in life is quite comfortable, minus the struggles the majority of us cope with, a day in her cushy life would be a godsend, naturally this doesn’t endear her to most readers. She is certainly an object, over and over again, as still and devoid of life as a rock.

She is the saboteur of her own happiness and security. Then there is Richard, let’s talk about Richard. It’s easier not to acknowledge the cracks in your wife, to simply play the martyr and suffer for your beloved, to tune out. Then, when Richard finally must lift his head out of the dirt he’s buried it in,  he can play at savior or master depending on how you look at it. Richard can fix this, right? It’s so easy, it’s all about control. If he closes his eyes nice and tight, he won’t have to accept reality as it stands, right?  Just change the scenery, Richard knows best! We’re meant to feel sorry for him, and I do to a point, but he is as much the problem as Adèle’s sexual compulsions. Nothing about her trysts soothes her suffering, she is human wreckage. “She had always thought that a child would cure her.” Why are people always looking outside themselves for the cure?  Who really wants to save another person from themselves, and can you? Richard is always reaching out, trying to touch her it seems. She cannot be touched or reached, she cannot feel hence her desire to be swallowed whole, to be an object only. The novel could also be about the excruciating patience of Richard’s love, because only love that suffers is true? Right? Right? Is Richard just as sick? There is honesty though, in being in love with her still, love tangled in resentment, rage, and pain. His desire for her ‘violent and selfish’ is as corrupt as her own uncontrollable hunger and needs. They are both addicted, if you ask me. Both should be getting treatment. There is a slight peek into her family dysfunction, between she and her parents. Her own father clung to unhappiness,  life among the common people not good enough for him, the closeness she had with her father, who never saw the dirty girl she was, at least according to her mother, never let his ideal of her be defiled by who she truly was at her core, eyes closed to her antics. Is she this way because of her mother, or is it an illness her father had, a deep-rooted dissatisfaction that she inherited? We’ll never know as it’s not deeply explored, but the rot began in childhood. It seems it was an either/or. It’s dad or me! That her mother punishes her for being her father’s favorite.

She is easy to despise, to feel disgusted by. Beauty hides the ugly inside, that monster lurking that won’t look so appealing as time has its way with her. By the end, I was embarrassed for Adèle. It’s such a sad spiral, I spent most of the novel just feeling pity towards her, imagine living with all that rot within, all that indifference, to walk through life so numbed that you destroy everything you have just to feel. Tell me, who the hell wants to be pitied?

One of the saddest moments is when Adèle wishes she could confide in her mother. “She was a burden to her mother when she was a child. Now she has become an adversary…” a child that never had her mother’s tenderness, and maybe because of that faces such a destructive bitterness. Maybe it’s because I am a mother that I felt that moment like a gut punch. Who would Adèle have been if she knew a moment of guidance from her mother? Her mother’s adversary, imagine that.

Publication Date: January 15, 2019

Penguin Books

 

Advertisements

Brides in the Sky: Stories and A Novella by Cary Holladay

40154416

They couldn’t get the winter out of their lungs, was how Kate thought of her parents’ deaths.

The collection of stories begins with the tale of eighteen-year old Kate and her sister Olivia, twenty. Shocked by the grief of having lost their parents, now tied to land they must learn to farm on their own, either that are get hitched. With a mean harvest, they soon meet two young men, brothers Martin and Andrew heading out West for the promise of gold or better farming. Before long, change arrives as the sisters tie their fate to the men. A journey that will change everything between them, shape their futures. The perils they face on the Oregon trail will force both Kate and Olivia to find strength, when faced with darkness they never could have foreseen.

In the story Shades, Natalie takes a fancy to little Warren and takes him for a ride, ending up with her sorority sisters during rush week. “She was too beautiful and scandalous” and maybe a little criminal. Is she babysitting him? Comanche Queen begs the question, can you really ever go home? 1860, Cynthia Ann Parker is being rescued from her captive, once kidnapped by Comanche Indians when she was only nine-years old, now one of the Chief’s wives, mother to his infant child. After living and learning the ways of the Comanche, now her people too, what will happen when she returns to the world of the white man? Why is she enraged by her saviors? Women’s lives are shaped by luck, good and bad. There are choices that can ruin a life or save it, illnesses that can take children, violence, unwelcome touches and desirous ones. Through the pages of history a woman can disappear or live to ripe old age but never untouched by the times. There is the story with Etta Place, the Sundance Kid’s sweetheart, and her admission of the “wonderful feeling of being chosen” and too she tells of the end that such excitement must come to. The tale end, her great grand-daughter crying, holding her hand and “she grabbed my hand and held on, like I could go back and change things.” Wow! Gut punch.

The best of the stories is A Thousand Stings and I was happy to end the collection immersed in the sister’s lives. Coming of age, chasing after the handsome Ray, the summer of love stirring things up when the preacher in their town begins growing his hair and nails long, strumming his guitar, sweet on a young thing while his wife and daughter are away on a trip. Scandalous! Times are changing as much as the sisters. Their mother’s moods, usually predictable sometimes seem worn out from mothering, tired for all that is to come with her three girls.  “It is a cumulative exhaustion she feels, a crushing sense of responsibility.” The story is focused more on Shirley than the other sisters, Patty and Diana but each of the sisters are fully developed characters, as is their mother. Shirley is the watcher, “on guard against harm” of the family. She is the eyes, she knows “when to just listen” too. You forget, as you age, what it’s like a to be so young, dealing with your ever-changing body and only half understanding the adult world, or your own siblings. With Patty, the need to fit in with the girls her own age, to have the perfect party, all that longing for things go right, and how we fear being embarrassed by making the wrong move or our mothers. There is a lot of story in their everyday actions, if you pay attention. The ending is adorable, the rain, the shampoo! It’s the letting go, a release, a ‘forgetting your troubles’ and stealing happiness, a sisterhood of freedom. I would have loved a full novel about these girls and their mother alone! I stayed up just to finish their story. This is an author I will be watching!

Publication Date: January 14, 2019

Ohio University Press

Swallow Press

 

 

Rag: Stories by Maryse Meijer

40121990.jpg

Certainly there is a history of the incident, going back before my time: injuries, a childhood illness, ostracism, mental disorder, loneliness, screams. A history of chance.

These stories are raw and I devoured them. They are about bleeding out, deprivation, forbidden attraction, hiding from the world, the meaning of freedom, and all the things we think and don’t say or feel and keep in the shadows. Humans are beasts, we’re fragile creatures and mean ones too. We destroy others, we destroy ourselves. We’re full of longing and disgust for our longings too. I think the most moving excerpt for me is from the story Jury, but I am only going to give a line or two from it, “They were so helpless. They cut themselves, starved themselves, got themselves killed.” Women, girls, because our reality is that dangerous, that threatening in the world we all share. He is just a father, sitting on a jury thinking he can understand a fellow juror because he notices something about her, as if labeling a thing means it is easily repaired. The line about his grown daughter too, loaded with meaning, for me anyway. “This was a girl with everything. And yet she never smiled.”  Jury resonated with me, its brutal and strangely quiet at the same time. It is all the things that don’t need to be said to understand even the relationship between father and daughter. He just doesn’t really get it, he is frustrated by the helplessness women deal with and yet, angry at the ways we fail to acknowledge the danger.

All of the stories have meaning, purpose. In Rainbow Baby a mother’s grief is a specter, a bother like a living nightmare, decay in the brain. The hatred and betrayal of an old friend in Viral is so poisonous and sad, an ugly violence that isn’t far-fetched. It is born from envy, it is ‘animal hate’ of someone who ‘hasn’t known pain’. How broken our narrator of the story, and we the readers watching the transgression and knowing the horrible end, nothing you can do to stop it. Too, the manipulation at times young girls are so good at, with boys who can’t think more than “five minutes ahead”. What I think is fantastic about these characters is that they are incredibly developed for such short stories. With that line, a boy who “can’t think five minutes ahead”, it makes him such a solid mess, easily led. I can see him eager as a puppy.  I feel his naive stupidity as much as I felt the father’s anger and fears in Jury. If someone is suffering in a story, they can explain it to themselves, excusing it, erasing anything others would find seedy or even criminal, when in The Brother, the youngest takes what isn’t his, violates a girl. All because he longs to connect, to have what his brother has. Just like all the people on the outside, scratching to be let in!

As a reader I measure my responses as a human being, how is it I can be horrified and yet also feel sorry for the monster lurking in others. It’s so much easier to divide ourselves in categories, well I am nothing like that, there is nothing so primitive within my soul. Of course there is… the older you get the more you are tested by time, tragedy, experiences, the more things lash against you. It’s hard being your better self, your most human self. These are stories about feelings you should force to withdraw before you make a mistake you can’t take back. They are tales of sometimes allowing your dark side to run wild, or your emotions take over. It is being hungry with need, and my God desire and need can get ugly. Some offer themselves up as sacrifice to those who would soil them, I felt that in The Lover. Other’s close themselves away from the rest of us in The Shut-In, afraid of the world when they may be more monster than the threats they cower from. The ending of that story gutted me, it is such a small act but how I howled inside much like the unmasked.

The stories all stayed with me, and moved me in wonderfully strange and terrible ways. Yes, read it! From these stories alone I decided to start following the author.

Publication Date: February 12, 2019

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 

 

 

AWAY! AWAY! A Novel by Jana Beňová, Translated by Janet Livingstone

43153252.jpg

He’s growing from the most hidden and softest parts of my own self. Wild flesh. My own desire.

This is the latest novel from Jana Beňová, the Slovak author of Seeing People Off,  of which you can find my review here:  https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/13/seeing-people-off-a-novel-by-jana-benova/  In Away! Away! Rosa leaves her husband behind, the story is short and yet packs a lot of punch in the telling with a few pages of prose. There is a bit of her youth in snippets, such as how much she cried during her first days of high school. Of how yearning is born, be it for Paris (even if it’s just a city within herself) or red wine, cigarettes. Her frustration is evident in her head scratching and intolerance of all the cuckoos, those women who always have something to say, you have to read it. She seems hungry for escape, from work, from her husband, wishing only to distance herself from the struggle of adapting to everything expected of a woman. “And there’s the fear that someone will come along and utter the truth: she’s a fake.” An endless cycle of cuckoos.

Then there are the kisses from which she can’t catch her breath. She is Away Away and on the road, she can’t truly escape can she? She meets Pierre, who wants to join her and Corman on the road taking his puppet’s to put on The Snow Queen.  The characters swirl through Rosa’s mind, which character does she resemble, will she remain as wooden as a puppet forever, doomed to be imprisoned by the body of the man she loves, the memories that travel with you even if you attempt escape, because in the end there is no such thing, really, as Away! Away!

It is fiery passion always at the start of love and slowly, with familiarity comes the disenchantment, the want for freedom, to return just to the self again without the restrains of love. The writing is different from other styles and you have to really be still and quiet to catch what is being said. It is a bit like pillaging someone’s private runaway thoughts. Conflicted emotionally, striving for rebirth that never comes because once you’re hatched, well you’re hatched. I know my thoughts are running off the train tracks here, but it’s the mood I am in after finishing this unique book. The writing reminds me of someone purging their thoughts on scraps of paper and just walking away. I have to give a nod to the book cover too, it’s fabulous!

Available Now

Two Dollar Radio

The Embalmer by Anne-Renée Caillé, Rhonda Mullins (Translation)

38660051

You have to be true, to be faithful to the photograph the family sometimes leaves. I am surprised to find out this is not done consistently.

Most of us don’t like to think about what happens after death, how the embalmer prepares the body, the work required to make our loved ones look as they did in life, our ‘last look’ at our beloved who is both present in body and yet not. In this literary fiction, Anne-Renée Caillé’s narrator plumbs the depths of her father’s experiences during his time as an embalmer. What seems like a macabre subject is handled with a far more matter of a fact manner. We modern-day people are removed from death, out of sight, out of mind. While a book of only 96 pages, some of the telling made my skin crawl, not so much for gruesome horror but that lives end in the strangest and saddest of ways.

Her father, at times with ‘a list of cases on hand’,  makes some of the deceased become more real by saying their names. His job, to make them who they were before the ravages of disease, accidents, murder, or even combat had his work cut out for him, and certainly there are cases where there isn’t the possibility of make-up saving the day, because only a closed casket is the option. There are indignities in dying, most of us just have to look away and let others handle the ugly details, never once giving it a thought yet knowing our time will come. Who can bear to ponder such things with so much living to do?

“The story is sensitive, they all are, but some are more disturbing.”

Through listening to her father, she wants to understand him, his choice of jobs where things are underground. Then there is illness in her own family, in her father just like his father before him but death’s movements can’t always be tracked and sometimes surprises us with the age old question, “Who is next?”

I can’t wait to read more by Anne-Renée Caillé. She is an author I will be following. I read this in one night.

Available Now

Coach House Books

Mother Country: A Novel by Irina Reyn

39863468

She preferred to think of herself as an observer, a temporary traveler, someone waiting for a new life to begin, rather than who she really was: a worker executing an invisible task within the neighborhood’s complex ecosystem.

Nadia splits her time as a Nanny to the privileged little girl of a Russian born woman who demands she teach her child Russian, even if she cannot speak it well herself and as a caregiver at VIP Senior Care, tending to the elderly.  Often feeling invisible in the eyes of her employers  “That she had her own family on the opposite side of the world? That her life was far rounder than the reflection in the woman’s eyes?” she pushes on through her days, biding time until everything she has worked for finally comes to fruition. Relying on Skype, Nadia can keep contact with her beloved daughter Larisska whom she had no choice but to leave behind with her mother in Ukraine, a fractured country that has gone to war. Larisska, feeling abandoned, has her own acts of defiance, barely coming to the video call, refusing to answer her mother about her  level of health, to say whether or not she is keeping up with her insulin injections but even that is preferable to the dead silence of unanswered calls and the fear that they could have died, and if they are alive, how will she get her medicine if everything has ceased to function? Then there is no hope as America isn’t granting asylum, everything on hold thanks to Homeland Security.

There was a time when Nadia worked hard as a  successful bookkeeper in Ukraine, a diligent employee who caught the eye of the married midlevel manager at their manufacturing company. A place where she was respected, proud to do her work, had her own routines like meeting up with her childhood friend Yulia and their old schoolmates often, then the brief affair (if a moment of bliss and passion can be called an affair) that leaves her pregnant with Larisska. Understanding that he will never leave his wife and children for Nadia and their unborn child, or acknowledge Larisska as his, surely he must know she bore his fruit, Nadia is happy just to be in his charming, handsome presence. She is sure that each extra kindness he gives her is his way of showing he loves her and knows about Larisska. Then changes begin in her country, subtly at first. Storefronts altering signs from Russian to Ukrainian, government documents changing to the Ukrainian language, soon currency being phased out and then, payment at work in mandarins. How is Nadia, a single mother, going to keep her child and mother alive on mandarins?

Her daughter Larisska, ” such an adorably willful little thing,” a neighbor once told her of her newborn was stubborn from the start, refusing even to nurse from her breast. Then, the diabetes diagnoses when Nadia couldn’t possibly afford the insulin. Their only hope is America, but the years pass and when it’s finally Nadia’s turn and her application is approved, there is a flaw in the plan, Larisska at 21 is too old (has aged out) to be approved. Nadia makes the hard decision to go anyway without her girl, leaving Larisska feeling at once betrayed and discarded. To Nadia’s way of thinking, it is the only hope she has of keeping Larisska healthy, her medication supplied and she will get her daughter to America, once she herself is settled in. Larisska thinks they should stay together, it’s too late anyway to move away. Nadia knows America is the land of opportunity, the prize! It is a hard transition, a land with so many different people of many colors, some she had only read about before, and at first, she fears them all but she has no choice but to adapt if she is going to get Larisska there.  America, however, has other plans. Applications continuously get declined and Larisska’s life goes on without her. With the fighting between western Ukranians, separatists and Russians her fervent prayers that they leave her homeland aren’t enough to make it happen, soon access to medication stops, and Nadia devises a brilliant plan to save her Larisska after a night out on the town with her friends. With no man in her own life, her thoughts are never focused on her own loneliness, and instead of love for herself, she will find a man for Larisska, in America! Mother knows best, always.

This is a story about mothering when you’re pinned to a wall with threats coming at you in all corners. When you don’t have the luxury of choices and war turns your world upside down, when I love yous aren’t easy to utter because you are just trying to stay afloat, love is obvious in your actions, don’t need to be stated. That sometimes in trying to be your child’s salvation, you may just forget that they too have plans of their own and time doesn’t stand still when you leave. It is terribly missing your ‘Mother Country’ while trying to adapt to your adoptive one, because the country you left never remains the same nor do the people you had to leave behind. It is about sacrifice but will it all be worth it in the end, will Larisska ever make it to America? Will she continue to resent her mother? Will Nadia forever be stuck mothering someone else’s child while her own is sick on another continent in desperate need of her?

I thought this was a wonderful novel, it is not solely about the immigrant experience, it is also about motherhood, and crumbs of love some people delude themselves into accepting, as we see with Nadia and the technolog (the manager who fathers Larisska). Nadia seems to spend much of her life making assumptions about people. She is a woman who really needs to learn to let go, that sometimes you have to just flow with what destiny has in store for you. Not easy when she has had to figure out so much on her own. Yes, read it!

Publication Date: February 26, 2019

St. Martin’s Press

 

The Murmur of Bees: A Novel by Sofia Segovia, Simon Bruni (Translator)

42306076

“Nana. What else do you have there?”

Then the bundle burst into wails and frenetic movements.

“He’s hungry, boy,” said Nana Reja as she carried on with her constant swaying.

“May I see?”

As he unrolled the shawl, Francisco and his men at last saw what Nana had in her arms: a baby.

Their horror made them step back. Some of them crossed themselves.

An abandoned, disfigured baby boy mysteriously protected by a living blanket of bees is rescued by Nana Reja in a small Mexican town, October 1910. The woman as old and weathered as a tree, with a long, exhausting life a servitude behind her, has chosen to live out the rest of her days in one spot in a rocking chair outside the storage sheds on the Hacienda Amistead. Her past shed as wet nurse and caregiver for so many children that it’s hard to remember her own baby, so long departed from this world, it’s a miracle that Reja heard the abandoned child’s cries from under a bridge, so far away. It is ominous, unnatural! With fierce determination burning fire in her old heart, she refuses to budge in her plan and thus changes the course of the Morales family when she brings the ‘monstrous’ Siminopio infant home, demanding he is baptized despite the ugly, hateful whispering of the village that the boy is a bad omen. To some, like Francisco’s bitter employee Anselmo Espiricueta, he is “the devil”, will be the downfall of them all. Others are ashamed of their first reaction as they come to care for the strange child.

Francisco and Beatriz adopt Siminopio, whose bees beat within him as strongly as his own heart, guiding and protecting both he and the Morales family as he grows under their care. Soon there is war in their Northern Mexico, men of wealth are a prime target and with pretty young daughters, Francisco knows his girls must be sent away. With the war’s army wanting land, and taking his crops, he has time for his family now like never before and wonders if buying land is an answer.He begins to believe Siminopio and his bees are important to his family, for surely there is a reason he came. He will see that he remains unharmed. Over time the people who are a part of or near the Morales house come to get used to the boy, his deformity less terrifying, his affinity for nature making him a sweet boy one could even feel affection for. Unable to communicate due to his deformity, people underestimate his keen intelligence, his ability to see in others what most people overlook. It is not without sorrow that he lives his life in step with his bees, wishing with all his might he could sing or speak, express himself in ways most take for granted, but it is not to be.

It isn’t a story solely about Siminopio though, every character has their story told, like Beatriz and her youthful longing for a good, solid man for a husband  and finds the best partner in Francisco, so much luckier than other women of the times. But revolutions and epidemics have a long reach, she will endure as she always has, just like the times after the tragic loss of her own father, in years to come. She clings to the past, she is a loyal wife and mother but the fear of giving up her family lands, starting over in an unknown land, shucking off all the old traditions for a new way is not something she wants to entertain. Then comes the fever, and it comes for Siminopio.

Influenza and the Mexican Revolution rip through every character in this novel and no one is unscathed. When fortune takes a bad turn and illness befalls the people, there isn’t time to properly grieve. Survival swamps sorrow, when death is hungry and pity becomes a luxury, because you are all under the same threat. Soon there are more dying or dead than alive but through the stink of death, a miracle gives the people hope, even if the doctor doesn’t believe in such things. The Morales family line is safe, and they owe it to Siminiopio’s fever and Francsico’s swift thinking, abandoning Linares and it’s people just in time. This decision is their salvation, but also inflames an enemy.

It is a story of  one family’s evolution and knowing when to let go , even if it means abandoning the old ways, it is about seeing past your own nose, understanding that fear can cloud your judgement and that beauty and salvation are sometimes found in the strangest of places, and people. It is a window into how animosity is often easier to nurture than accepting  the nature of your own failings, as we see with the envious Anselmo. Tired of waiting for good fortune to smile upon him, disgusted with Francisco’s benevolence, with ‘hand outs’ and making due, working land that will never be his that seems to be taken over by orange groves, helping only the Morales wealth grow while his own life is consumed by loss, he devises a scheme of his own, nurturing too the hatred he feels for the ‘devil’ Siminopio.  It is a story of love, war, illness, nature, revenge and bees. There is magical realism with Siminopio and his beloved bees, but this is more historical fiction. There are many voices telling the tale, a lot of story to sort through but worth the effort. There is beautiful writing and wisdom within, I particularly delighted at the chapter about houses, how they “die when they are no longer fed the energy of their owners.” How houses leave echoes in us, as we leave echoes in them. The invisibility of old age, the ghosts of the past that visit us as memories, even the horrors of time, it’s all written so beautifully.

Publication Date: April 16, 2019

AmazonCrossing

Lake Union Publishing