10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World: A Novel by Elif Shafak

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The possibility of an immediate and wholesale decimation of civilization was not as frightening as the simple realization that our individual passing had no impact on the order of things, and life would go on just the same with or without us. Now that, she had always thought, was terrifying.

We begin at the end for Tequila Leila, ‘as she was known to her friends and her clients.’ Working, before her sorry death, at one of the oldest licensed brothels in Istanbul she is no longer in her apartment, now she lays dead, vanishing further away from the here and now, ‘inside a metal rubbish bin with rusty handles and flaking paint.’ How did she end up discarded like trash, less than trash? Her group of misfits and best friends  Sinan, Nalan , Zaynab , Humeyra  and Jameelah don’t know yet what has happened, they intend to find out. Her friends, nothing more than garbage themselves according to the country and times they live in, the sole family she has left-at least that will acknowledge her, are the ones left behind to care about what has happened to her, just another dead prostitute to the citizens, but so much more to them. They don’t have rights, they must find a way (of course it’s a crime) to give her a proper burial, they may be her true family, but not legally.

How did you get here Leila? The mind sticks around and soon there is an influx of memories, the earliest is her birth and through that ‘slippery passage’ the transgression that followed against her own mother is recalled. In fact, though this novel is about outcasts, and many will focus most on the transvestite Nostalgia Nalan and Zaynab the dwarf, whose stories are very engaging, it is Leila’s mother, aunt and uncle’s sordid tale that clutched at me. It is here that everything went awry, where the hope for a different sort of life, one free of ‘shame’ was made impossible. Here lies the wreckage, and how my heart broke for Lelia’s mother, all the lies that darkened the family. We learn who truly bears the mark of shame, and it isn’t in Lelia’s decomposing body.

Her first mistake was being born a girl to her father’s second wife, and what are women if not vessels to deliver cherished sons? And if they cannot, well the elders assured Leila’s father that the Qur’an allows a man to have up to four wives. What good are wives who have only miscarriages? God help you, woman, if you are a flawed. This time Binnaz (second wife) took care to heed old wives tales and superstitions, leaving nothing to chance. Yet it is the shock of how she is rewarded for her efforts that has lasting effects on Lelia, who has two mothers. What rights does a second wife have? None. She must be an obedient wife, who is she to complain? No one, nothing, just a mere woman. All Leila’s father Houran wants is for his baby girl (though he desires a perfect son) to one day make him proud, “true to your religion, true to your nation, true to your father.”  But how do you measure loyalty, pride, obedience, and chastity when others are bent on fouling the waters? Just who truly is a shame to their religion, to Allah? Rather than an example of piety, she is a challenge to her father, a thing to be cast away and disowned and surely through no fault of her own.

As her heart ceases to beat she recalls only the lonely child she was. The severity of her father, the odd behavior of her deeply trouble, sad, mentally unstable aunt and the complex relationship her mother had with her. It was a house of whispers, the women controlled by her father’s beliefs, and the simmering anger a confusion to Lelia who is sheltered from the truth.  After a terrible abuse, Leila loses both her family and love….

The streets are mean, it is in the brothels where hustlers bring her to find refuge and here Leila loses all hope of ever being a proper Muslim woman. It is also in this life where she finds her true family, and so begins their heavy stories, no lighter nor happier than Leila’s. These are the people tourists don’t see, and the ones the citizens would rather ignore or use, the disposable women. What happens to Leila is brutal, meant to expose the violence against women, but if you go back, isn’t what happened to Leila’s powerless mother just as violent in it’s own godless way? There is hypocrisy particularly in religious fervor, in the existence of these sinful places that are denied, and her friends lives are heavy, take “Osman” Nalan’s transformation, it is hard to contemplate in a time, place against women. Imagine trying to survive in her shoes.

It’s not solely those born native to the soil who face being subjugated by men. Some arrive there through trickery, as Jameelah’s story has her forced into our modern form of slavery. If you’re not forced into marriage, another brand of slavery for some as Humeyra can attest to , then you’re trafficked like Jameelah. Too, women subjugate each other as much as they uplift. We see this in the hatred between Jameelah’s stepmother and the cruelty Suzan heaps upon Binnaz, because I can’t think of a crueler thing. So while the tight bond and love Leila and her friends have, even despite death, there is shame too between women within this tale.

This is a world where fathers seek spiritual masters, where women are defeated, and being an outcast can end in brutal murder. Where unless you have family, you are buried like a pauper, trash. It’s an interesting blend of family, abuse, mental illness, politics, religion, feminism, society, poverty, wealth -there is a hell of a lot happening here. It’s hard for those of us living in the Western World to comprehend being punished for crimes against us, living in fear of religion. I hate to say this too, but in how men are teased by their elders it certainly fuels the fire, that man feels a push to punish his women… Women still have a long way to go when it comes to feminism, but in other parts of the world, you die for your dissension towards those in power. The filth upon you, put there by rape, is your fault and can never be washed clean. It’s unconscionable. These are places you do not speak up, as you see when Leila tries, look how that ends.

Her friends stories are told, and in fleeting memories Leila speaks but I was far more interested in her as a child. I felt I lost her when she grew up, however her friends fill that hole. They make up the ‘immodest sinners’ of these ‘immoral times’. Still, what they are forced to do is a freedom from where they escaped, lives among the ruins. Elif Shafak gives voice to those never heard, after-all, they don’t exist right?

Publication Date: September 24, 2019

Bloomsbury USA

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Ordinary Girls: A Memoir by Jaquira Díaz

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And the girls I ran with? Half of them I was secretly in love with. Street girls, who were escaping their own lives, trading the chaos of home for the chaos of the streets.

In Jaquira Díaz’s memoir, Ordinary Girls, readers dig into the influences that shape the life of a young juvenile delinquent. She is more than that, she is first a confused, lonely, little girl who lives with a mother whose mental illness is spiraling into a deeper, darker place. As she grows up, she escapes her broken home or the ‘chaos of home’ and takes it out on the streets, with her tough as nails approach. She finds a sisterhood of girls who have suffered as much, or worse, and makes them family of the heart. It is all about escapism, what else is there in poverty and abuse then reckless abandon? What else is there for them to do but get high, drunk, fight til they draw blood or find themselves knocked out?

Living with a parent that suffers from schizophrenia is difficult even when you have extended family and friends, doctors willing to help, but imagine when the children are left to wonder at their mother’s strange paranoia, behaviors, rages? When a mother’s delusions are real to a child, and no one explains or fixes anything, what is to become of you? Worse, one who is a drug addict on top of it all. How can there be stability when the rest of the adults have fled? From her early childhood in Puerto Rico to their move to Miami, Florida- Jaquira is subject to very adult situations, and always leaving behind the love and support of her beloved abuela, the one person who loves and cares for her. At a young age the shock of what her father sells (drugs) makes no sense to her. Naturally with the people who come around, the children are exposed to the foulest of behavior. She doesn’t know any better about how poor they are, everyone seems to be just as bad off. The shock of violence in the streets is even more horrific, how can anyone maintain their innocence in such a place? Government housing projects full of shootings, stabbings, drug raids, and mouths full of stories that plant the seeds of terror in any child. You toughen up or you don’t make it out alive. You learn fast.

Her parents destructive love, her mother is a woman who ‘obsessively, violently’ loves Jaquira’s Papi (father) who is nothing short of a womanizer, seems fated to ruin. Was it his disinterest in her mother, the crack or coke that caused her to hear voices, or was it this very love that destroyed her? Certainly it was a catalyst, and it made life for Díaz nothing short of hell. Can kids get used to mugs flying over their heads during their parents jealous rages, fights? Doesn’t it follow then that maybe her brother’s bullying and meanness might be born through it too? Like it or not, we learn from our families, and our environment. It’s hard to imagine a softer world if yours is loud, painful. It’s hard to serve kindness when all you have been served is bitter, spitting hatred while your belly and heart rumble for sustenance.

Split between families she has one loving, accepting abuela and another grandmother, the white one, who made  feel ashamed of her ethnicity, using her hair as a means to punish her for being ‘other than’. She made sure Jaquira knew she would never be as beautiful as her mother’s side. Strange to think there was more violence in that than all the ugliness she is submerged in, but that really cut me to read. This woman who should lift her grandchild up, make her proud of every cell of her body instead is the first to really make her feel that who she is supposed to be is shameful, low. It’s the same with fear, the adults are supposed to assuage a child’s deepest terrors, not become the monster.

Then Mami begins to see a man, lurking, looming like a murder waiting to happen. Her terror hums inside of Jaquira, all she wants is her parents to be together again, for her to be safe and loved with her abuela but god or the universe doesn’t seem to listen to the cries of a child like her.  Just like everything else not meant for children such as she and her siblings, wishes and prayers are ignored. Her father comes and goes, and they behave as if he had never left. “The five of us were the kind of poor you could feel in your bones, in your teeth, in your stomach.” You can only imagine such a poor, if it’s never been your reality.

She is never happy nor in a stable environment for long, her mother steals her back and forces her madness on them- worse, Papi doesn’t seem to care, no one is ever coming to save them. It’s only a matter of time before she grows up, much too fast, and as a teenager becomes a hood rat. Then it was a desire for a violence she could never come back from, because she and her friends would never be ordinary girls who make their sadness seen through “sleeping pills and slit wrists”, if she is going to self-destruct it’s going to be a wild explosion! Beat downs, drugs, gangbangers, court dates, this is how someone will finally take notice, maybe her papi? This is how she lets her age out of it’s cage.

Must Jaquira remain in this state and either end up imprisoned or one day as mad as her mother? Or worse, dead? This is a tale of sadness so dark and overflowing that it becomes rage. This isn’t who she wants to be, she isn’t going to accept this battered, beaten down version of a girl. She will have the last word in who she is! She will fight and make it out, but not without mourning for those who didn’t. Through writing this very book she is reaching those who need to hear that someone has been there, she is a voice in the dark shouting alongside you, someone who wants to see all the girls, who are anything but ordinary, crawl out of the ruins.

A heavy, brutal journey.

Publication Date: October 29, 2019

Algonquin Books

The Distance Between High and Low by Kaye Park Hinckley

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Peck and I were twins, too. In the darkest of watery wombs, we waited for the voice of our father, and heard silence.

In their old house in Highlow, Alabama on land that has been in their family for generations Lizzie and Peck (twins) struggle with more than just teenage angst. Their mother Lila holds the secret to who their father is, and how they long for him, no one more than sensitive Peck but how can anyone make sense of their mother’s world, what is true, what’s fiction? Peck has his beliefs, and he thinks their dad is an artist (just like their mother) living in Cincinnati, the very place Mamma once ran off to art school in her younger years! Finding a stand in daddy of sorts at the McSwain house next door, Peck hangs around Hobart (a transplant adoptee who isn’t a true native and never will be, despite how desperately he longs to fit in). Hobart has always been sweet on their mother though he has a meanness brewing inside of him and schemes. The cloud of his dark past keeps his heart in shadow, all he wants is what he feels should be his! Lila is as unreachable as the stars, holed up in her room painting portraits on her china, oblivious of her children and the rest of the world. Lila has always had a particular mental fragility that drug addiction and heartbreak exacerbated, returning home pregnant with twins years ago and broken from the wounds of the world. Pearl runs the family with the help of Half-Cheroke Indian, and protector, Izear carrying his own secret history but as much as son as can be. Lizzie and Peck want answers, they want a father but Lila is ‘deluded’, something even Hobart has known since he followed her as a young boy, even then a love-struck fool. Lizzie thinks Hobart is nothing but an intruder in their lives, but she has no idea just how deeply he is embedded in their stories.

Lizzie tolerates the presence of  seven-year old Little Benedict, sadder than all of them put together. He wants nothing more than to burrow into Lizzie and Peck’s family, for Pearl to be his own Grandma and Lila his mamma, but he already has one and she has whiskey to drink and his daddy as an enabler. The people are all watched over by Pearl’s cousin The Judge, contained in notes tracking the rich history of Highlow.  Peck discovers a secret that his family would be shocked to learn, one that forces Hobart to do his bidding and help him capture the Osprey he has been burning to own! No one is as good a hunter of wild things than Hobart. Sometimes what we desire can be our downfall.

No one will tell Lizzie anything, like who the blind man is that showed up to their open house. Peck too can’t tell her truths. Some things that are revealed do nothing but upset one’s entire world. “Knowing a circumstance and accepting it, are two distant things from each other as high is from low.” Knowledge isn’t necessarily power, more often than not it’s a burden. Lizzie will know Peck’s longing for that dangerous bird is more about filling the hole not having a daddy has made. Knowing things hurts!

Hobart has proof he belongs here, but a mean twist of fate fills him with shame and changes everything. It’s not just Pearl’s family whose desires are on loan! When tragedy consumes them all, Lizzie strikes out to fill the hole in her own heart only to learn she isn’t the only one who is devastated. Soon, she will understand her family’s history at Pearl’s telling and all the sorrowful ways history repeats itself. Everything is changing so fast, even Benedict “Benny” has a new sort of family, but there is still longing for vengeance inside of Lizzie as she watches Hobart, Mama’s answer is a gun, her way of coping! Hatred can get “pretty tiring” but forgiveness asks far too much, even if it’s Pearl’s way it seems diluted in Lila and Lizzie’s blood. So much confusion all just for the longing of a father’s love, not so easily replaced.

This is a book full of Highlow secrets, a family with a heavy history that challenges forgiveness and reminds us all that the whims of fate cannot be controlled, not even when one’s intentions are for the greater good. A sad tale.

Available Now from author Kaye Park Hinckley Finalist: William Faulkner/William Wisdom Competition. Finalist: Tuscany Prize for Fiction

Prytania Publishing

 

 

 

All That’s Bright and Gone: A Novel by Eliza Nellums

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There is a woman who is crying in the corner, real quiet. I don’t like it when grown-ups cry. Most of all I don’t like it when Mama cries.

Aoife (pronounced EE-fah, which the adults never seem to get right) is caught up in the confusion and chaos of all the grown-ups around her. She understands the meaning of gone. Gone is forever, gone is DEAD– just like her big brother Theo. She knows better than to talk about it or ask questions, he was murdered and Mama can’t stomach the grief. She has a vague memory of him, one day on the beach, she was lost and he found her, but it’s all so muddied. Luckily for Aoife, she has a constant companion, Teddy who isn’t imaginary no matter what people say! She can see him clear as she sees her best friend Hannah, so he is real! He is a bear! It isn’t smart to talk about him though, especially not to the ladies Dr. Pearlman sends from sea-pee-ess. Sea-pee-ess are government people that help families, but if you say things that seem weird they might take it the wrong way. One thing is certain, the adult world is confusing! Theo’s murder isn’t the only mystery, her whole life feels like one.

Siobhan (her Mama)  has gone away, but she isn’t gone away like Theo, she can and will return at some point. Something is wrong inside of her and it all goes back to the day she broke her own rule of talking to people who aren’t there. Mama was so angry, yelling at her dead son. The doctors just need Aoife’s help trying to understand the incident, and looking for someone to take care of her while Mama is away. There is no daddy for Aoife, she is special, she was born in the cabbage patch, it’s a fact- her Mama told her! There is an Uncle Donny, her mother’s younger brother  and he tries his best to care for her (after all, he is a single, childless bachelor) but he can’t keep Aiofe from running off with Hannah, trying to gather clues and weed out suspects of  her brother’s murder.

Uncle Donny knows Mama’s sickness is confusion sickness. He understands the deep disappointment Aoife feels, Mama promised to take her to see the fireworks this year, but if she’s away she won’t be able to go.  He also understands and says it’s okay if she doesn’t always miss Theo, but any mention of her brother is met with “let’s not talk anymore about Theo today.” No one ever seems to ever want to talk about him. Hannah gets secret messages in dreams, Hannah is older and is going to be a detective one day.  She can talk about Theo to her! Hannah even dreamed about him. Can she solve the crime still if Hannah abandons her? Soon, Aoife begins to wonder if her family really is crazy, like people say. But the church has saints and the holy ghost, that’s not crazy.

Could Mama’s friend Mac be a killer? He is sort of strange and angry. All she wants is to escape to the Secret Place that Teddy discovered. Teddy is trying to tell her something, all the time, but it doesn’t make sense. Uncle Donny is doing his best with Mama gone but he isn’t the greatest looking after her. What if the big bad man comes to drag her off to the Children’s Prison like Hannah warned her would happen?

Everything is happening fast, adults are telling her things that she can’t comprehend, the story of her family is different than what Mama has told. What if she is ill, like her mother, maybe Teddy isn’t real! Even he is starting to scare her. Is she crazy? If memory is tricky, it’s a foreign language for a six year old. In the interest of protecting the innocence of a child, adults often aim for silence, which leaves an imaginative kid like Aiofe to construct a world so far removed from reality that what she believes to be concrete fact is more painful than the truth. Mental illness swims through the story, it’s disheartening because there is no doubt Aiofe and Sibohan (her mother) love each other, but she slips away when the meds are wrong and the stresses of life are magnified when you also have to cope with your health. The world is often kinder if your illness is physical rather than mental, not to say it’s easy either way, but the stigma of mental illness is cruel when children catch wind of it. Worse, there is always the looming threat that if Sibohan can’t keep it altogether, Aiofe can be taken away! Our little Aiofe, at six, is becoming aware of what society deems normal vs. abnormal and just where her family fits. There is hope, and I think Uncle Donny beautifully explained what being sick for Sibohan means. Sure, you may not be cured, but you can be treated to live with it better. I like that, that’s reality.

I was surprised as much as Aiofe by the revelation of what happened to Theo and I felt as frustrated and confused as she did. There is this strange span of time when you’re still not fully present, your mind is just giving birth to reasoning, it’s developing and you are learning to distinguish between emotions, facts, and fantasy.  This is where Aiofe is. I especially like what happened with she and Hannah, because kids can be fair-weather friends sometimes and mean as snakes not because they’re terrible beings, but because they are immature. It made the story far more genuine. Well done, this will be released later in the year, add it to your December TBR list.

Publication Date: December 10, 2019

Crooked Lane Books

This Is Home: A Novel by Lisa Duffy

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And in my mind, I’d think, dying isn’t the only way someone dissappears. 

Sixteen-year old Libby knows all about disappearing loved ones, having lost her mother to cancer. Then, the home her father Bentley and Libby shared with her mother went too, forcing them with no choice but to reside in the middle apartment of her Aunt Lucy’s triple-decker. Above them, her father’s siblings eldest sister Aunt Lucy  and youngest  Aunt Desiree complete the circle that makes up their odd little family. But it’s overwhelming, nosiy, there is no privacy!  Then there is the dog Rooster Cogburn, a rescue they saved from the euthanisa hit list, the mut a temporary addition that has become as much blood as any of them. But now, Libby is meant to tolerate a strange, creepy woman living downstairs because of her father’s gerousity? Moving her into a house already overstuffed, too many people in her business! Why add another person when they are meant to find their own home?! It’s inconceivable! She could well be a serial killer, like the one on tv! Who moves in with a strange family like hers anyway?

Quinn Ellis, aka the creepy new tenant, is living with the silence of her husband John’s departure. Nay, abadnonment! After the fighting, there is no way she can continue to live in their apartment, not according to the landlord. Worse, he left her to shoulder the aftermath and move alone! Untreated PTSD has wrecked havoc in John’s life, and now everything is spinning in Quinn’s with no one to lean on, until Bentley, John’s former Sergeant, now a local policeman steps in. Quinn’s life is nothing like she long ago imagined. John once assured her it was safe joining The National Guard, but the was until the deployments and Iraq. They were so young when they had big choices to make, and now, they are so far from who they once were, veritable strangers to themselves and each other. Were they really ever meant to be? Was it all just too hasty and rushed? It feels like another lifetime enitrely. How is she to fix their problems, pick up the pieces when he’s vanished on her? Does she really want him back? Were they happy before he went away? These are hard questions she must confront and there is a far more more pressing issue she has to stomach.

The seaside town of Paradise doesn’t hold shiny happy memories for everyone. It has it’s dark corners, as all towns do. Places people go to escape their pain, places young people sniff out to seek thrills and highs. These are haunts where stories merge. Libby’s memories of her mother have shadows over them, as much as Quinn’s time with John has it’s storms. Pain may well draw the two into each other’s orbit, and create a love they both sorely need. Each have their own secrets, the biggest ones they keep from themselves but soon Libby and Quinn form a bond. Libby is  dealing with her own relationship issues involving her best friend Flynn and his new girlfriend, even stranger still her feelings about his older brother Jimmy, once a deeply troubled youth before joining the military. Something is going on with Flynn, and Libby naturally gets tangled up in it, while Jimmy doesn’t miss a thing. Jimmy knows all too well the sort of dangers and temptations lurking in the town of Paradise, places he has fled. Can he forsee dangers before it’s too late?

Beautifully written are the different transitions of military life. John and Bent are older, dealing with how to support their brothers in arms while still doing the right thing. Too, they must cope with their own wounds, be they war related or civil life and losses. Jimmy is a young man whose character has a turn for the better at the start of his service. It is a perfect fit. With John we see the domino effect PTSD has on relationships, friends, and family. John and Bent are as much brothers as blood realted Jimmy and Flynn, each wanting to support one another.

Quinn and Bentley are attracted to each other, but could it just be loneliness? Things could get really messy. Both Quinn and Bent have lost their spouses, in different ways and both have hearts as hungry as the ocean is vast. Can they all learn to open themselves up, despite their misgivings? This Is Home is a cast of flawed, realistic characters just trying to figure out where or with whom home is.

Publication Date: June 11, 2019

Atria Books

 

 

The Behavior of Love: A Novel by Virginia Reeves

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What are you doing, Edmund? Trying to wake her up. She is not yours to wake.

Penelope is Doctor Ed Malinowski’s favorite patient, “one of the few bright spots” in the metal hospital he is the superintendent of. From the beginning of the novel, Edmund shows himself to be a logical man, one who desperately wants to fix the shipwreck the facility is. A doctor who sees his patients beyond their illnesses, one whose art classes led by his wife, and reading groups he and another patient heads are just the sort of PR they need, after the disaster the last superintendent up and left behind. Poetry and discussion, talk about ‘feelings’, a fresh approach to treating what ails the patients behind the walls. But it is Penelope that consumes Ed more than any other. Sixteen years old, beautiful, with keen intelligence whose unpredictable seizures have made her a part of the institution, a place she never should have been sent to. It isn’t long before Ed forces Penelope’s presence on Laura, claiming it is for the “stimulation” her art classes can provide. Her refusal won’t be tolerated, it seems Penelope is her curse, meant to creep in every crevice of Laura’s life, already the focus of her husband’s every thought. How does a wife voice her fury without looking like a monster, jealous of a wounded little bird?

Yet, Ed doesn’t really want his wife working in the hospital, he has spent an inordinate amount of time on keeping his life compartmentalized, as much as his heart. Maybe Laurawill finally get pregnant, then she will have to stay away and remain home. Maybe then this art class won’t seem like a lifeline for her. It’s what they both want, to have a little family. As calm, collected as he must appear for his patients, his reactions when it comes to Penelope gives him away. He is spending far too much time with her, surely it’s not going unnoticed. Ed’s work as a behavioral psychologist is one he is proud of, patients are being treated, released. He is the man for the job, if he can’t turn the place around, no one can. The institution, however, this great opportunity for his career is stealing him away from Laura, and for all his keen observation and care for the patients, it is his wife he doesn’t see. She doesn’t feel real, solid, not when she feels invisible and unwanted. Laura sees him with perfect clarity, and everything he has been up to.  “The Ed at my feet has only the troubles he’s sought out, a career helping broken people and broken places- broken things that do not include him. He has always been on the outside of suffering.” But will our Ed stay outside it all?

There is a love triangle, and a woman always knows when she is being eclipsed by another in her husband’s thoughts and longings. Under his watchful eye, Penelope is getting better and epilepsy is no longer a reason to institutionalize patients, but is Ed ready to let her go? Will he cross the line and allow himself to express the love he feels for her? Will he risk losing Laura for a taste of sweet youth? Can he keep his passions on a tight leash? Ed commits to saving so many people who need him, but it’s his own house that is crumbling.

Timing is the thing, it seems, and time can be cruel. A heart can’t build two houses within. All of our existence is about our perception, in the end, and Laura’s isn’t the same as Ed’s. Just what does Pen feel about the great Dr. Ed Malinowski? Can a man keep the love and adoration of two women going? What happens when the Doctor becomes the patient? Admittedly, the part of the story I chewed on the most is when Ed falls apart, and it all begins with a headache in his temple. This is where real love shows it’s face and confrontation between Penelope and Laura is a long time in coming and yet not your typical climax. Love stories, the ones closest to real life, are ugly and painful and this is no exception. Ed is a complex character, egocentric and yet one of the most caring doctors when it comes to patients, a selfish spouse and yet just as hungry for connection and love as any of us, even if he keeps it all ‘one-sided’. Laura and Penelope have their tale to tell and aren’t confined on the pages by the roles they play in Ed’s heart. Neither are truly the enemy, but Ed creates a hell of a storm between the two. Ed may think he has it all figured out, and he seems to be in control for a time, but love can be controlled by no man’s hand. There will come a time when Ed himself, like his patients, may need others to bring sense and order into his life and his mind.

Publication Date: May 14, 2019

Scribner

 

 

Valerie: A Novel by Sara Stridsberg, Translation by Deborah Bragan-Turner

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A heart full of black flies. The loneliness of a desert. Landscape of stones. Cowboys. Wild mustangs. An alphabet of bad experiences.

Everything reaches it’s end, certainly Valerie Solanas reached her’s in a sad hotel room “last stop for dying whores and junkies”, and with this creative novel Sara Stridsberg brings her back to life, in the only way writers can, through exploring her past and freely using creative imagination. Valerie Jean Solanas, feminist and author of  The SCUM Manifesto shot Andy Warhol. Yes, that Valerie!  Her story isn’t focused on Warhol, nor should it be. Instead, we are taking a trip into the underbelly of her existence. The early sexual molestation by her father, her years as a student of science working in a lab with animals, her keen intelligence battling her declining mental states, the prostitution, the institutions, arrest, her lonely death from pneumonia… One can imagine why she had a deep hatred for men, a defiled child grown into a woman with no reason to have faith in man.  What was sex to her but survival, just like conversation, she could escape her body, go to a place where no one could touch her, she learned that at her father’s hands. A member of one in her club of hate, just like when she was little.

She didn’t succeed in her assassination attempt on Andy Warhol, but she hit her mark on that June day in 1968, his lungs, esophagus, spleen, liver and stomach were damaged and he never fully recovered despite living until his death from a heart attack in 1987 due to complications following gallbladder surgery. She wanted Warhol to produce a play, he passed it up- too outlandishly vulgar for him… he would pay for that brutal rejection! These are facts, but  it would do good to research Valerie if you want more than fiction, her life wasn’t a pretty existence, and I couldn’t help but wonder who I would be in her shoes. I remember reading about her giving birth to a child but I digress… this novel is all over the place and I don’t think it’s due to the translator, I feel it is meant to make the reader feel they are on shaky ground. There seemed to be very little stability in her life, nor did she ever appear to get the chance to be a little girl. If her prostitution is distasteful, if she was too much, too vulgar, filled with rage, who else can you blame but her parents?

The author keeps saying ‘and if you did not have to die’, but she did and along with the years of decay, so too died her chance to be a writer, a scientist and worse was the end of  her belief in herself. Maybe it’s not that she, like any of us, had to die, but so alone, in the ‘crap hotel’. What of her mother, Dorothy? Dorothy, Dorothy, are you there? Were you ever? There always needed to be a ‘fella’ didn’t there? Why didn’t you protect your daughter? It seems not even boarding schools, college was far enough away to change her fate. Her genius couldn’t save her, in fact, it likely fed the fury, for sometimes clarity is blinding.

She believed the world, due to men, had no place for a woman. She was a star that Warhol didn’t make, but who would forever be tied to him. Even years later she certainly didn’t seem to be sorry for her crime. He was simply a target all her years of pain honed in on. The novel is written almost like a dream, a terrible dream you can’t shake off. Soiled memories you want to deny, paste into a scrapbook and burn to ash, as good as forgetting. The shadow of death seems to be the only friend, at the end, in her corner. Death, an ever present  companion, showing itself in the blood she coughs up into her hand. The years reach further back one moment, Dorothy and Valerie in the desert, caught up in her mother’s disastrous love affairs, ‘known for her bad taste and bad judgement’, and then bam, we’re in 1988 again, in a sad hotel. It’s too late, Valerie is doomed, you knew this from the first pages. So many years spent as one of the drowning under psychiatric care, just one of many on the fringes of society, one of the forgotten… we cannot change the ending. Catch a whiff of complete ruin as it runs through the pages.

Why couldn’t she have taken her degree, let her genius shine? Can dissecting the dead, the trajectory of their lives provide us with anything concrete when it’s all just fiction? Maybe. Maybe it’s as close as you can get sometimes. How can you not feel a bit unhinged after reading Valerie? Not all readers enjoy non-linear stories, for me this scattered way of writing fits Valerie’s disordered mind and life. I keep picking my brain wondering how different the outcome would be today, better or worse?  Raw, painful, disturbing!

Publication Date: August 6, 2019

Farrar, Straus and Giroux