Let the Willows Weep by Sherry Parnell

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With her voice long hardened from smoking Kent cigarettes, she spat out commands and insults that tore at your heart. I guess my father left before there was nothing left of his.

Children are victims of their parents circumstances, more often than not. The leaving between their parents feels more like abandonment of them, particularly when left behind with the domineering person one parent fled. I love a good southern fiction, and the willows will weep for Birddog Harlin, whose own mother has endured a rage that hardened her when her own father fled her mother’s meanness long ago. A slamming door echoes through the decades, turning a little girl into a hard woman who doesn’t have empathy for her own child, Birddog.

Birddog is nothing but a disappointment to her mother, protected by her beloved older brother Denny ( who seems to give the only scrap of niceness in her life), more often than not she is dodging her  rival, other brother Caul’s inborn meanness. Naturally the boys can do no wrong; the sun rises upon their shoulders, Denny’s in particular. Birddog adds to her mothers worries, fighting with boys, often covered in mud, her messiness the reason her mother can’t invite respectable ladies over for tea. Nothing like her beautiful mother, who her father admires so, despite her disappointment with the meager life his job as a miner gives them. Certainly not the low down job she ever wants her boys to do. Her adult life is just as tough as her youth was, slaving all day with chores, feeding her family, raising an impossible, disobedient, little girl are just some of the complaints that fill the air between she and her husband. Birddog knows her father feels shamed by her mother, but at some point her rage will always turn to her instead. When he defends his daughter Birddog it only strengthens her wrath.

Her mother wants nothing more than to enjoy tea with the ‘refined ladies’ of the town, just another thing a miner’s pay will never afford her. Worse, the gossip she is positive her shameless daughter inspires with her unladylike behavior makes that an impossibility. Birddog knows the truth of how things stand, as well as her father does. That just they don’t even exist in the eyes of polite society. If not for Daddy’s intervention, life would be nothing but darkness. Mother’s desire for better makes it impossible to feel and see just how much her husband adores her, and after a tragic turn of events, it’s too late to change things.

Weighted down by a deep blanket of grief, the children now have to step into adult decisions to keep the family afloat. Choices narrow for Denny as steps into his father’s shoes, Birddog’s mother is still jealous of the bond she had with her father, and a parting gift seals the distance between them. Caul comes into his own and seems to sail further from them, everything changes and mother fears all her children leaving. On the same breath, afraid of being left alone, she rips into Birddog- who still can’t live up to the sort of daughter she desires. Laziness won’t be tolerated, and soon Birddog is forced to take a job working for Ms. Tarmar who will teach her more than sewing, share her wisdom with her and have more room for compassion than her own mother.

Love finds her older brother Denny, and it finds Birddog too. Nothing is more doomed than forbidden love, as she will soon learn when she meets a caretaker named Samuel and his sweet, childlike brother Diggs. If only one could love away from the eyes of their ‘own kind’. This is another shame she’ll bring upon her family, and no one will forgive it. For a time, this man will open her eyes and heart to genuine love and kindness. But as he tells her, “there ain’t no place for that kind of love in this kind of world.” They don’t know how true his words are, and what love will cost both of them, body and soul.

This is how people become hardened, the world will beat you down, if you don’t know how to rise. No one escapes the pain loving brings, and maybe Birddog isn’t so different from her mother after-all.

Let the Willows Weep is about poverty, love, intolerance, shame, racism and family dysfunction. Rage is a circle that even the wisest who wish to escape can become trapped in. How is one to hope when life just keeps bringing you nothing but grief and loss? Love takes such strange shapes, it gives and takes indiscriminately in this sad tale. For those who love southern fiction with enough grit to make your eyes water.

Published October 2019

 

 

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982: A Novel by Cho Nam-Joo

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Jiyoung’s lack of response to his lecture prompted the father to say, “You just stay out of trouble and get married.”

Jiyoung’s abnormal behavior is first detected on 8 September. Suddenly she seems to be channeling other women, to the point she downright becomes them. Shrinking in her own life, even sucking her thumb, becoming infantile again one night next to her newborn, something is really wrong. Sometimes she is old, and in another eerie instant she is her dead friend from college who tries to tell Jiyoung’s husband that she needs a break, some support, and maybe a little praise- raising their child. Is his wife losing her mind? Is she having a nervous breakdown? Then it’s too much, she insults her in-laws when she voices her own mother’s feelings, admitted that Jiyoung is exhausted and wouldn’t it be nice for a change for her to be able to give time and energy to her own family. How dare she speak up, in any woman’s voice? This is forbidden, women do not give their in-laws a talking down to. They respect their husband, his family, they cook, clean, serve with a pleasure, fulfilling every expectation. It is dishonorable to demand  special treatment. It is frightening what is happening, what is wrong with her, why is she speaking for other women? Not quite herself anymore? Why is she insulting her in-laws in such a way, she should be honored to cater to their needs!

He seeks the help of a psychiatrist for his wife, who doesn’t quite recall anything out of the ordinary. It is through her past we begin to see what it means for Jiyoung, submitting to men, from her cherished brother to her in-laws, and husband. How a woman’s needs always ranks below the male. The girls learn to make do with whatever is available. So ordinary, this special treatment for the sons, that nothing seems unfair or imbalanced this is just the way of their culture. Grief filled births are sorrows women face, producing girls in place of much preferred boys. Abortion, often the solution to unwanted female fetuses in the 90’s and 80’s are one solution but they leave terrible scars of their own on the body and the soul. Mother always working hard at odd jobs but that is the least of her weight, caring for her mother-in-law and children without complaint. In her youth, forced to work in a factory, often women sick with illnesses from such work, all in support of the male siblings and husbands.

Oh Mistook, her mother, stood no chance for her big dreams. Despite her fantastic grades and promise, her future was open for only sacrifice, in supporting others. As Jyyoung learns, boys have the freedom to brutalize and bully. Children stuff there mouths to stay in line at lunch, boys are always elected over girls as class monitors. There is a sexual imbalance, girls the unwanted children. Even clothing alone confines them, playing sports in school, wishing for a more realistic, comfortable dress code. But nothing feels worse than sexual harassment, touched inappropriately by the male teachers, and not a thing to be said about it. You just take it all, don’t you?

In Korea, through her childhood and college, there is only so far she can rise. Always it’s the male students who get recommended. She truly works hard, does her very best, behaves honorably, yet it comes to nothing really. Her mother doesn’t want her settling for marriage, to continue on the backwards way of women having no career, no dreams. Despite fighting, working hard for her place in her career, the men still get paid better- it’s a huge gender pay gap. When she marries, gets pregnant, it’s still a boy everyone is hoping for. What of the sacrifice to her career, to being the one that is the stay at home parent, certainly a given for the mother? She speaks without her own voice, because women aren’t meant to be heard. It is only through others she can speak up about this discrimination, sexism, and misogamy.

Is it postnatal depression that makes Jiyoung become other women, from time to time, or is it the state of being a woman in the world in general? What a hassle these women are with their demands, their exhaustion, when they should just buck up and carry on just like their mother and grandmothers before them. What does the doctor know, he himself needs female workers whose childcare doesn’t interfere with a successful business. So much for change.

A feminist movement indeed, how far they’ve come, how far they still have to go.

Publication Date: April 14th, 2020

W.W. Norton & Company

Liveright

Breasts and Eggs: A Novel by Mieko Kawakami Translation by Sam Bett and David Boyd

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We had no relatives to call for help, and zero chances of marrying into money. Less than zero. Lottery odds.

Breasts and Eggs is about being oppressed through poverty but also it’s about the female body as an instrument for survival or a vessel for motherhood. It begins with Natsu’s older sister Makiko and her silent daughter Midoriko arriving by train for a visit. While silent in her mother’s presence for over half a year, her mind is a hive of anxiety about her changing body, but she doesn’t share these thoughts with her single mother; their communication solely through written words on paper. Nothing is wrong with her, she speaks perfectly normally at school and with friends, ‘she just refused to talk at home’. This is just another strain between Natsu and Makiko, especially after news that her elder sister wants to get breast implants, which will certainly improve her working life as a hostess. Spending her nights slaving in a less than glamorous location with ‘no shortage of vagrants and drunks’, women with bigger breasts make more money. While Midoriko ponders how awful it must be to menstruate for decades, her mother looks really old, and she isn’t even forty yet. Natsu is at odds with the way Makiko is behaving like everything is okay. As if her daughter’s self imposed silence is a rite of passage. She is more disturbed by Makiko’s obsessive plan to improve her body.

Soon, Makiko is sharing colorful brochures that are the guide “to be more beautiful”.  Hers is a life without prospects, there wasn’t anyone helping make her life better. The sisters past losses turned their lives to one of poverty and struggle. Survival in it’s rawest sense, and at a young age. Welfare, not an option. Before them, their own mother struggled. Even now, there isn’t enough money to stretch, let alone for breast implants! What about the health risks to her body? When they visit a bathhouse its a perfect example of women comparing themselves to others and how imperfections can be fixed. Natsu is helpless to make her sister see reason. For young Midoriko, the body is beginning to feel like a thing she has no control over, her future will just be a lifetime of bending to it’s demands, and seeing how making money every day just to keep it alive has drained her mother of youth and vitality makes her feel very afraid. Too, why would anyone want to create another life, just another body (like she herself is for her mom) that is more weight to your financial woes? She is horrified, feeling captive to her body’s changes, much like a runaway train she can’t stop or maybe like an approaching monster? Most women forget how scary leaving childhood behind is, when the body first begins to bud. It’s not always an easy progression, though a natural stage. Natsu herself is single in the most severe sense. No child, no partner and what does this lonely state say about her? With the visit from her family, memories are being brought out of the dark again about the sisters hard past. Natsu too thinks about the body and beauty, expectations, how to define happiness which seems much easier for those who please the eye. Worse, she sees her dream more as a hobby, herself as a failure having moved to Tokyo to become a writer ten years earlier and yet not a great success that can bring money in to help her elder sister and niece. It’s only a matter of time before Midoriko erupts emotionally about how her mother is effecting her and the strain between the sisters comes to a head.

In Book Two Natsu is found giving her everything in her writing, which to some doesn’t seem good enough. Through celebrity interest her luck changes and finally she tastes success. She finds support through an editor Sengawa, for a time who nudges her to reach deeper. She wisely informs her that it’s the real readers of literature she must reach. She wrestles with her own anxieties, the fact that in a relationship her body refuses to enjoy the physical fusing most people long for and don’t just ‘endure’. What sort of woman is she? To feel stunted in this way? A woman who retreats from such affection? She never feels more alone than when entwined with a man. What if she decides to have a child after-all, maybe better as a single mom, subtracting a man from the equation altogether?  It’s possible and a problem many single women face. There is always sperm donation. This quest brings her closer to children, now adults, born impacted by donor conception. Not everyone feels being born was a blessing. How will this effect her decision? This novel is a deep exploration into not just motherhood but the very nature of womanhood itself. For Midoriko when she is young in book one, her body feels like it’s gone rogue, for another character in book two, it stood out to me that with illness, it is the same. The body taking over. Choices are weighted in the entire story, there is no right or wrong path, and every decision they make effects someone. Parenthood and what a mother or father is reaches deeper than blood too through the novel. Natsu doesn’t feel normal, the way you should in relationships, but should she have to feel that way in order to create a family? Does she want to? As she ages, the question if she wants to remain alone is a heavy one.

There is so much happening in the novel, and it’s intelligently written but I sometimes wished the pace picked up. However, there is gorgeous writing within. “People are strange, Jun. They know nothing lasts forever, but still find time to laugh and cry and get upset, laboring over things and breaking things apart.”  One of the most beautiful moments in the novel is when Aizawa (you’ll meet him between the pages) talks about the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 space probes. It moved me.

Women’s bodies are as complicated as our lives can be, every single stage from puberty to the end, and every decision we make from whom touches us to whether or not we carry a life within. There are illnesses, emotional obstacles, careers (some grand, others necessary for survival), and always memories of all that came before. How Kawakami fit so much in the telling, I can’t say. I lived in Okinawa, and I think I read books written by Japanese authors a little differently having a bit broader understanding of the culture than someone who has never visited or lived among the people yet I think anyone can relate to what happens to the characters. This is perfect for readers who enjoy other cultures, and women’s issues too.

Publication Date: April 17, 2020

Europa Editions

Love After Love: A Novel by Ingrid Persaud

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Thing is, worse than the pain in my arm is Sunil’s spirit in the house. The man in the walls, on the stairs, in the rooms. Before he passed he must have put the bad eye on me for truth. 

Love After Love is an interesting title for this novel, because it is about love but not the sort we tend to seek out with romanticized notions. Love here is far stronger between friends and family than in lovers, forced into terrible situations and entanglements for passion. Written in Trinidadian dialect it may take some readers time to get into the flow, but I feel it lends a more authentic flavor to the tale. It begins with Betty Ramdin’s husband Sunil, stinking of rum and feeling big and mean after ‘working hard all week’ he is taking everything out on Betty and their little boy Solo. From the way Betty caters to him, the ugliness spewing from his hateful mouth and her terror as she watches him bully Solo it’s obvious she is like a beaten down dog, trained on the scent of her husband’s brutality. It’s for her son that she fears, who she tries to protect, often inserting herself to do the things Sunil demands of Solo, so that when his clumsy little boy hands fail he won’t get punished. To think people told her she was lucky, looking at Betty with Sunil by her side, but what sort of lucky leaves you with broken bones and a cowering child? Sunil may be dead in a few pages, but his poison has spread and his death will have damaging consequences through the years, testing the bounds of love between mother and son.

Betty is a good mother, trying to raise her boy right once she’s free from the imprisonment of a bad marriage but living in the big old house she could use money and a lodger would be ideal. After giving Mr. Chetan (her co-worker) a ride one morning, Betty mentions she needs a lodger, if he knows of anyone needing a place, particularly a mature woman, it would help her greatly. This in turn becomes the perfect opportunity for Mr. Chetan, as fate would have it, his landlord is selling everything thanks to the misfortune of crime. A gentle, quiet, private man he will be no hardship, though Betty herself seems to be talkative and possibly a meddler in time the two come to mean as much to each other as devoted spouses.

Both Mr. Chetan and Betty have shameful secrets, even criminal to some minds, but in life we are pushed to make choices to save ourselves, and others. There are rules about love and in Trinidad trying to embrace who you are under the condemning eyes of the people can be one’s ruination. People are fast to talk, Betty learns this all too well as she ventures out for a man’s touch, much to her son Solo’s humiliation. Despite Mr. Chetan’s role in his life, a type of surrogate father and a far better one than his own departed dad, when Solo discovers what his mother has kept hidden from him he concocts a plan and with his savings soon abandons their life and flees to live with his paternal uncle in New York. Betty thinks it’s temporary, but he wants nothing more than to be free of her and her lies, to cut her out like a cancer. In the process, he pushes Mr. Chetan to take a backseat role too, and the thing about leaving is that you can’t always return to the people you have left.

The dynamics change once Solo is gone, Chetan is living his life more freely, maybe more for himself finally when someone from the past is again in his life. Betty is yearning to hear about her son’s experience in America, jealous of the closeness he has with his uncle while she is again like a dog begging for a bone, resorting to sending letters to the boy who refuses to see sense in her explanations. He is keen on his pain, and finds many outlets for it.

Solo struggles in New York but feels good being a part of the Ramdin men under his Uncle Hari’s guidance, and no longer under the ‘suffocating’ care of his mother, who kept him a blind fool. Hari tells him it won’t be easy working hard jobs, he should stay in school as his dad would have wanted that but having Solo around he tells him ‘Every time I look at you I seeing piece of Sunil.’  Solo cannot go back to Trinidad and his mother’s lies. Through Uncle Hari, Solo can get to know the father who is just a fading memory and cling to the toxic blame he feels is all his mother’s due. The truth, the same as people, has many faces and may well turn us against the very people who made dangerous decisions for our sake. It will cost Solo, his mother Betty and Mr. Chetan time that they will never get back.  Solo has a lot to learn and finds he is more like his mother than he thinks; getting a mother who has cared for you all your life out of your system isn’t so easy.

In this story some people’s love is so pure they are willing to risk their very soul and yet others can’t find enough heart to accept their child for who they are. Some are so hungry for love they will tolerate any sort of arrangement just to feel alive, to be near their beloved and society itself forces people into dangerous situations just to feel the burn of it. Love shouldn’t cost this much. Shame weighs more than the soul can bear, but how do you release it’s grip? “The moon can run but the day will always catch it.” There is family dysfunction, grief, abuse, distorted memory, mother’s pure love and then some. Here, Mr. Chetan is the glue between Betty and Solo, for that it is a savage and beautiful love story.

Publication Date: April 14, 2020

Random House Publishing

One World

A QUICK NOTE: There are sexual encounters that may put off some readers but it is not the sole focus, keep going with the novel. It broke my heart.

Misconduct of the Heart: A Novel by Cordelia Strube

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Nobody could hurt me because there was nothing left to destroy, which is why I relate to my traumatized son. In bed at night stuff comes back, just like it comes back to Pierce in his night visions- atrocities he can’t forget.

Stevie manages Chappy’s, a Corporate owned small chain restaurant placing ridiculous demands on the staff. The ‘restructuring’ of the kitchen is a mean feat for Stevie considering the non-English speaking workers, for staff who is now forced to ‘weigh’ the portions they serve, and cheap cuts that cause life threatening incidents like the accident that befalls one of Stevie’s cooks, Jesús. Her boss threatens her to ‘keep a closer eye on her staff’ or else he’ll tell Corporate, but how is she to make any of them listen when as a woman they just don’t seem to follow her instructions? With all these hassles and rules biting at her heels at work, her mission to keep the kitchen running and the staff on the job is like walking through fire. Home isn’t any better, her veteran son Pierce has come home from Afghanistan with more than a dusty cough. Suffering from undiagnosed PTSD, he assaults Stevie when his soldier’s hyper-vigilance kicks in and the body takes over.  During war, it was necessary to keep him alive, “back home he’s just nuts”.

Stevie is a recovering alcoholic who knows all too well about PTSD, but the sort of war she struggles with is homegrown and one that far too many females have the misfortune of being veterans of. Her strained relationship with her son began long before he left for service and has nothing to do with their difference of opinions about politics. Her past feels like a cancer, one that has poisoned the well of maternal tenderness. Giving birth to Pierce when she was still in high school, there are secrets she has had to maintain his entire life, painful truths that would devastate Pierce and change how he sees himself. Alcohol was her escape,  most of his childhood and upbringing was spent under the care of his grandparents Reggie and Peggy while Stevie spent years screwing up.

Reggie and Peggy are mentally declining in old age, lost in irrational thoughts. It would be funny if it wasn’t so damn sad, particularly when Peggy becomes jealous of the Filipino nurse Ducky, who is caring for frail Reggie. Mild Peggy, who spent the entirety of her marriage silent, bottling up any anger, jealousy and suspicion is now bursting with fury as her mind deteriorates. Stevie’s son isn’t the only one who goes on the attack, there is still fight left in the old gal who wants to keep that hussy away from her man, her daddy! Stevie couldn’t cope without Ducky’s nursing of her father, bad enough he and her mother may well burn down their home. Losing them to death, shameful as it is for Stevie to admit, would be a sweet relief from this madness. Her creative writing classes would be the perfect place for therapeutic release from the torment she has kept inside for so long, but that requires an honesty she isn’t ready for.

When Stevie takes an interest in fellow worker, Slovakian busboy Gyorgi, she may just make a connection and allow herself to be vulnerable. Which is a good thing as one day visiting her parents she finds “a little girl in purple sunglasses” on her parents front porch. A note informs Stevie the little girl is Trudy and may well be her own son’s child! Which means, she is a grandma! What will be born out of this new complication? Does Stevie have any love to give? Why can’t she feel the same ease Gyorgi has around children? What about Pierce, still as distant as the sun, where is he in all of this?

Stevie is bitter but enlightenment dawns on the reader as soon as the past unfolds. Her youth was stunted, it was easier to wear the mark of shame than seek help for what really happened. Life just gets away from some people, as the years collect. It was a good book but it’s hard to warm up to Stevie. She is prickly, but can you blame her? I just felt so terrible for her son, you can’t give a child his youth back anymore than she can reclaim her own innocence. This is a book about how the consequences of one moment can change the entire lives of one family, keeping them from making emotional ties. How trauma numbs a person inside and out; a parasite that feeds on a person’s soul. It shows how for many veterans war doesn’t end when they return home, and is a look into what can happen to those who fall through the cracks.

Publication Date: April 21, 2020

ECW Press

The Fortune Teller’s Promise by Kelly Heard

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Not there, she thought. You don’t have to go back there. Not even in your mind. Not ever.

Dell’s childhood in the forest of Blyth, Virigina with it’s magnificent natural beauty and calm is the opposite of life inside her house. Born to a flower child mother Anita, whose beauty is the center of her life more than her son and daughter, and her father Gideon, a ‘dark-eyed’ construction worker suddenly laid off after an injury that relies on pain pills to get through his painful days, leads to nothing but chaos and storms between them. Mother longs to maintain the beauty queen status of her early days, and nothing can keep her anchored to her family. Longing to be free, she moves to a rented bungalow. It is here, when Dell should be spending quality time with her mother because ‘she needs a bra’ and it’s a mother’s place to teach a young woman everything she needs to know, that the fault line appears. Anita would rather her time be filled entertaining men who are dizzy over her beauty than playing mommy. It is these types of men who have an edge that can cut. Anita’s reaction to her daughter’s confession is met with anger and blame rather than comfort, and outrage. It is also when Dell learns that people like her have to shut up and take it, because those in higher standing have the power to hurt those you love. Especially when your family is covered in dirt, unwilling or unable to climb out.

Growing up under the cloud of the shame of her parents, the town doesn’t let Dell forget her place. But it is love that ruins everything, her one chance to be a single mother, better than her own ever was, is impossible when he mother urges her to give the baby a better life, put it up for adoption. The church can find someone better suited, and what is someone like Dell to do without the support of the child’s father or even her own family? She could never afford to support her baby, girls like her don’t have options. There is no way she can remain in this flea-bitten town, nursing the ache in her heart where her baby girl has nestled in. There’s nothing for her to do but abandon the past. She sets up shop as a psychic as she leaves the town, and her family, behind. Though she doesn’t consider herself a ‘proper psychic’, she is skilled in knowing what troubles others, uses the tools of the trade to get a clearer picture. If only she could intuit her own needs, heal her own wounds, clean up the disaster that has become her reality.  She will never return to Blythe, nothing can make her… except learning when her mother tracks her down that her child has gone missing! The problem is, within moments of that revelation, silence overtakes her mother and life seems to have no end of testing Dell’s merit. She must return to the scene of her most heartbreaking acts, and discover that the past is never done with us. Is it possible, dare she hope to make things right?

This was novel didn’t have as much ‘psychic’ steam as I thought it would from the title. The promise is much more about motherhood. Love swims through the novel, as does the murky grime of disappointment and narrow minded ways of some small towns. The haves vs the have nots. It was a decent read, but it’s not what I expected. I was thinking there would be at least a little more focus on how she ‘knows’ how to fix other people’s hurts. The psychic bit is pretty mild but if you are looking for a story about motherhood, difficult dysfunctional families and a little romance, this is it.

Publication Date: October 30, 2019

Bookouture

Rituals to Observe Stories about Holidays from the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction by Edited by Ethan Laughman

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How was her daughter going to feel, this pale little stalk in a dark field? – Alyce Miller

Admittedly, I skip the holiday reads because they always come off as cheerful to the point of sickness. This are not those kind of stories, in this moving collection are gatherings where the character’s sanity is barely clinging, or they are witness to the collapse of others. In Color Struck by Alyce Miller, Thanksgiving for Caldonia revolves around the shock of her child’s birth. How could she question this gift from God, her husband Fred wants to know? Caldonia feels bitter and not even her family celebrating at her table can cheer her instead, all their ruckus, their chaos, is only making matters worse. Her baby just isn’t right and nothing anyone says is helping.

Morta Infinta written by David Crouse – It’s Halloween, which should be the perfect night for horror and dressing up, instead young Kristen is left with her father, who is experiencing a fear of his own, losing his wife as his marriage is declining. If she can just keep her father together, stop him from ‘simmering in his grief’, but it’s a mean feat and she’s just a kid herself, and sometimes our love isn’t enough to lift others, and sometimes she just wants to be free of adult problems. This was beautifully written and tugged on my heart, love can be such a weight for children when the grownups depend on them, forget themselves.

In The Invisibles by Hugh Sheehy disappearing and visibility, being on the outside is what guides Cynthia and her friends. It’s a club of three, until a mysterious van appears outside the skating arena. It all began with Cynthia’s mother, and the summer she ‘collected her sayings and built a personality with them.’ What we don’t know remains with us, shaping who we become, the mysteries, the memories, the horrors too.

In Faulty Predictions by Karin Lin- Greenberg elderly roommates are on a mission on Halloween night to save a young college woman from one of Hazel’s ‘visions’. But it’s ghosts of the past, not visions that are much more disturbing , an ache that feels too late to change. So maybe she is a medium or a psychic or some such nonsense… but she is blind about her own life, that Hazel.

Useful Gifts by Carole L. Glickford finds little Ruthie wanting nothing of the useful gifts her deaf mother prefers to purchase. These practical presents serving more as humiliation, no one wants what they need! Certainly not her peers, who will only laugh at paltry offerings! Ruthie is no exception either, her hungry little heart is weary of looking at the Opal girls’ and their beautiful things, their plethora of toys while she herself knows only longing. Envy, poverty, misunderstanding and love, genuine mother/daughter love is the heart of this Christmas tale.

Every story engages the reader, makes us pause and take note of our rituals, or the strange things that overtake us during holidays, or symbols that torment us- sometimes things as odd and ridiculous as a wooden mallard duck that makes us dangerous in our sleep, as Elliot discovers in Thousand- Dollar Decoy by Becky Mandelbaum. Things that can both serve to disorient and anchor us haunt the character’s tales. Sometimes it’s a wife trying her hardest to keep her husband alive by having a ready supply of objects, food and conversation, others want nothing more than to let him go. The stories are all complicated, just like every human being. They are drowning in desperation and sorrow, or haunted by loss or the threat of it, or ashamed of their disappointment in their children or parent, or struggling with motherhood or love. Often, each character is just trying their hardest to navigate their life, even if they feel like they are missing from it. You will recognize yourself, or others within’.  It’s a wonderful collection by various authors. Yes, read it!

Published September 1, 2019

University of Georgia Press