Wait, Blink A Perfect Picture of Inner Life: A Novel by Gunnhild Øyehaug

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What a typical situation that she should try to understand and understand and that everything should have meaning and more meaning, but that the only understand she could get was from a pair of eyes on the back of a book, or the stars over the mountains at night- it strikes her as she sits there with a book in front of her,  and the walls suddenly feel like walls and the ceiling feels like a ceiling, as sometimes happens when the magic of the moment when you feel there is hope disappears and all that remains is this: walls, and ceilings, and walls and ceilings. 

A story of intersections, this first English-language translation of award-winning Norwegian author Gunnhild Øyehaug has  gorgeous writing, the challenge may lie for some readers in how the novel flits from one character to the next. There is no denying the insights into each life, emotional states, longings, hopes, and regrets. The narration was difficult to transcend for me, which is a shame because the depths the author goes to in exploring what is happening in the hearts and head space of her characters is flawless. Take Sigrid, there is much amusement in her thoughts about the vulnerability of women in film and literature, and I’ll be damned if the whole oversized male t-shirt tidbit isn’t, in fact, true. The most important musings are really about her feelings for the author’s photo on a book and the fact that later in the novel they meet. Film director Linnea struggles with the frustration of what she wants to express in her films, the impossibility of it all, as with many of her wishes in life, as if met only by an insurmountable wall. As she longs for Göran, he too, asleep beside his wife, wishes he were in Copenhagen . Then we cut to Trine, the performance artist, regretting the aggression of her latest ‘artistic expression’. Why has she allowed herself to love someone? How will motherhood affect her art?

Then we flash back ten years ago to Viggo, crashing on his bicycle. Falling in love, trying to ‘unwind out of himself’, and then a loss all the while pondering on Dante. The novel does a lot of hopping around, which can lose some readers. There is a lot of thoughts about films, and the female’s role in them throughout, certainly something to chew on. A ‘quarrel’ between the characters Käre and Wanda about the relationship between the Bride (Uma Thurman) and Bill, a movie that has a lot of arse-kicking women, and how ‘conventional’ her admiration of Bill seems to be. But why is she, really, so bothered by this scene, why does it birth fears for her own relationship with Käre? Jealousy eats at her, though she is a sort of superwoman, strong-minded, like any other human being she has her weaknesses.

This book is steeped in self-reflection, Linnea longing over a past affair, when her mind should be on her film, Trine struggling with her art, now a mother, self-doubt overwhelming her, a sort of love triangle between Käre, Wanda and Sigrid. Käre isn’t sure of his own heart, but when he is, there is nothing for it, sometimes you have to break hearts for happiness. Then there is Viggo, lots of trembling for our Viggo, a character I enjoyed, and just who is this Elida, the fishmongers’ daughter dreaming of being in Viggo’s strong arms, treasuring his lost tooth ten years later? Maybe there are some happy endings here within, ” And one would wish that everything was like that, always. But then things always slide, out and out!” I wonder if there are other novels by Gunnhild Øyehaug that aren’t as populated, that doesn’t move too fast when you just begin to dive into the telling, begin to cozy up with the characters because her writing really is provocative. It’s simply a matter of feeling overwhelmed and dizzy with not being still long enough, and the narrator, thinking much of the time what is up with the narrator? Aw, it all makes sense at the end, but still… I’m not sure every reader will have the patience, I don’t know if something was lost in translation, or if it’s the style that makes it difficult to flow with. I enjoyed it, but keeping up was a chore at times. I would like to read another novel by the author because she clearly has a lot to say about love, the female role in life, and the general struggles we all face, how we are often in our own way.

Available now

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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Inlaws and Outlaws by Kate Fulford

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I often lie to make my life easier, but that doesn’t mean I condone lying in others.

Eve has reluctantly fallen for Gideon, things are going so well that it’s time for her to meet Mother. Marjorie can do no wrong in the eyes of her loyal son, upon first meeting it’s definitely she who rules the family. Is Marjorie really that bad, or is it Eve’s lack of a big family having grown up with her Aunt Audrey that causes her to misunderstand the dynamics in Gideon’s own. One thing is certain, Marjorie is an overbearing manipulator but it takes one to know one, this time she has a worthy opponent.

In all honesty, Gideon didn’t seem worth this much fuss but maybe it’s the challenge that makes the relationship seem that much more worth keeping. No way is Eve going to let Marjorie win, because history proves she has driven other potential love interests away from her adoring son. With histrionics and deception, she knows how to pull the strings in her family of puppets, though not all fall into step. Gideon’s sister keeps her distance with her husband and children preferring peace to her mother’s cold ways and there is a twin sister that has her own dirt on the matriarch, unless she really is as mad as a hatter, as the family tells it. Malcom, why does Gideon’s father cower to her demands? Why does no one see her for what she truly is?

Eve’s younger brother Dominic has a gift for pulling her into his family drama, he’s come calling again with the hopes of rallying support against his ex, hoping to win custody of his daughter. The problem is, she is sure his daughter Pixie is better off with her mother Sophie. As if that isn’t enough, his conspiracy theories are exasperating, and a bit troubling. She doesn’t have time for this, on top of sparring with Marjorie and trying to maintain her relationship with Gideon.

Then there is Claire, “I really don’t know how Claire and I have maintained our friendship for so long as she disapproves of almost everything I say and do.” Claire is a psychologist and tries to be the voice of reason in Eve’s life. Listening to Eve complain about her woes with Marjorie, Claire attempts to prod Eve in a more sensible direction, and away from assuming Gideon’s mother has ‘sinister intentions.’ But Claire could be wrong about Marjorie, couldn’t she?

Eve isn’t about to let the witch win, no way! She finds support in unusual places, uncovering Marjorie’s biggest deceptions and betrayals, one even against her own children.But is Eve herself squeaky clean? Does Eve have a few things to hide from Gideon? Either way, it’s definitely game on!

The novel changes from a common story about the struggle of trying to make things work with one’s partner’s family, doing everything in their power to make you feel unwelcome and drive a wedge between the two of you, to a far more devious tale. Marjorie isn’t the only one willing to ‘go to great lengths’ to come out the winner. I didn’t expect deception to be a character itself, but it is in so many ways to the very conclusion. Maybe honesty isn’t always the best policy here. She has met her match in Eve, who isn’t always likable either. The similarities between them begs the question, what the heck happened in Marjorie’s life to make her so calculated? Will we ever know? For both of these women, the truth is something to be molded to fit the narrative of their lives. A strange story indeed.

Available Now

Thistle Publishing

Forthcoming Titles From Two Dollar Radio and One Available Now

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As I spend a lot of time searching for books to feed my reading addiction, I am always tickled by interesting titles. I reached out to Two Dollar Radio for an arc of The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish by Katya Apenik but not just for the title alone, though what a title! The synopsis is as follows, as can be found here, at their website: https://twodollarradio.com/products/deeper-the-water
It’s 16-year-old Edie who finds their mother Marianne dangling in the living room from an old jump rope, puddle of urine on the floor, barely alive. Upstairs, 14-year-old Mae had fallen into one of her trances, often a result of feeling too closely attuned to her mother’s dark moods. After Marianne is unwillingly admitted to a mental hospital, Edie and Mae are forced to move from their childhood home in Louisiana to New York to live with their estranged father, Dennis, a former civil rights activist and literary figure on the other side of success.

The girls, grieving and homesick, are at first wary of their father’s affection, but soon Mae and Edie’s close relationship begins to fall apart—Edie remains fiercely loyal to Marianne, convinced that Dennis is responsible for her mother’s downfall, while Mae, suffocated by her striking resemblances to her mother, feels pulled toward their father. The girls move in increasingly opposing and destructive directions as they struggle to cope with outsized pain, and as the history of Dennis and Marianne’s romantic past clicks into focus, the family fractures further.

Moving through a selection of first-person accounts and written with a sinister sense of humor, The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish powerfully captures the quiet torment of two sisters craving the attention of a parent they can’t, and shouldn’t, have to themselves. In this captivating debut, Katya Apekina disquietingly crooks the lines between fact and fantasy, between escape and freedom, and between love and obsession.

I’ve already devoured the copy I was sent and in a few weeks intend to share my review, it won’t be available until September 18, 2018 but it’s one to add to your TBR list. Kata Apekina is a fantastic writer, one I look forward to reading more of.

Imagine my surprise that included in the package was a copy of two other books I’ve got on my reading list. The Blurry Years by Eleanor Kriseman and The Underneath by Melanie Finn. Finn’s review I will share this week, as it’s available now. The Blurry Years I am digging into tonight. More on that title below shared from their website, found here: https://twodollarradio.com/products/blurry-years

The Blurry Years is a powerful and unorthodox coming-of-age story from an assured new literary voice, featuring a stirringly twisted mother-daughter relationship, set against the sleazy, vividly-drawn backdrop of late-seventies and early-eighties Florida.

Callie—who ages from six to eighteen over the course of the book—leads a scattered childhood, moving from cars to strangers’ houses to the sand-dusted apartments of the tourist towns that litter the Florida coastline.

Callie’s is a story about what it’s like to grow up too fast and absorb too much, to watch adults behaving badly; what it’s like to be simultaneously in thrall to and terrified of the mother who is the only family you’ve ever known, who moves you from town to town to leave her own mistakes behind.

With precision and poetry, Kriseman’s moving tale of a young girl struggling to find her way in the world is potent, and, ultimately, triumphant.

Naturally, I am drawn to coming of age stories of struggle and triumphant, that Callie stays in Florida tourist towns makes it that much more appealing having grown up there.  The Blurry Years will be out July 10, 2018.

The Underneath is available now.  From two dollar radio  https://twodollarradio.com/products/underneath

With the assurance and grace of her acclaimed novel The Gloaming—which earned her comparisons to Patricia Highsmith—Melanie Finn returns with a precisely layered and tense new literary thriller.

The Underneath follows Kay Ward, a former journalist struggling with the constraints of motherhood. Along with her husband and two children, she rents a quaint Vermont farmhouse for the summer. The idea is to disconnect from their work-based lifestyle—that had her doggedly pursuing a genocidal leader of child soldiers known as General Christmas, even through Kay’s pregnancy and the birth of their second child—in an effort to repair their shaky marriage.

It isn’t long before Kay’s husband is called away and she discovers a mysterious crawlspace in the rental with unsettling writing etched into the wall. Alongside some of the house’s other curiosities and local sleuthing, Kay is led to believe that something terrible may have happened to the home’s owners.

Kay’s investigation leads her to a local logger, Ben Comeau, a man beset with his own complicated and violent past. A product of the foster system and life-long resident of the Northeast Kingdom, Ben struggles to overcome his situation, and to help an abused child whose addict mother is too incapacitated to care about the boy’s plight.

The Underneath is an intelligent and considerate exploration of violence—both personal and social—and whether violence may ever be justified.

I finished this novel last night, I will be sharing my review soon, available now!

Watch this space for reviews of all three novels.

The Dream Daughter: A Novel by Diane Chamberlain

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“But what are they?” I asked, beginning to panic. “Your findings, what did you see?”

Scary words when you’re pregnant and the news isn’t good, “Your findings, what did you see?”. Caroline has already lost the father of her child, to learn that her unborn baby has a heart defect is horrifying. The time is 1970, and all hope seems lost until her brother-in-law, a man with his own mysterious past, a physicist, confides a deeply shocking secret, one that may change her entire future and that of her unborn baby. At first, it seems as if he has lost his mind or is playing a joke. Can playing with time be the answer? This ‘leap’ she must take, if Hunter is to be believed, will save her baby’s life but if it’s all madness, it could cost Caroline her own.

It is to Caroline Hunter Poole owes his own happiness, once just a strange guy with broken bones and deep depression stuck in a wheel chair none of the other physical therapists wanted to work with. Hunter chose her, the only PT he was he was willing to have take him on, feeling she reminded him of someone he once knew. It isn’t long before she feels he’d be perfect for her sister Patti. Patti and Hunter marry, he feels tight as brothers to Caroline’s husband Joe before his tragic death. How could he stand by and watch Caroline lose the one thing, her baby, that gave her any happiness, any hope after such loss? It will expose his secret to confide in her a path to save the baby and explain the mysterious incident that landed him in the hospital to begin with.

This story hits the heart of a mother, because the truth is for most women a child is loved the moment we carry them. It is many a pregnant woman’s fear that something could go wrong for her unborn baby. In Caroline’s case, it’s true. What mother wouldn’t consider the absolute impossible if it meant salvation for her child? Wouldn’t cling to even another’s ‘fantastical story’ if it could be true? This tale turned my thoughts to medical breakthroughs, while miraculous for some came too late for others. Time, in that instance, can feel like it plays favorites much kinder to future generations. But that’s a game we can all play, some of our simple illnesses today, in bygone times, snuffed out many lives.

Caroline will be displaced, and trapped by the windows of time may still lose everything she holds dear. How much do we sacrifice for love? What if the one chance your child has means letting go forever?

This is a unique story about time travel and  how happy endings aren’t always destined to play out the way we planned. A unique twist as usually time travel novels are about love between a man and woman this instead is a mother and child love story. Wonderful.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

St. Martin’s Press

 

The Caregiver: A Novel by Samuel Park

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In America, there  were no metaphors. If a woman trusted her partner she didn’t say that she would set her hand on fire. When a woman had all the power, she didn’t say she had a knife and a piece of cheese in her hands. When she didn’t like an offer, she didn’t tell it to go back to the sea. 

It isn’t lost on me that I read this novel while going through my own health scare, mine is intestinal. Books find us when we need them, without a doubt. It deeply saddens me to learn the author passed away from stomach cancer at the age of 41, more so after reading at the end of the book what he wrote in 2017 for the New York Times Sunday Review. “I had a 9 Percent Chance, Plus Hope.” It’s beautiful and heartbreaking.

Samuel Park surprises me with how perfectly he could write from the perspective of female characters. Getting into the female mind is no easy feat my friends. Mara Alencar adores her mother beyond life itself, Ana is her gravity and is willing to do anything to put food in her daughter’s belly and a roof over their heads. Life is hard, but she never shows the exhaustion and sadness her single mother status puts on her shoulders. Working as a voice-over actress, a beauty herself, it’s not nearly enough to keep them afloat and this is just one of the many reasons Ana finds herself entangled in a dangerous scheme. With bravery, or stupidity, she becomes involved with young rebels out to take down the corrupt Police Chief, holding captive their friends in Rio De Janeiro. No one is a better actress than Ana, a talent that they sorely need to distract the Chief. Chaos ensues when their plan takes a dangerous turn, and nothing will be the same for Ana and Mara. The child sees more than her young mind can process.

Mara doesn’t know who her father is, but has always lived a happy life in the light of her mother’s love. Lately, her mother has changed and paranoia overtakes her, the threat of the Police Chief a shadow over their future. As Mara comes of age, she becomes as impulsive as her mother, and it is in her forceful nature that she falls in love for the first time. The boy of her chosing a dangerous pick. Mara acts out in desperation to save her mother, and through terrible loss learns that what she thought she knew about her mother may all have been lies.

Mara escapes to America and works as a caregiver in Bel Air for Kathyrn, a woman dying of stomach cancer. Living as an immigrant who works for a wealthy woman is an eye-opening experience, considering her apartment is a shared one in the ‘not-so-nice part of Hollywood.” Ten years after first moving to America, Mara still finds herself surprised by her new country. The vast wealth, in comparison to Brazil, never fails to amaze her where even those who are poor, ‘look expensive’. There is a certain charm in all the little things Mara notices that we Americans take for granted.

It’s at heart both an immigrant experience and a tender, moving story about a mother who just wants to give her child a good life and prospects for a better future. It is how the country we inhabit shapes our destiny, for better or worse. Yes read it, and don’t pass over “I Had a 9 Percent Chance , Plus Hope” at the end. The world is heavier with the loss of Samuel Park.

Publication Date: September 25, 2018

Simon & Schuster

 

Travels with Foxfire: Stories of People, Passions, and Practices from Southern Appalachia by Foxfire Fund Inc Phil Hudgins and Foxfire Student Jessica Phillips

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They thrived by making do, and when change came, they drew on their basic wit and common sense to adapt rather than simply surrender to it.

I’ve never had the pleasure of reading Foxifire books, but when I saw this for grabs on Netgalley, I had to read it. I am fascinated by all things Appalachia, it’s such a shame that their culture is changing so much, as all things must. What better way to preserve the history and stories than in a collection of interviews? Several of the people have since passed away but not without leaving an indelible impression. Stories of bootlegging, hunting, water dowsing, and ‘where the music dwells.’ I have a particular fondness for the section on arts and herbs in the story of Eve Miranda, Medicine Woman. It’s an art form understating herbs, plants, root knowledge and all its healing properties. What a wonderful inheritance to pass down the family line, and there is something endearing about a woman who shares the knowledge she has gathered. I would read a book just about her. Following her tale is the Hayes Boys story, the gatherers of wild ginseng. Maybe not everyone finds plants to be adventurous but they can be!

There is humor in the interview with “Privologist” Mary Frazier Long. Having grown up in Southern Appalachia  she lived in a time where she had to use the outhouses. The funniest tidbit to me is, ‘You knew not to go see certain people at certain times, ” Long recalled “because that’s when they were in the outhouse. You could look out and see when they were going.”  I think the majority of us have grown up with indoor plumbing, so it is a curious thing to imagine.

Music too is deeply rooted in the heart of Appalachia. I admittedly never knew so many songs were taken from classic ballads and folk songs from the Appalachian Mountains and made popular by artists like Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. I did, however, love to sing a song with my cousin by The Kingston Trio titled “Tom Dooley” and knew it was a ballad based on the murder of Laura Foster. Why were we singing it in the 90’s? Likely found the record in my grandmother’s stash. Gospel, Bluegrass, there is a heavy influence coming from the Appalachian Mountains most people don’t realize.

Yes, many of the folks in the interviews are now elders, the remaining witnesses of a time that is slipping from our fingers. A rich source of history, folklore, and knowledge that isn’t easily obtained. They are the sort of folks you’d love to spend an evening with as they regale you with tales from their lives. Some of that living has been hard scrabble or dangerous. If you’re curious about mountain living, this is for you.

It’s an enjoyable collection, which has made me curious about the Foxfire books as it became a way of sharing food recipes, traditions, and life on the mountains. It’s a wonderful way to preserve history and reminisce, with the start of the collection aptly titled “The Way It Was.”

Publication Date: August 18, 2018

Knopf Doubleday Publishing

Anchor

Albert Einstein Speaking:A Novel by R.J. Gadney

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His curiosity constantly gets the best of him.

I thought I knew quite a bit about Albert Einstein, boy was I wrong. While Albert and Mimi Beaufort impact each other’s lives after she dials a wrong number (or right, according to Einstein), this is far more a story about Einstein’s life from his birth to his death. Born with a misshapen head, according to his mother, it’s funny just how important that ‘head’ one day becomes. Different from the beginning (his parents fearing he may be dumb) Einstein is curious, and it is this curiosity, this rebellious soul that inspires him to be a force in history. While his genius is exciting and inspiring, his personal life saddened me quite a bit. There is a coldness in how he treated his first wife, Mileva and the audacity of a contract seemed like such a cruelty, one that certainly wouldn’t go over well in present day! To have gone from such strong adoration and love for her to this calculated behavior just goes to show you can love the entire world, be kind and curious of people from all walks of life, because he was certainly engaging, and yet have a wreck of a personal life. How much more it must have hurt that he was so beloved and kind, yet to her he was nothing of the sort in the end. Albert was a man of many secrets, a ladies man too! Mileva certainly wasn’t the first heart he pulverized. Before her, there was Marie Winteler  who was getting too serious for Albert’s tastes. He knew his life was to be science, that was all that was occupying his mind and it would be unfair to lead dear Marie on (well more than he already had, his flames cool on a whim it seems). So science it is and Mileva, whom he was once enthralled by, recognizing in her a like-minded soul. The devastation in Mileva’s life is that she was on the path of scientist as well, only to be eclipsed by her husband, becoming only Mrs. Einstein. Is it so shocking she became such a ‘drag’ on poor Albert? Maybe because I am a woman I sympathize with what he put her through, rather than feeling sorry for Albert. The beginning of their love is beautiful, in spite of his mother’s disapproval he married Mileva and there is no denying that their passion was once genuine. If she succumbed to jealousy or disappointment that her life lost all possibility (academically, career) while his flourished, how much can we fault a woman who tolerated his cruel side and raised their children. It’s possible too the loss of her first, their secret child, had taken it’s toul on her spirit. One of his son succumbing to severe mental illness, she too was the one handling it all. His eldest son Hans and Albert too were often estranged. It’s known that many great men and women show a different face to their own children, spouses. A shame, a sad thing to learn of a great man. So he was human and flawed. I remember whisperings that Mileva helped him with his proofs which has also been disputed, who knows, she was certainly an intelligent woman by her own right. She remained to mother his children, cast off, as he conquered the world. How could one not feel compassion in her place?

So on to his first cousin Elsa, whose daughter he later has his eye on, tsk tsk old boy! Yes, first cousin, you read that right! Elsa is his chosen one in the end, and their marriage lasted until her death.  Too, he was a rascal with professors, or a pain in the…. depends on who you ask. All this womanizing while hobnobbing with the most famous and important people of the times, naturally he was admired by many for his brilliance. His genius cannot be denied, despite his sometimes less than stellar behavior. It is well-known his biggest regret is his involvement in petitioning the atomic bomb, naturally he feared Germany might develop it first, and that guided his decision. Hated by the Nazi’s, renouncing his citizenship and his membership to the Prussian Academy enflames the party.  The violence goes against science, is inhumane and undermines everything Einstein stands for. As a Jewish man, naturally he is horrified by the anti-Semitism. That great big head of his, at this point, now has a $5,000 bounty on it, requiring 2 armed officers protecting him. Fearing for the fate of Jewish scientists in Germany, Einstein travels to Chartwell England to visit with Winston Churchill to see what help he can provide. There really isn’t anyone, it seems, that Albert didn’t rub elbows with! His fight is against those that would suppress intellectual and individual freedom, his voice is great and he isn’t one to cower from a fight. His Jewish activism was just as important to him as being a scientific revolutionist.

It’s amazing how much happened during his time, in a century dominated by science, he was at the top. As much a celebrity as those he met, who often were his fan, he was able to fit in just as perfectly with the likes of movie stars as fellow scientists like Marie Curie. He certainly hated racism, as evidenced by his support for Marian Anderson, one of the most celebrated voices of the twentieth century, who knew he was a bit of a civil rights activist? There were fears, he lost friends to suicide, mental illness rising within his own son and certainly there were many dark moments in the life of this great man. He was  always fascinating and lived a rich, fuller life than many of us can even imagine. He wasn’t perfect, who knows if this can be attributed to his genius or simply the strange state of all human beings.

While Mimi is a part of the story, the heart of the novel is Einstein and his incredible life, he was certainly such an interesting creation that I don’t think literature could even invent.

Publication Date: June 22, 2018

Canongate Books