The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao by Martha Batalha (translation by Eric M. B. Becker)

 

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This is the story of Euridice Gusmao, the woman who could have been. 

When Euridice’s sister Guida elopes, shocking her family, becoming disowned she is left to be the good daughter. Euridice marries Antenor, who never quite lets her forget that ‘there was no blood on the sheets’ on their wedding night. Why they married, no one knows? So much in her life has become unexceptional, why even her wedding was simple, was it love? Or did Antenor just need a woman to cook him the foods he liked, give him children, and be content and settled with just being his wife? Babies come, along with weight, the only way to assure Antenor keeps his distance from her! Her life is routine, her sister’s absence is accepted but one day she decides to write a cookbook! Her husband, of course, finds this ridiculous, laughing it off and forbids all her other ‘schemes’ (ideas). This is Rio De Jeniro in the 1940’s, women do not work- what would they say about her husband? That he isn’t MAN enough to take care of his wife and children? Staring at the bookshelf, cooking for her family, invisible Euridice wants something of her own and dreams up many ideas. He hasn’t any interest in her mad concoctions, prefers that she sticks to the simple solid meals he prefers. Her gift is wasted on her family.

Where Euridice was the scholarly daughter with plans for her future, the beautiful Guida excelled in flirtation- the sister that knew and taught everything about being a woman to her sister. When Marcos enters her life, she begins to feel superior to her own humble family. Marcos is a good catch, too good (in his parent’s estimation) for Guida- but they will have each other. After the elopement, Guida’s life with Marcos takes turns she couldn’t have foreseen, lovesick or more love-blind, reality comes as a crushing shock! It may well be the very thing that draws her strength out of her. With a son to care for, there isn’t anything she won’t do to survive, gossips be damned, shame is the price any woman will pay to give her child everything they need.

Years pass, but one day she arrives on Euridice’s doorstep with her beloved son, and the trajectory of the sister’s lives change, despite obstacles both build the lives they need. There are so many characters in this story to keep the reader humored and horrified, such a macho world! Sour faced gossips whose childlike sweetness and curiosity was spoiled for lack of beauty, soiled women who are lifelines for single mothers, reputation is everything and it could be a woman’s ruination! This novel manages to be dark, and humorous both! Never has anyone wanted someone to choke to death, but not… of course not.  I actually enjoyed Guida’s story the most, her hardships are louder than Euridice’s but both seem to have fate’s boot on their neck, pinning them to misery. Will that change? Will Antenor ever stop bringing up the lack of blood on their sheets? Lord have mercy! I wish more books were translated to English, there is such wonderful talent the whole world over we may never read. This is a little gem, it’s clever, strange, dark, humorous.

Publication Date: October 10, 2017

Oneworld Publications

 

 

 

The Best of Us: A Memoir by Joyce Maynard

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“Our life together: What we had imagined. What we got.”

Truer words were never written. It never plays out as we imagine, does it? Joyce Maynard shares with us her own love story, a sort of second life that she didn’t expect nor necessarily think she wanted. In her late fifties Joyce found love in Jim, at an age when people treat women like their ‘off the shelf, finished, done, a husk’ her true love entered. There is a memory she shares from her first marriage, when she was surprised by the many people that showed up to hear her speak  and called home that night only to have her husband tell her “Just don’t come back with a swelled head”, the reader can’t help but feel the crush of it. To be witness to Jim’s arrival in Joyce’s life, submerged in the memories of Jim and the love they shared before his illness reached in like a thief, is a painful journey the author has bravely shared and a gift for any reader. The fight to ‘beat this thing’, to be the special one that can eat the right things, find the perfect treatment… well how can one not hope?

This is one of the most vulnerable memoirs I’ve read. The willingness to share the ‘earthquakes’ in her life, to expose all her wounds for our judgement- I’ve always felt there is a certain bravery in memoir. Maynard shares too the painful decisions she made with her adoptive daughters, and it had me thinking about the knee jerk reactions so many of us (myself included) have about others, famous or not, and their life choices. We have a habit of not thinking about the everyday struggles other’s face, that sometimes what may seem like a ‘Cruella De Vil ‘ move may have been the hardest step someone took and a selfless one at that.

I wonder, as I arrive each year with more disasters behind me, because we are nothing if not imperfect creatures, how we know love so much better in the second half of our lives. Here we are with our war wounds, grounded, maybe a bit defeated by our earlier idealism not just about love but family too that maybe the second half of our lives is the meat. Yes, it’s a given Jim dies at the end, but that isn’t the story. The story is their love, the fragility of time, the pain of hope and the crushing weight of loss. It’s not over for Joyce, and Jim is still with her, he was her guard dog- that sort of love remains forever.

I read that Joyce Maynard, selling her lover JD Salinger’s (yes that Salinger) letters was quoted as saying ‘I’d rather put my children through college than own a box of Salinger’s letters.”  Is that terrible? I have two kids in college at the same time, my lord if only I had a box of letters of my own! Writers are loud mouths, famous or not, we cannot shut up- scribbling furiously, story tellers, observers that must share their experience,  some of us in journals no one ever sees, others publishing their truth, there is something very interesting about this woman! He truth is biting, she doesn’t hide and I admire that.

I sometimes think about those in the spotlight and feel relief I am nobody, free to live my life without the entire world’s opinions about a life they haven’t spent one day in. Memoir is a strip tease, and those of us who are honest know we aren’t all beautiful underneath our clothes, we are flawed and Joyce admit this- even in her love with Jim she shares the ugly truth. There were times she resented the illness, anyone who has ever seen a loved one through sickness knows it’s not beautiful, it’s exhausting for the caretaker too- why is that such a shameful thing to admit?

It’s hard to read, because suffering is so unfair- as if the universe is picking on you and most especially your loved one. Is their final breath relief? Yes and God No! This is such a painful death and love story.

Publication Date: September 5, 2017

Bloomsbury USA

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

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It is hard for new ideas to come into the world.

More than anything else in the novel, I think ‘it is hard for new ideas to come into the world’, hits you between the eyes. How true and how terrible. I went into this hoping it wasn’t all some sort of Trump novel the way some have been toting it to be, to tiresome to have to deal with all that in reading escapes. It’s not entirely though there are echos of what is going on now. The control Nero has over his sons because of his vast wealth and power is terrible to read, how hard to step out of the shadow their father’s dominance creates. There is a line that alludes to not really needing to be aware of just what his father does in his work, anymore than the child of a dentist needs to know about the teeth his dad works on that really humored me. What a way to muddy the waters but humorous too because really- what better way to distance oneself from the ugliness of where the money you so enjoy comes from.

Each of Nero Golden’s sons are damaged,  Petya with ‘cracked intelligence’ which I really want to discuss, Apu the second born is a wildly talented artist but lazy, addicted to the lavishness his father’s money affords, D is the youngest, whose earlier disloyalty to Petya and Apu’s mother is never forgotten, whose place isn’t as solid as his older brothers and whose identity has been insubstantial from his very birth. Each son is burning, each Golden will be consumed by the flames of their father’s fire. René  is the filmaker who has found his subject and obsession in the Golden Family, but he doesn’t keep an artistic distance, not even close. Enter a woman with her own agenda, the threat of the ‘princes’ being tossed from their throne and helpless to prevent the destruction she brings.

Why did the Golden Men flee their homeland? Can you really re-invent yourself, wash yourself clean of the past? Isn’t that the reason so many come to America, a sort of rebirth, but how much of your country and past haunts you? Can you escape yourself, your fate?

I have a love/hate relationship with autism spectrum characters. My own adult son has Asperger’s, lives on his own, is in college and studies game design, while there were some things that mirrored my own child, certainly he doesn’t have ‘cracked intelligence’ and isn’t ‘inept’. I realize Rushdie took Petya and exaggerated many of the struggles those on the spectrum face but I felt he was made to be far more helpless. Again, exaggerated. Naturally, the umbrella is wide and each person is an individual as we all are. I feel sometimes people that write about autism do damage while glorifying the ‘giftedness’ on one hand, on the other they insult the individual as helpless. Not so in my experience. Petya is just a character, and he is ‘hemmed in by himself’ I get that. It’s such a difficult world to navigate for all of us, those on the spectrum often come off in literature as bumbling idiots- which they are not. It does get frustrating and insulting to those on the spectrum when such characters are always falling apart, even in their successes. Okay, off my little soapbox. I can allow the author his artistic liberties, one could well argue Petya’s environment (wealth) does more damage- the majority of those on the spectrum don’t have the best and can’t hide in their gardens, they grow better having to navigate the world.

There is so much happening, gender identity, how others pushing people in a direction they may not have otherwise gone can damage the soul. Why for some, maybe it’s not necessary to be this or that- it is provocative and challenging. Every reader will have different feelings reading this novel. The past isn’t the only thing discarded, Nero isn’t easy to hate outright- one can find tenderness, scratching the surface. For a book that isn’t out until September it’s hard to hold my tongue because there is ugliness and truth- but we ask ourselves, what is the truth anymore? Are times in America really this ugly and vulgar? Are we so naked and lost? These are questions only the readers can answer for themselves. The beginning of the novel didn’t grab me, but stay with it because deeper to the center is where you find the heart and it’s on fire.

Publication Date: September 5, 2017

Random House

The Sisters of Alameda Street: A Novel by Lorena Hughes

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Her mother might live in this house. There was, of course, the possibility that she might have moved somewhere else, but what if she were here, at this very moment? Melena could be a few minutes away from meeting her. Seconds even. A tremor started in her gut and traveled all the way down her legs. 

This is a saga, and it is full of secrets and dramas. After Malena Sevilla loses her father to suicide, she makes discoveries buried deep in her father’s trunk. Who the heck was her father paying on his teaching salary, already a struggle to live, and why? Her mother may still be alive, and living close by? Malena heads to the town of San Isidro in the Andes Mountains to finally dig up the truth. Upon arrival she is thought to be an expected guest, Liliana and what better way to study the family and find her mother than under disguise? All she has to go on is the letter A, but with Alejandra, Amanda, Abigail, and Ana it could be any of them and it won’t be so easy with the added burden of falling in love and her own deceptions. How could her mother give her away? That her mother regretted it and her father never told her is unconscionable, how could a letter destroy the things she believed her father to be?

With murder, family loyalties and secrets, open wounds, love and cowardice Malena  may learn her father had reasons for hiding so much from her, but what about her mother? What will happen when the family she is starting to love discovers the truth about her? How culture, times alter the paths we take in life is evident in this novel- it certainly does have the Latin soap opera appeal. Scandal is always an ingredient but time is a strange beast, if you take what was once scandalous and apply it to modern times, it’s laughable unless you understand what being shamed could do to an entire family way back when, particularly in another country where your family name is everything.

Is it believable? Well… deception was certainly much easier before the internet. This is in the 1960’s so mistaken identity isn’t so far fetched, lord knows there are plenty of non-fiction stories and movies about such things. I enjoyed it, but may be just a bit more dramatic than my usual reads.

Available Now

Skyhorse Publishing

 

What Counts as Love by Marian Crotty

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Jenny was divorced with two kids. She had many theories about relationships, most of which came from the Oprah Network that she watched on small monitors at the dental office while she cleaned teeth. “I couldn’t tell you his love language, but I’d guess it’s not words of affirmation. Does he buy you gifts?” 

Love, all we think we know and all we guess at, the insecurities, regrets, longings. Love as friendships, physical love, broken love, rough love, love as a haven- Marian Crotty has written stories about love in all it’s faces, ugly, beautiful, tortured- you name it. “Crazy For You” was fantastic, girls on the verge of sexual awakening, the dawning of awareness of their effect on grown men (welcome or not), witness to the ugly truth of love before they’ve even scratched the surface of their sexuality, while spying on a beautiful neighbor’s sexual exploits. In “A New Life” the tragedy of loss consuming a woman, her husband’s seeming ease with getting over it, moving on. Love spent, broken, and bled dry- terrified of her marriage ending at any moment, instead moving to Abu Dhabi and discovering betrayal. Some characters are fledglings, others battered veterans of love leaving abuse, recovering from loss, but each are trying to find something solid to anchor them. Sometimes the reader will laugh at their characters, other times feel their crushing defeat. There are so many stories about love, not all of them happy and safe. Some take whatever they can get and others discard the garbage they never should have let in! An insightful collection!

Publication Date: October 15, 2017

University of Iowa Press

John Simmons Short Fiction Award

Outside is the Ocean by Mathew Lansburgh

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Part of him wanted something terrible to happen to Banjo and to her, to everyone involved. He wanted the guilty to be punished.

Stewart’s mother Heike, a German immigrant who came to start fresh in America at the age of 21, should be punished for putting her long suffering son through the ringers, but she can’t help her ‘intractable’ nature. A woman who knows no boundaries, exasperated with everyone else’s stinginess, wondering at how anything can be owned really- be it living quarters, swimming pools, and even pets. Heike has done everything she could to make a living for her beloved son, and if her love is suffocating him, well shame on him for not appreciating all the sacrifices she makes. Didn’t she try to be fit and beautiful for Stewart’s father, breaker of promises? If her natural state of being, in revealing clothes or no clothes at all embarrasses her son, well it’s just the fault of  him being American born. People outta ease up!

We follow Heike first raising her son, who is struggling with his sexuality and the distance between he and his father. Stewart, pulled in his mother’s never ending dramas, and maddening histrionics must get out if he is to have his own identity. Heike has a way of stealing the air from any room! She is, later, in his love life! Heike is distraught over the strain between her and Stewart, but the reality of having adopted a disabled Russian daughter, whom she was sure would appreciate being saved from that cold country more than her son seemed to appreciate all she did for him, comes crashing down. So much for teaching Stewart a lesson, Galina schools her instead. Galina is violent, acts out, disrupts Heike’s life, makes her more vulnerable, exposes her as a terrible mother, betrays her to neighbors!  It’s so unfair! Galina is nothing like calm, quiet Stewart whom often felt as inconsequential as his slight essence. Heike is losing it, and the letters she writes to Stewart are heartbreaking, but sometimes endearingly humorous.

Heike never gives up, unlike other people! She is the type that would say ‘you want to know suffering, I’ll tell you about suffering’. There is no room for any other stories but her own, she is a one woman show, the rest are all just co-stars. Through marriages, relationships, friendship with a cat hoarder, borrowing dogs, and driving her children and partners nuts, Heike is a character you won’t soon forget. She’s exhausting, and it’s a beautifully written story because the reader can’t help but empathize with every character. I shouldn’t, but I loved Heike- would I want her as my mother, that’s another story. I look forward to Lansburgh’s next novel!

Publication Date: October 15, 2017

University of Iowa Press

 

Where the Sun Shines Out: A Novel By Kevin Catalano

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But there was nothing. No amount of summoning or pleading or weeping or shouting brought him back. His brother was absolutely stricken from existence. 

Two brothers are abducted from an Oz festival, among munchkins and hordes of people. Their father simply stepped away, can he be faulted for that? They are taken to a cabin by the woods, but only one returns alive, the eldest (Dean) spotted swimming with his dead  little brother Jason’s body.  Something dark and twisted intoxicates him, never healing from the trauma. He is the wrong brother, the one without promise or hope. The weaker of the two, the failure. The brother who never spoke up, the one cursed to survive, unwanted. He hasn’t really come back, and won’t for decades.

Brutality pulses inside of him, violence, deviance, warped sexuality that disgusts his mother and the searing memory of a ‘different’ mother’s milk. A mother who is still out there, probably hunting other children. Strange, twisted friendships cemented in blood and power struggles. What is it about damaged people that draw goodness towards it, as Brett is drawn into Dean’s dark history? Brett sees in Dean that little boy who came home, broken. Dean is shattered, how do you truly go back to who you were, to the untouched innocence stolen? Who would understand it, something most will never know? Fractured families, drug addictions, a lust for violence- this book is brutal. Dean is filled with self-loathing, unable to defend his kid brother against bigger bullies just before his death, a father who hated him before and more so after the tragedy. No one saves Dean. No visits from the dead to ease his loss, only haunting memories. A mother that cannot save her son and is terrified of him, spiraling through the years until she meets a ‘confetti of feathers’.

I realize my review is disjointed, but the novel is everywhere and Dean’s terrible life in the aftermath of abduction just goes deeper into darkness, even when he tries. Will he find his tormentor? Will there ever be punishment? Certainly Dean’s entire life seems like a sentence, and maybe his father damaged his sweet boy before those sick people got to him! Why does his father get a new start? Erasure of sorts, an obliteration of his kid brother, his memory, his dad’s ‘original’ family- where is Dean’s fresh start? Somewhere over the rainbow sure as hell doesn’t exist in this dark tale. If you are ready to be disturbed, read away. I’m still trying to recover from the image of Dean’s escape in the water. Sad!

Publication Date: October 3, 2017

Skyhorse Publishing