I grew up on Martha's Vineyard in a house as big and loud as a parade - the clamor resonated along the entire New England coastline. Calliope whistling, batons soaring, trumpets bleating, everything tapping and humming, orchestrated chaos, but we could afford it. My mother was rich, her father's money falling from the sky like ticker tape, gently suppressing the ordinary consequences of all that noise.
Lovely, huh? One phrase best describes May's debut novel pick by Elizabeth Kelly (Twelve) - over the top.
The writing, the characters and story line are among the most flamboyant I've come across in some time. In this story of redemption, young Collie Flanagan serves as the plain vanilla center in the midst of his fabulously wealthy and eccentric family: his adulterous, boozing father, his cruel Commie mother, a pigeon-racing uncle, his morally upright prep-school failure of a younger brother, and the Falcon, Collie's newspaper baron grandfather whose largesse enables them all. In the midst of such a flamboyant family, Collie's only wish is to be ordinary. He manages sane stability until a tragic accident leaves him reeling, forcing him to figure out what it 'means to be a man'.
Apologize, Apologize! is a comi-tragedy, unwieldy in places yet elegaic in others. The first half of the story rips along with humorous alacrity, then takes a sudden turn toward darksome when the tragedy occurs. For me, this fulcrum is when the story comes alive; the first half seems a 'getting to know you' dance filled with anecdotes of growing up Flanagan that left me itchy for substance. My prickliness was enhanced by the somewhat superficial and stereotypical sketches of some characters (must all Irish be rip-roaring drunks?) and the somewhat unbelievable events. But the second half builds empathy for the protagonist who, until then, seemed pallid in comparison to his crazy kin. Indeed, I found Collie upstaged by his more colorful - and likable - brother Bingo. One of the saddest, funny books I've read - the story and the characters haunted me for several days and made me reflect on the graces of being less than superordinary.
The Author... Elizabeth Kelly is a Canadian journalist and former magazine editor. She lives in an old house in a small village in eastern Ontario with her husband, four children, dogs, cats, and fish.
The Press... Eh, I know, as an imprint of the Hatchett Book Group, TWELVE is quasi-Indy press. But I've wanted to read a book published by TWELVE for some time due to their mission of publishing one book a month in order to focus on the editorial and marketing attention such books deserve. APOLOGIZE, APOLOGIZE! is one of its rare fiction offerings.
Take a gander at this fine debut piece o' fiction, if for no other reason than the sheer joy of reading the elegant prose.
What I saw this morning on my way to work - red Rohrshach blotches splattering the sidewalk like breadcrumbs I followed, the drops trickling smaller, wetter, trailing four blocks past Sylvie's pawn and check cashing, the bus stop across from Seven Eleven where my friend, now dead, once worked, jaywalking across to Stearns Fine Jewelry, Starbuck's, the Hippodrome, past nurses and docs scrubbed blue and green, I followed, hound-hungry, ruby drops sparkling in fine spatter to emergency then bought a latte, went to work...
So what did you see on your way to work?
THE READING... MIDDLEMARCH by George Eliot. A dense but fascinating read. Glad I'm reading this with the Project 100 Fill in the Gaps crew - it's tough going in spots. Finished my MAY DEBUT novel pick - look for my review later this week.
THE WRITING... Working on Chapter 2 of PURE. Putting my brain cells through this novel. Also readying shorts and poems for flight into the world.
NATHAN BRANSFORD blogged a provocative post about writers and the way they self-identify as writers. He notes people don't tend to define themselves by their hobbies; rather, people tend to identify themselves by their work.
As he states...
"You can see this in the way people talk about writing: some people compare it to oxygen, i.e. something that they can't live without. They don't say, "I like to write, it's fun, I enjoy it." They say, unequivocally, "I am a writer. It's who I am."
I'm going to be honest here and say that while I don't judge people when they define themselves as writer, whatever their publication status, I find it a little unsettling when they make it an overly intrinsic part of their identity.
First of all, people just don't tend to define themselves by their hobbies. You don't hear anyone shout to the rafters, "I AM STAMP COLLECTOR!" or "I AM A CONNOISSEUR OF REALITY TELEVISION!" And until you're making a living at it, writing is a hobby. It's something you do in your spare time. (Right?)"
Righty-oh. My hobby in my spare time, oh between 5 and 7 am. Every day.
A good friend, one of my writing buddies, received his lay-off notice today. The subject line on his email? POP THE CHAMPAGNE. You see, he's been wanting more time to write, to pursue his 'hobby', but the day job has drained him for years.
I, for one, am rather tired of this culture that emphasis self-identity based upon the position one holds in a paid work-force, that favors the size of the paycheck and the length of the title.
I want to live in a world that values art and craft, meaning and beauty. That treasures the creative spirit that resides in every one of us.
Who Am I? I am what I write. I am writer, mother, wife, sister, lover, reader, singer, gardener, poet, potter, sculptor, jeweler, daughter, photographer, lampworker, mentor, professor.
Of sadness now that April, month of poetry, is over?
A fabulous 30 days journeyed with fellow poets at POETIC ASIDES. Take time to peruse the more than 25,000 poems posted over the month.
I'm exhausted, from writing and reading.
What will May bring? I sense MIDDLEMARCH, a debut book review, maybe some good publication news, and writing focused on PURE...
Even before the acrid-sweet smell of urine and cedar assaulted me, I knew. No usual scurry and rustle of rodents swarming to greet me, their provider of food, water, and amphetamine. I dropped my bags at the door, cracking it open. My eyes adjusted to the crimson glow bathing the room, intended to keep the animals in a preternatural state of sleepy calm. On the left counter, caged white mice; Deepak’s last four metabolic syndrome controls plump from gorging three times their weight every day, bumped up sleepily against the Plexiglas.
But not my mice. Even in the diffused light, I could see all eight anorexic manic rodents curled into each other, shuddering with shallow exhalations of sleep. But when my gaze traveled to the second cage, I couldn’t discern any shadowy humps or sleeping forms. Just smaller shapes, chunks larger than droppings and food pellets but smaller than animals.
The month winds down. Grant proposals in, students' dissertations read and passed, a pound of asparagus from the garden picked and roasted every day. The lilacs scent my garden, along with viburnum. The restlessness dissipates...
Three more poems to write. Hallaluah. This year, NaPoWriMo exhausted me. Too much going on, and (stupidly) I commenced running PURE through my Nudgers at the same time.
And my heart's in PURE, not the poems. So.
That said, I have a few poems with decent bones, words I can turn over when I'm more engaged. And the practice itself, the diligence of writing in response to a prompt is a phenomenal opportunity. Like this, in response to the prompt 'regret':
A Snowy Day Spent Otherwise
Your eyes scrunch from sun casting icicle rainbows on blank pages, under eyelids, rebuking you; a high-pitched whinny snakes through walls, under skin despite the frantic
looping mantra… focus on the word, focus on the... a pencil slams, clatters to the floor, feet stomp down the hall to parted curtains. The yard gleams
in treacherous beauty. A snowball shatters glass; through melt smear a pink-cheeked child slides down crystalline hills, whooping joy. What is more important than the visceral
act of throwing limbs against slatted wood, feeling air and icy shards smack against chin and nose, your daughter, your only born, pounce on you at ride’s end? Her face lights up –
she spies you at the darkened window. The muse hisses in your ear; your eyes scrunch…
(I remember the day, a rare snow day; the kids off from school, the sun glittering on the icy hill, the kids laughing and I... chose to work. Me bad.)
==> CINDY PON's debut SILVER PHOENIX: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia hits the shelves TODAY! Young adult fantasy with an Asian flair - BUY IT!
==> If you're looking for reading inspiration, check out this new blog: FILL IN THE GAPS 100 PROJECT. Fifty of us - writers, readers, editors, all passionate about BOOKS - listed our top To Be Read lists, along with reviews. A special YAY! to Emily Cross for organizing what started as a comment thread over at EDITORIAL ASS.
==> Accepted into Lesley University Writing Workshop for late July in Cambridge, MA. Very excited - great faculty (including Julia Glass). Imagine - an entire week of writing, workshopping, and talking about writing. In my old stomping ground... yippee!
Henry and I dug the hole seven feet deep. Any shallower and the corpse was liable to come rising up during the next big flood: Howdy boys! Remember me? The thought of it kept us digging even after the blisters on our palms had burst, re-formed and burst again. Every shovelful was an agony - the old man getting in his last licks. Still, I was glad of the pain. It shoved away thought and memory.
I didn't plan to review MUDBOUND (by Hillary Jordan; Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill) this month. But when my intended selection tanked (couldn't read past the first two chapters) and I walked into CONSTELLATION BOOKS, the independent book store located in my wee town, the cover beckoned and the proprietor gave an enthusiastic two thumbs up.
I was not disappointed.
In MUDBOUND, the consequences of two of the greatest atrocities of modern 'civilization' - World War II and Jim Crow - are seamlessly served upon two families, one white and one black, farming in the Mississippi delta. Laura, the educated, almost-spinster follows her new husband Henry (and his crusty, bigoted 'Pappy') to farm cotton. Black sharecroppers work the farm, including Hap, a farmer and man of God in the black community, and his wife Florence, wise in the ways of birthing. But the two most compelling voices were the two sons returning from overseas: Jamie, the charismatic white bomber pilot, and Ronsel, the black tank sargeant who has tasted a bit of better freedom on his tour of service. Both return to a world little changed, even though both are irreversibly altered, suffering from what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and coping with their return home in very different ways. This story follows each character's path to redemption in the wake of overt racism and a war fought thousands of miles away.
The writing is very accessible, straightforward, and compelling. Hillary Jordan tells the story alternating all six voices in first person with each voice distinct. No mean feat. Having each voice tell his or her story made the book come alive, and without spoiling the ending, made the resolution of MUDBOUND all the more powerful. A heartrending tragedy not easily forgotten, MUDBOUND won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, an honor sponsored by Barbara Kingsolver and bestowed on works of fiction that address issues of social justice.
About the Author:Hillary Jordan grew up in Texas and Oklahoma, and spent 15 years as an advertising copyrighter before obtaining her MFA in creative writing from Columbia University. She lives in Tivoli, New York.
About the Publisher:ALGONQUIN BOOKS is based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (my alma mater - go heels!) and publishes leading fiction and non-fiction books, many with a Southern focus. Some feel this is one press that flies under the radar; I agree. I've read several stupendous titles from the impressive portfolio of this can-do publisher, including Alison Bass' SIDE EFFECTS, a fabulous expose of antidepressant drug development, regulation, and marketing in the United States.