“If you think reading is boring, you’re doing it wrong.” ~~Unknown
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- LIFE and Other Shortcomings
- Written b y Corie Adjmi and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN #: 978-1-63152-713-5
- She Writes Press
Demons Beneath the Surface
What does it mean to be a contemporary woman? In Corie Adjmi’s LIFE and Other Shortcomings, a collection of 12 linked short stories, we meet women who grapple with that question whether they show it or not. Regardless of their circumstances or marital status, their common focus is making wise and meaningful decisions.
In the opening story “Dinner Conversation,” set in New York during 1998, the women seem superficially beautiful but emotionally needed. The three couples are impressed with themselves. At the end of the chapter, Callie reveals that she wants to be “good, open, and honest,” identifying what all of the women in these stories struggle for. Other stories deal with freedom, dependency, sex, and fulfillment. These women opt for purpose, happiness, and loving relationships, despite some demons that lurk beneath the surface—demons that plagued women before the #MeToo movement gave women the courage to share their stories and stop protecting their tormentors.
While many of the situations seemed familiar, the details with which they were rendered took the stories to a literary level. These could have been true stories, but they transcend generalities and make me care about the specific women involved. They are beautifully depicted portraits of contemporary women that happen to be complex and perceptive. This book should probably be required reading for women in their twenties and beyond and the men who love them.
Corie Adjmi’s award-winning fiction and personal essays have appeared in over two dozen publications. She’s won four awards for this book, and I look forward to reading more of her work.
- DEACON KING KONG: A Novel
- Written by James McBride and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN#: 978-0735216723
- Riverhead Books (March 3, 2020)
Comedy, Poverty, & a Gunshot in 1969 Brooklyn
Welcome to the world of the Brooklyn’s Cause Houses where drunks, evil people, worn-down people, and glimmers of hope keep the community alive. James McBride’s Deacon King Kong opens up a world not often shown in good literature. Whether you’re wondering how people cope with poverty, mental illness, lost hopes, unfairness, or a dream deferred, you’ll find McBride’s answers in these fictitious characters.
Deacon King Kong is soused. He’s a good man who lost his wife, has a blind, slow son, and alcohol helps him cope with a world of loss and lack. Known by the nickname, Sportcoat, he’s a deacon in the Five Ends Baptist Church, though he cannot tell you what a deacon does. He’s respected and understood for exactly who he is. The community fears for him when he shoots a young drug dealer, Deems, who used to be a star player on the baseball team Sportcoat once coached. He’s protected as well as threatened, and the police are no help. Through one mishap after another, he spends his time more interested in finding the church’s Christmas Club money that his wife was taking care of than in dealing with the shooting, which was an accident.
It’s no small trick for to write historical fiction that takes a comic look at life in 1969 Brooklyn while also dealing with social issues, the costs of peer pressure, and the secrets people keep from one another. There’s a multitude of characters from members of the church to drug dealers to those who cannot find work or scrape money together. The people feel like a big rambling family as they fight, support, and console one another. McBride’s details bring the settings and speeches to life and they make us care. I wonder how many people who live in urban housing projects will read this book and how they’ll feel about it.
- WRITING THE VIRUS: New Work from StatORec Magazine
- An anthology edited by Andrea Scrima and David Dario Winner, reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN # 978-1944853778
- Outpost19 (October 16, 2020)
What We’re Still Discovering
Welcome to the New Normal. New is a relative term. Even if you’re sick of COVID quarantining, and all you want to do is hug someone, Writing the Virus will allow you to escape into the situations, observations, and perspectives of others, offering you a brief respite from your own troubles.
Edited by Andrea Scrima and David Dario Winner, this thought-provoking collection is divided into six sections: Chronicling the Pandemic; The Anxiety of Distance; Writing Against the Virus; To COVID, With Love; Invisible Danger; and The Fallout. The section titles give an immediate indication that readers will find original thinking as well as solid research in these pieces.
As I read I skipped between sections, selecting the pieces whose titles had the most appeal. By the third selection, though, I was convinced that I wanted to read all of them. In Matthew Vollmer’s “Quarantine Diary (Excerpt)”, I was transported by a quotation from a shamanic psychotherapist that said, “This is a time of collective intensity.” True! Also insightful. “Collective intensity” tickled my imagination. I was drawn to Jon Roemer’s “Uncertainty Ever After,” which sounded like a cross between a New Yorker essay and a fairy tale. Early on he says, “The path ahead feels too urgent for speculation, for the work of a novel. Should novels even be a priority right now?” As a writer that gave me pause. I’d been thinking the same thing. With specific details and well-informed thought each of the 31 authors offers analysis, perspective, and a unique take on where we are in this exact moment.
Be prepared to read everything and crave more. You’ll feel like a part of the history that we cannot clearly understand because we are too close to the pandemic to even imagine what its ramifications may be. Many of the authors might agree that we should cautiously live in this bizarre present, and never give up hope that the future may hold something wonderful. Even if you’re losing hope over the state of the world, these writers promise that we have a lot to live for. Highly recommended.
- AT THE EDGE OF THE HAIGHT
- Written by Katherine Seligman and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwn
- ISBN: 978-1643750232
- Algonquin Books (January 19, 2021)
Who Can A Marginalized Woman Trust?
Ever wondered what it’s like to live on the streets? Curious about how people become marginalized? Ever imagined yourself disappearing? With a blend of compassion and grittiness, Katherine Seligman explores the life of Maddy Donaldo, a twenty-something survivor, living with a couple friends in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in her first novel, At the Edge of the Haight .
Maddy belongs only to herself, though she’s a caregiver for her protective dog, Root. She cherishes her independence, and perhaps she loves Root because he can’t talk back. One day she sees a young man bleeding out in a dense grove in the park. She also sees a possible perpetrator, who threatens her before running from the scene. Though she did not see the violence, her private world vanishes in the aftermath of his death. Does she tell the police? What does she say to the parents who track her down and encourage her to return to her own parents? Who can she trust?
This story is about coming of age when someone else’s needs trump your own, even though you’re broke, homeless, and directionless. It’s also about the conditions that drive people to live on the street, what they’re running from, and how they cope.
A San Francisco journalist who has researched homelessness and mental health issues, Seligman sees a huge wealth gap in San Francisco’s economy. The homeless population is enormous, rents are exorbitant, and jobs are scarce. How do you get one without an address? Seligman has the skills and knowledge to articulate the experiences of living in San Francisco for both the haves and the “have nots.” She’s channeled her knowledge and concerns so effectively that she won the Pen/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction for At The Edge of the Haight.
Why do so many people look right past the homeless, ignoring their needs and circumstances? How can we fix what is broken in people? Seligman’s story will help readers empathize with those who choose to live on the streets and those facing tough choices and family crises. This is a book for the socially conscious and those who need to become more aware of others. It has something for everyone.
- REAL WOMEN WRITE: Living on COVID Time
- Edited by Susan F. Schoch and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN #: 978-0979532962
- Published by Story Circle Network, Inc.
How a Pandemic Alters our Perceptions
If you watch the news, you know that 2020 was a frightening, challenging year. The news reports facts and statistics. Story Circle Network’s latest anthology, REAL WOMEN WRITE: Living on COVID Time, edited by Susan F. Schoch, takes us inside the experiences of 52 women who didn’t make the news.
In 80 pieces REAL WOMEN WRITE: Living on COVID Time explores the impact of masks, fears, social distancing, and much more on our lives. It goes on to analyze the impact of the pandemic seek out the benefits and discoveries throughout this disaster. Experiences and discoveries are recorded for posterity. While I liked too many pieces to list them all, I was struck by the variety of moments that stood out: loss of family connection, the impact on a doctor and a nurse, the pressure on a parent, the new appreciation for parents, the philosophizing, and the power of Zoom. Discoveries touched me as much as losses. Maybe more, though I am stunned by the increase in deaths since these pieces were submitted to the anthology.
There’s prose about the blessings of isolation and appreciation of nature. There’s poetry about memory, politics, and how a pandemic alters our perceptions.
Sometimes I only read a few pieces in an anthology but this was different. I hungered to hear all of the voices and was reminded that all of us have great stories to tell. The quality of the writing is responsible for that.
These authors share their stories with grace and wisdom. Want to meet them?
Fortunately author biographies list many websites. When stories speak to you, tell the authors. There’s no finer compliment than a personal note to a writer from an appreciative audience member.
Whether you’re looking for analysis, insight, or good stories, you’ll find it in REAL WOMEN WRITE: Living on COVID Time. If you’d like to learn more about Story Circle Network, visit https://www.amazon.com/dp/0979532965/storycirclenetwo.
- THE PART THAT BURNS
- Written by Jeannine Ouellette and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN # 13- 978-1952897061
- Split Lip Press
A Complex and Poetic Memoir
What do you remember? What do you choose to forget? Author Jeannine Ouellette describes The Part That Burns as “a memoir in fragments.” That’s an accurate assessment of the way her memory works. Yours too, if you’re being honest. Think back on your own childhood. Do you remember the scenes that had an emotional impact on you? Do you sense that the day-to-day memories have faded? Have you embellished or rewritten any scenes from your life?
Ouellette records the memorable scenes of her life as she remembers them, creating an exquisite patchwork of people, places, and dogs. Her family includes Mama, a younger sister named Rachel, Daddy Jack, a step-dad named Mafia, several boyfriends, a husband, and a daughter. Her family travels from Duluth to Wyoming to other locations, and she starts her story with the family dogs and the memories they bring up. The dogs, the daddies, and her shifting relationships with Mama and Rachel are all part of a time-line that shifts back and forth as she remembers new levels of misunderstanding and abuse. Readers will appreciate that as the story goes deeper as we watch her cope with the dysfunction caused by poverty, an unstable mother, shifting father figures, sexual frustrations, and the love her daughter brings.
The author writes in vivid poetic prose. Talking about her daughter, Sophie, Ouellette says, “Maybe healing, when it happens, is the result of a quantum entanglement, the swirling of a thousand winds. Maybe it comes when you give your daughter your own heart like another stuffed toy she will drag with her everywhere, clenching it in her baby fists whenever she screams in fear or sadness or pain, soaring through the air with it as she jumps from a swing at the highest possible point in the July sky, stuffing it into her backpack as she skulks off to high school on a bad day, locking herself away with it, broken, when her first love leaves her.” The love she never felt from her parents blossoms as she cares for her daughter.
No one is perfect, of course. “Sometimes Sophie bites.” Like life, an astute reader might say. Life is a series of opposites, a fact the author confirms when she states, “The part that burns is the part that glows.” Good and bad, power and weakness, courage and fear all compete for attention.
The conclusion, written by the author and her daughter in alternating voices, confirms that opposites not only exist but also attract one another. Life is complex, and her beautifully rendered story confirms this. It’s a short, immediate, and powerful account of coming to terms with what life has dealt you and how you handle it. Both Jeannine Ouellette and her daughter Lillian Ouellette-Howitz are authors worth watching.