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In these stories, Dianne Nelson illuminates that vast territory of pleasure and pain created within modern families. Whether it is a father trying to kidnap his young son from his estranged ex-wife or a woman celebrating her ability to produce babies without any help from men, Nelson's characters reveal the dark, haunting and sometimes comic dilemmas of kinship.
In the title story, seventeen-year-old April is an involuntary witness to the seemingly endless parade of lovers who frequent her mother's bed. "I don't know why my mother finds no lasting peace" she muses. Opening a book and trying to find her peace in "facts, dates, the pure honesty of numbers," April is overwhelmed finally by the sounds of lovemaking from the adjoining room. "The walls of this house aren't thick enough to keep that kind of sadness contained." In "The Uses of Memory," Netta and Carlene are engaged in a different sort of mother-daughter drama. The issue at hand is the fate of Franklin, their husband and father, who lies in bed in a near comatose state, oblivious to the nurturings or pleadings of either woman.
The past, with its countless repercussion on the present, tugs relentlessly at many of the characters. In "Chocolate," the lingering pain of an impoverished childhood plagues Janice; she recalls, in particular, the birthday and Christmas celebrations, the meager gifts wrapped in the same brown twine that was used to hold the door shut. Hillary, the narrator of "Dixon," is spurred into action by the memory of her dead brother. When a local barfly with "silt for brains" persists in telling outlandish lies about Dixon, Hillary takes up karate training with an eye to defending her brother's name the truth of what she knew him to be. Dee, in "Paperweight," can pinpoint the exact moment at which she came to think of the body as an earthbound trap, "a hopeless house with the doors all locked"; she traces it back to a grade-school theatrical performance and a classmate's luckless efforts to open the cumbersome stage curtains. "If it weren't for my body," she laments, "I could fly, I could go anywhere, I could be anything."
Ranging in setting from a restaurant in St. Louis to the rain-soaked streets of San Francisco, from a boisterous family reunion beneath the broad Kansas sky to a ranch in Utah where a young father dreams of becoming a movie star, these fifteen stories show men and women pondering--and often struggling against--the mysteries of their own circumstances, especially the bonds of flesh and blood.
The title, A Bright Soothing Noise, refers to the sound that fire makes, promising not only warmth and light but also violence and destruction. Brown’s greatest hero is Frank O’Connor, and like O’Connor’s his stories uncover the final bleakness of a national life but in the same moment glow with its promise of love and life and belonging. Brown’s Americans will try almost anything to connect. They tend to drink too much, to drive too fast, are a little too violent in their passions and even a little too religious. Too often they believe, they trust—and then again they don’t, depending not so much on what’s getting proffered as who’s proffering. They are always on the verge of something better. They only want a little more, only a little too much, and while we as readers want with all our hearts for them to get it, we also fear they might. “This highly entertaining collection of stories has the scenic intensity and quality of Tennessee Williams's one-act plays. Meet a varied cast of characters in strange settings, and enjoy their provocative and witty company.”—Josip Novakovich, author of April Fool’s Day: A Novel and judge
Anita Endrezze has deep memories. Her father was a Yaqui Indian. Her mother traced her heritage to Slovenia, Germany, Romania, and Italy. And her stories seem to bubble up from this ancestral cauldron. Butterfly Moon is a collection of short stories based on folk tales from around the world. But its stories are set in the contemporary, everyday world. Or are they?
Endrezze tells these stories in a distinctive and poetic voice. Fantasy often intrudes into reality. Alternate “realities” and shifting perspectives lead us to question our own perceptions. Endrezze is especially interested in how humans hide feelings or repress thoughts by developing shadow selves. In “Raven’s Moon,” she introduces the shadow concept with a Black Moon, the “unseen reflection of the known.” (Of course the story is about a witch couple who seem very much in love.) The title character in “The Wife Who Lived on Wind” is an ogress who lives in a world somewhat similar to our own, but only somewhat. “The Vampire and the Moth Woman” reveals shape-shifters living among us.
Not surprisingly, Trickster appears in these tales. As in Native American stories, Trickster might be a fox or a coyote or a raven or a human—or something in between. “White Butterflies” and “Where the Bones Are” both deal with devastating diseases that swept through Yaqui country in the 1530s. Underneath their surfaces are old Yaqui folktales that feature the greatest Trickster of all: Death (and his little brother Fate).
Enjoyably disturbing, these stories linger—deep in our memory.
Jane Ransom's Bye-Bye is a darkly comic first novel, both sexy and profoundly philosophical. The protagonist/narrator is a bisexual divorcee in Manhattan who assumes a false identity in an effort to escape the past and to spy on her own life. While exploring issues of gender and self, Bye-Bye deals provocatively with performance art, S&M, personal ads and art in the 90s.
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the secretary of war to prescribe military zones “from which any or all persons may be excluded.” Eventually this order was applied to one-third of the land area in the United States, mostly in the West, clearing the way for the relocation of 120,000 people with “Foreign Enemy Ancestry,” in other words, those of Japanese descent. This time of fear and prejudice (the U.S. government formally apologized for the relocations in 1982 after determining they were not a military necessity) and the Arkansas Delta are the setting for Camp Nine. The novel’s narrator, Chess Morton, lives in Rook, a place that is rural Arkansas in the extreme, a town too tiny to have a bank, a library, a restaurant, or even a church. Chess’s days are quiet and secluded until the appearance of a relocation center built for what was in effect the imprisonment of thousands of Japanese Americans. Chess’s life becomes intertwined with those of two young internees, Henry and David Matsui, and that of an American soldier mysteriously connected to her mother’s past. As Chess watches the struggles and triumphs of these strangers and sees her mother seek justice for these people who came briefly and involuntarily to call the Arkansas Delta their home, she discovers surprising and disturbing truths about her family’s painful past.
In an uncomplicated plot, The Campaign Trail takes its readers through the independence of a state in fiction, the introduction of a multiparty system, to its demise owing to poor governance and power struggle; this novel has a universal appeal to the political scientist, the literary critic, the sociologist, the anthropologist and just anyone who needs entertainment. The author blends the comic and the tragic to good effect.
Set during the Lebanese civil war, this novel chronicles the splintering of the Al-Mukhtars, a Lebanese family whose love and trust for one another is strained by the increasing economic, social, and psychological tensions that surround them. Huda, feeling helpless as a housewife, pursues a career as a university professor and immerses herself in her work and students. Sharif, trapped in a static bureaucratic position, begins to resent his wife’s success and slowly withdraws from his family. When their marriage dissolves, the couple fight over the custody of their adolescent daughter. In a patriarchal society that favors the rights of the father, Huda is powerless as her daughter is taken from her. Through the author’s use of flashbacks, the reader witnesses the stark contrast between the young, idealistic couple and the older husband and wife, who have become increasingly isolated and disillusioned.
Cannibal is Africa from the insideinside the head of a woman who fears that the man she loves is CIA, that the film the're supposed to make is his cover, that she might be pregnant. A haunting story of survival, Cannibal lays bare a woman's greatest hungers. Known as Good-for-Nothing by the Africans unfit for the climate, the work, or frienship, she struggles for recognition, and for her life. What she finds, wandering the savannah for months, are the "blue people", those with AIDS who have been left to die in an abandoned British outpost. But this is only counterpoint to her own predicament. "Trust hasn't enough syllables," she says, regarding her lover walking ahead of her. "He doesn't look at it. I can't not look, but he won't look." In Cannibal, nobody wants to lookthe differences are too frightening, the truth too stark, the love too little. A step beyond Heart of Darkness, Cannibal is the virtual reality of exotic paranoia where, when the images break apart, Death grins out.
Inhabiting a world that offers no guarantee of any veracity, the characters in these peculiar stories are driven to and goaded by compulsive and perhaps pointless reflection. They are haunted by unrelenting consciousness and knowledge of failure, yet are, at best, ambivalent toward any conventional equation of success. Theirs is a world of broken relationships, futile memory, constant appetite, and the certain knowledge that they are winding down in a culture in which it is impossible to do—or know—the right thing. Frustrated and obsessed, they cannot articulate their lives and are entranced by the strangeness of the everyday. Written with keen intelligence and biting humor, Carbine is a book about the ridiculousness of contemporary life—a book about what cannot be said.
The publication of Nikolay Leskov's masterpiece, The Cathedral Clergy, in 1872 marked the beginning of the author’s lasting popularity among his countrymen, who were captivated by its superb storytelling, its living, breathing characters from all classes of society, its wit and humor, its fresh style, and its treatment of spiritual themes. Leskov’s fictitious Old Town is a microcosm of rural Russia; his chief protagonists, Father Savely and Deacon Achilles, two of the most famous characters in Russian literature, are unforgettable. As beloved by Russians as the works of Leskov’s better known fellow writers, The Cathedral Clergy offers, in its unusual subject matter and unconventional structure, a unique approach to the Russian Realist novel. This “chronicle,” as the author called it, is difficult to categorize. Largely realistic, even naturalistic in places, it also waxes lyrical, particularly in its gripping descriptions of nature. It is the tale of a town, an adventure story, a love story (of a happy marriage), a life of a modern martyr, a comedy as well as a tragedy. Given its vivid style, rife with archaisms, colloquialisms, mispronunciations, dialect words, folklore, songs, intentionally bad poetry, and puns, The Cathedral Clergy has proven nearly impossible to translate. This expert annotated translation, however, now affords English speakers the pleasure of discovering a nineteenth-century Russian novel that Russian readers have long since considered a classic.