Siracusa

siracusaSiracusa by Delia Ephron.

Two couples from New York and Maine agree to take a trip to Siracusa in Sicily. Neither couple knows what horrific fallout there will be from what should be a pleasant romp.

Taylor and Finn who are from Portland, Maine have a strained relationship. They bring their ten-year-old daughter, Snow, who suffers from extreme shyness syndrome. People call her “spooky” because she rarely talks even though she’s extremely bright.

Michael and Lizzie from New York also have a difficult relationship. Lizzie thinks Michael is cold because he is engrossed with plotting his next book. In actuality, he has been having an affair with a hostess in New York.

This is a tinder box situation. The last place all these people should be going is on a trip together. That’s exactly what they do of course and things get even trickier when Kath, Michael’s lover, shows up.

Ephron, who is also a playwright, gives alternating views of the same events from the adult’s perspective. She does in a way that builds tension until the final shattering moment.  The shattered glass window pane on the book jacket is an apt image.

Thematically, its similar to The Vacationers by Emma Straub.

 

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The Blind Contessa’s New Machine

The Blind Contessa’s New Machine

The Blind Contessa’s New Machine
Is this novel really about the machine as the title suggests? Since the machine, a typewriter, is what allows the blind Contessa to communicate with her lover its obviously pretty important.

But frustratingly, the novel doesn’t tell us (or maybe its not meant to) what Pellegrini Turri’s last letter relays. The Countess leaves his last missive on the bed even though a girl offers to read it to

her. We also don’t know how much Antonio knows when he burns the typewriter. Typewriters at this time were apparently made almost entirely out of wood, except for the “type” plates.

The ending and the setting instantly remind me of a Henry Jamesian novel. The reader is left in the “dark” on purpose. What we don’t know about characters is just as important as what we do know.

The novel does make me eager to learn the Carolina Fantoni and Pellegrini Turri’s history. It leaves readers with a delightful scent of lemons, winding rivers, and fanciful dreams. Though Carolina’s fate is tragic the novel also leaves readers with a new appreciation for the lengths someone will go through to find a chance of happiness.

Because there are so many open ended questions, this novel would make a wonderful book club selection.

Evil Eye

Evil Eye: Four Novellas of Love Gone Wrong by Joyce Carol Oates

The opening novella, “Evil Eye,” is a powerful story about a woman who could be on the verge of losing her mind. In a fit of despair, she has married an older man who crushes what is left of her spirit. One of the man’s ex-wives tries to warn her to no avail.

The best novella is “So Near Anytime Always.” Not only is this a great title, but it perfectly captures what Oates does so well. A highly-vulnerable girl wrongly believes a predator loves her.

Desmond appears charming at first. He is the dapper “boyfriend” that she has always dreamed about. Lizbeth believes a boyfriend as a “passport” to a new country.

Readers, however, can sense something wrong from the beginning. This is how Lizbeth meets Desmond: she looks up from her homework to see a boy staring intensely at her. Whether she realized it or not, he stalks her from that moment onward.

He appears well-educated, rich, and polite but becomes increasingly controlling. Desmond’s true character quickly reveals itself after a disastrous violin lesson.

“The Execution” is less satisfying because the narrator, Bart, is so unlikeable.  In chilling details, “The Execution” depicts an entitled college-aged kid who decides to murder his parents. Nothing unfolds as he plans.

The last novella, “The Flatbed,” captures the feelings of a repressed woman. She suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a relative. Perhaps no other author captures the victim’s viewpoint as well as Oates.

Like all the novellas in this collection, “The Flatbed” ends on just the right ironic note. Has her fiance’ revenge upon her perpetrator freed Cecilia from her damaging past? Or has she just traded one secret for another?

Black Warrior Review

Most of these stories and poems in Black Warrior Review (issue 41.1) are atmospheric stories with a magical realism bent. Unless that is your style, I wouldn’t recommend submitting to them.

“Rejas” by Brenda Peynado is possibly the best story. A young Dominican Republic woman returns to her homeland where she no longer feels at home.

The bars or “rejas” keep the criminals from entering residences but they also keep people from understanding one another.

Black Warrior Review, 41.1

In M H Rowe’s “The Dead Crystal Palace” a boy’s father, in a magical realist style, moves to a crystal palace. He waves a scepter acting the part of the tyrant. His infidelity caused the divorce. He seems powerful but the last scene demonstrates his impotence.

In “Sail, Su Corazon,” a young man records his final, delusional  thoughts on a faltering ship.

The last narrative poem, “Shadow Memories From Desire: A Haunting,” is dense, atmospheric and strangely captivating. A child who can see a ghost is also the object of her benefactor’s desire.

Black Warrior Review is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Writer’s Digest has named BWR as one of the literary journals that matter.

“Into the Limen: Where an old Squirrel Goes to Die,” by Sarah Minor

“Into the Limen: Where an old Squirrel Goes to Die,” by Sarah Minor

Lambert-Musser Home

I adore this non-fiction essay that appears in Black Warrior Review Fall/Winter 2014.

The author, Sarah Minor, is writing about an old home that belongs to her grandmother–the home that is known as the Lambert-Musser Home in West 2nd, Muscatine, IA.

I must admit I knew nothing of Iowan architecture on the West Hill of Muscatine or that there even a city in IA called Muscatine.

That hardly matters though because Muscatine is a river town and if you’ve lived in a river town its easy to feel connected to another river town.

Of course, Baton Rouge doesn’t have a historic district that matches West Hill but it has other attributes.

Muscatine is one of the river cities that Mark Twain was much enamored of. It’s still a small town, unlike Baton Rouge, which has become a metroplex.

More to the point, Minor’s “Into the Limen” is about forgotten spaces deep within large historical houses.

In the obscure space under the roof, bracketed by the eaves, is a place called a soffit. This is where you find tools and old letters yellowed photographs, and possibly skeletal remains.

Minor believes soffits in old homes are “thresholds” or liminal spaces. Other liminal spaces, according to Minor, are airports and beaches. I would add river fronts and swamps to the list.

Even though I had read Poetics of Space for a creative writing class, the power of liminal spaces was never so clear.

All The Light You Cannot See

All The Light You Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Two young people’s live  intersect when American bombers head for St. Malo, the last German stronghold.

Only a rare writer can develop such nuanced characters or create such beautiful moral complexities.

Wherever he goes, Werner hears his sister Jutta’s sad question reverberating in his head: Is it right to do something only because everyone else is doing it?

Marie-Laure who is involved in the resistance with her Uncle Etienne wonders if they are the “good guys.”

Neither knows the meaning of the numbers Etienne recites into the clandestine radio transmitter.

Tension builds as both Marie-Laure and Werner become trapped. Werner is trapped under a hotel, L’Abeille, when it is hit by Allied bombs. Marie-Laure is trapped in her great Uncle Etienne’s secret room in the attic.

Sergeant Major Von Rumpel frantically searches the house for the gem, The Sea of Flames, the one Marie-Laure’s father has sworn to protect.

Tired of hiding, Marie-Laure nearly gives herself away. Werner, who has managed to escape from his own ruin, decides to make things right in the only way he has left.

All the Light We Cannot See is a contemplative, well-researched novel.

Recently, All The Light You Cannot See won the 2015 Pulitzer prize for fiction and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal For Excellence in Fiction.

“If You Were a Tiger I’d Have To Wear White,” in Uncanny

If You Were A Tiger I’d Have To Wear White by Maria Dahvana Headley

This is a strange, magical realism story about endings–the end of Jungleland, the end of the golden age of Hollywood, the end of the MGM lion. it all plays out like a hallucination. I love that the lion never gives the reporter anything.

Jungleland was a real place for Hollywood animals to live in Thousand Oaks, California.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jungleland_USA

 

Read the story,

http://uncannymagazine.com/article/tiger-id-wear-white/