“Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?”

Whatever Happened to IL

Kathleen Collins’ first posthumous fiction collection. I read a first edition HarperCollins Ecco paperback from the library.

Buy the Book!

4 out of 5 stars (all stories averaged).

Collins, who died very young in 1988, was primarily known as a filmmaker, directing two features. She was also (from kathleencollins.org/about) a poet, editor, civil rights activist (who some credit with the first use of “I have a dream”), essayist, teacher, and screenwriter among many other things. It’s worth reading her biography. She lived an incredible life.

The stories in this collection were written in the 1970s but feel shockingly modern. Collins’ voice is fresh and direct, emotional and heartbreaking. Most of the sixteen stories are very short, more like snapshots than fully fleshed-out tales. The fact that they read so well coming unpolished and fragmented from journals is astonishing. The title story, one of the longer pieces, is a standout five-star-story; most others are above average. Continue reading

Advertisements

“Netsuke”

Netsuke

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Rikki Ducornet’s 2011 novel, published by the fantastic Coffee House Press. I read a first edition paperback from the library.

Buy the Book.

4 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

A married psychiatrist beds everyone – waitresses, tax consultants, clients, men, women.

This, my friends, is what I wanted American Psycho and Ballard’s Crash to be.

Netsuke is separated into two parts – the first from the psychiatrist’s point of view (in all his arrogant assholery), the second giving perspective to his wife Akiko and two of his clients (who believe they are his sole affair). Ducornet moves between first person and third person with subliminal ease. The writing itself is beautiful, the language graphic and unflinching. There is a thinly veiled madness here, even when our narrator speaks of the simplicity of dinner or his wife’s decorations. Continue reading

“Adèle”

Adele 01.jpg

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Leila Slimani’s debut novel, first published in France in 2014, translated by Sam Taylor and released in English in 2019. I read a Penguin Books paperback.

Buy the Book.

3.5 out of 5 stars. 

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

Adèle craves sexual encounters – the more impersonal, the better – but knows her secret will tear her from her husband and son.

Though The Perfect Nanny was Slimani’s first novel published in English, Adèle was Slimani’s debut. Also, like The Perfect Nanny, the title has been changed in translation. In this case, it makes a little more sense. The original title, Dans le jardin de l’ogre translates to In the Garden of the Ogre, a line that is echoed on page 2 (She wants to be a doll in an ogre’s garden). I can see how publishers would think this sounds like a horror or fantasy novel and calling the text Adèle reflects the obsession the story has for its main character. Even when the narrative includes her husband, Richard’s, point of view, his world is consumed by thoughts of Adèle.

From the start, I’m on Adèle’s side and wholly invested in her while never understanding her compulsions. Strangely, we follow Adèle’s perspective until, on page 141 (out of 216), we begin switching back and forth between her and Richard – who I definitely never like. If we are ever supposed to sympathize with him it doesn’t work, likely because his perspective shows up so late in the narrative.

I love how Slimani writes women who feel conflicted in roles of wife and mother and caretaker, who do not take to it naturally, who balk against expectation, who may not know what they want but know what they don’t want. Continue reading

“Samuel Johnson’s Eternal Return”

Samuel Johnson

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Martin Riker’s debut novel, released in 2018. I read a first edition Coffee House Press edition from the library. Between this and Comemadre, I’m ready to read anything Coffee House Press puts out.

Buy the Book!  

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

After his murder, Samuel Johnson’s consciousness begins the strange process of moving into the nearest human body when the last one passes.

I had a great time with Samuel Johnson but it hit a personal sweet spot that isn’t for everyone (think Theophilus North mixed with Cloud Atlas) – an episodic novel with a narrator who goes on tangents and wanders around the point and doesn’t address your questions for quite some time, if ever. It’s meandering; you have to enjoy Samuel’s company to enjoy the book, and I found him and his situation interesting.

Riker smartly doesn’t try to overexplain the predicament his narrator is in: Samuel cannot communicate with his host directly; he sees through their eyes and hears with their ears but cannot taste or smell. Eventually, he learns of ways to get into the driver’s seat, so to speak, but it’s ill-defined. If that description is annoying to you or if you’re entering this book hoping that the rules will be fully explained and make sense, walk away. The logic holes in this story can be large but approached as a fable, it’s emotionally rewarding.

Despite the literary, older-styled tone of the narrator (Samuel died in the 1960s, after all), Riker’s vocabulary and references are simple and clear. Even when the story is odd, unbelievable, or ludicrous, I never doubt the reality of the narrator. Samuel Johnson is quickly real and I enjoy listening to him ramble with his dry humor. Continue reading

“Give Me Your Hand”

Give Me Your Hand

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Megan Abbott’s 2018 novel. I read a first edition Little, Brown and Company hardcover from the library.

Buy the Book.

2.5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

Teenage friends Kit Owens and Diane Fleming are torn apart after Diane admits a terrible secret. Years later, they meet again while competing for spots on a prestigious grant.

I’m confused and disturbed that nowhere in the book’s description or author’s Acknowledgments is there any indication that Diane’s high school acts are based in reality. Not “inspired by”, not “influenced by”, but literally, word-for-word, event-by-event taken from the Marie Robard case. Diane and Kit are even studying the same damned Shakespeare play in school.

From reviews and recommendations, I was hoping for another Social Creature; instead I got The Da Vinci Code (it’s popular for a reason, but not my favorite style). Ridiculous and absurd plots can be entertaining, but you must accept the world you’re in and go along for the ride, like watching Face/Off or Armageddon. Otherwise, you’re just going to be miserable the whole time. While I found the teenage years of the girls interesting, I was not on the ride for what happens when they meet as adults. Continue reading