“There Will Be No More Good Nights Without Good Nights”

There WIll Be No

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Laura van den Berg’s 2012 chapbook of nine short (short!) stories. I read a 2017 Bull City Press reprint edition.

Buy the Book.

3.5 out of 5 stars (all stories averaged).

Times Read: 1

This entire book runs the length of a short story but van den Berg packs plot, emotion, and her usual beautiful writing into each page. The stories live; the characters have a past and future and the mind tries to follow them beyond the story – the sign of a great short story writer.

I hate to admit it, but for years I didn’t think I liked female authors or main characters. This breaks my heart now and I wonder how many great books I’ve missed. I’m thankful that authors like van den Berg have shown me strong, complex, fascinating female characters that I connect to. In the past six months, she’s become one of my favorites.

Continue reading

Advertisements

“Friday Black”

Friday Black.jpg

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s debut collection of twelve short stories, published in 2018. I read a first edition Houghton Mifflin Harcourt paperback from the library.

Buy the Book.

 3.5 out of 5 stars. (all stories averaged)

Times Read: 1

As sometimes happens with short story collections, my ratings veer wildly from story to story. The opener (“The Finkenstein 5”, note [1]) is a stunning 5-star piece and deserves to be iconized like Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”, while “Light Spitter” (note [26]), only receives 1 star. (While technically written well, the plot and execution didn’t sit well with me.)

Adjei-Brenyah covers an incredible range of reality to fantasy, from “Things My Mother Said” (note [5]) which reads as purely autobiographical to “The Hospital Where” (note [15]) which carries so much nightmare/dream logic that it is barely comprehensible. The other stories fall along this spectrum, some hardly different from reality at all (“Zimmer Land”, note [20]) to creating their own sci-fi reality (“The Era”, note [7] and “Through the Flash”, note [32]).

I love grounded stories with one or two weird elements (the more I think on it, the more moving and incredible “Lark Street”, note [12] becomes). Adjei-Brenyah delivers sharp satire and insight on being black in America today through fantastical plots. He’s a modern Weird Fiction writer carrying the mantle of 1940s/50s Ray Bradbury.

Continue reading

“The Isle of Youth”

ioy 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Laura van den Berg’s second short story collection, published in 2013. I read the FSG Originals paperback edition from my library.

Buy the Book.

 4 out of 5 stars (stories averaged).

 Times Read: 1

One of the best short story collections I’ve ever read. Van den Berg never does the obvious thing. Whenever I thought I was ahead of the story, it turned back on me. None of these stories go where you think, none of them end where you think a short story should end. It’s exciting as a reader and it’s a great strength of van den Berg’s.

A feeling of truth fills each story – hidden deep, never discussed, but felt by many. The Third Hotel also had this effect on me. An author who can do it more than once is one to hold dear.

Van den Berg doesn’t supply answers to everything. People disappear in these tales and you won’t find out what happened to them. People die and you don’t know how, the whys are not spelled out. But she gives enough emotional information to make you care and understand. You will come to your own conclusions and every conclusion is correct.

While most of the female leads are in marriages – often troubled – the real connections here are between siblings. Brothers, sisters, twins; dead, alive, estranged.


Continue reading

“Comemadre”

Comemadre pic

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Roque Larraquy’s second novel, originally published in 2010 with translation by Heather Cleary published in 2018. I read a beautiful Coffee House Press paperback from my beautiful library.

Buy the Book!

5 out of 5 stars. 

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

Two intertwined stories, the first taking place at Temperley Sanatorium in 1907, the second the recollections of an avant-garde Buenos Aires artist in 2009.

Check out the cover of Comemadre. Really look at it. If you think, Oh, gross! and look away, this is not for you. If you can’t stop staring, read it. Now. Read it now. Then come back.

When I was a kid, I read a bit in a Ripley’s Believe it or Not!­-style paperback about a warrior who decapitated his enemies, then turned the head to look at its own body. Because, the text breathlessly explained, the head retains consciousness for nine seconds after death! As a twisted little eight-year-old, I immediately wanted to know if it was true and immediately came upon that catch-22: even if this were true, what good would the knowledge be if you couldn’t communicate it to anyone else? This little fact has remained an odd fascination of mine ever since.

Larraquy must have a similar fascination. In the first part of Comemadre, a group of doctors decide to test the length of consciousness after decapitation and devise a way for the decapitated to communicate. When I realized this was the plot, I nearly exploded  with joy. I’ve wanted this story my entire life. Larraquy delivers.

The second story, about half the length of the first, is just as good and the connections between the two build until the book feels haunted. Comemadre is a darkly hilarious, twisted, intelligent ride. Continue reading

“The Third Hotel” (Post 2/2)

The Third Hotel 02

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1

Buy the Book!


Part 2: Morbid Urges

[35] Reference:

Drinking cafecitos on the café patio.

(p.79)

 

Café Cubano (also known as Cuban expresso, Cuban coffee, Cafecito, Cuban pull, Cuban shot) is a type of espresso that originated in Cuba. Specifically, it refers to an espresso shot which is sweetened with demerara sugar which has been whipped with the first and strongest drops of espresso.

[36] Reference:

In an in-flight magazine she’d once read the quietest place on earth was an anechoic chamber in Minnesota. The longest anyone had ever lasted in there was forty-five minutes.

(p.81)

From Atlas Obscura:

Orfield Laboratories in South Minneapolis is the home of a space that was once dubbed “the quietest place on earth” by Guinness World Records. (As of 2015, that title now belongs to a quiet room developed by Microsoft in Washington state). The lab is called an anechoic chamber, meaning there is no echo as the room absorbs 99.99 percent of sound. It is used by various manufacturers to test product volume and sound quality – it can also drive a person mad.

Members of the public must book a tour to visit the room, and are only allowed in for a short and supervised stay. (…) One reporter lasted up to 45 minutes, and most people leave after half the time, tortured by the eerie sounds of their own body. (…)

Mr. Orfield explains that the only way to stay in the room for an extended period of time is to sit down. A person’s orientation is largely secured by the sounds made when walking or standing, and as those sound cures are taken away, perception becomes skewed, and balance and movement becomes an almost impossible feat.

[37]

My father calls left-handed people twin eaters.

(p.87) Continue reading

“The Third Hotel” (Post 1/2)

The Third Hotel 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2


Laura van den Berg’s second novel, released in 2018. I read a first edition hardcover from the library (but will be buying myself a copy very soon).

Buy the Book!

5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

Clare takes the trip to Havana that her recently dead husband had been planning. She soon sees a man who looks just like him.

I cannot be impartial about this book. I’m going to try to give you reasons that, even if you are not me, you should read The Third Hotel, but ultimately some things just speak to you and it’s impossible to rationalize the reasons.

Van den Berg’s style is effortless and clean. The book is told in third person, past tense, but stays always with Clare’s thoughts. She speaks, people speak to her, but there are no quotations (something I didn’t notice until around page 50; it works very naturally and doesn’t seem gimmicky). The Third Hotel follows the way memory and thought works better than any other book I know. Figuring out where we are in the timeline is never confusing but I have no idea how van den Berg pulls it off. Clare may be talking to someone in Havana and remembering the person who sat next to her on a plane months before and I follow every beat.

Because this is a newer book, and because I desperately want you to read it, I’m going to hold back some of the best quotes. They should be surprises. Continue reading

“Fever Dream”

Fever Dream

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Samanta Schweblin’s 2017 novel, translated the same year by Megan McDowell. I read a first edition Riverhead Books hardcover from the library.

Buy the Book

5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

Amanda, dying at a medical center, speaks with David, a young, mysterious boy.

A book called Fever Dream could easily descend into confusing surrealistic madness, but Schweblin has built a fascinating tale into the scaffolding of deathbed conversation. I always understood, visually, what was occurring even when the characters were shrouded in mystery.

Fever Dream is the most effectively terrifying and unsettling piece of fiction I’ve ever read. Every moment is charged with fear. Something terrible is coming. Something murderous, poisonous, or tragic. Doom is approaching but from where?

Credit to Megan McDowell, as well. Preserving tension, clarity, and author voice while translating is an impressive feat. Continue reading

“Ordinary People”

OP

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Judith Guest’s debut novel, published in 1976 and made into a Best Picture Oscar-winning film. I read a Penguin paperback.

5 out of 5 stars. 

Times Read: At least 5

Seen the MovieMany times. It’s a rare case where movie and book perfectly complement each other.

The Plot:

The Jarretts struggle to accept the loss of their oldest son.

My love for Ordinary People started in a high school English class. I fell in love with the characters, seeing aspects of my family in Conrad, Calvin and Beth. It felt like Guest had taken thoughts from my own mind; things that normally go unspoken in a family and that, as a teenager, I was convinced no one else understood.

Because of my emotional connection, I have a hard time judging Ordinary People critically. Is it written well? I certainly love it. There are passages I stop to read several times before moving on. But I’ve read other Guest novels (The Tarnished Eye, Errands) and disliked her unfocused prose and upper-middle-class angst. Basically, I disliked those novels for exactly what is at the core of Ordinary People. Somehow it works in this one. I don’t have a good answer for why.


Continue reading

“The Haunting of Hill House” (Post 2/2)

Hill House 02

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1

Buy the Book


[24] There are two previous deaths in the driveway of Hill House:

“The last person who tried to leave Hill House in darkness – it was eighteen years ago, I grant you – was killed at the turn of the driveway, where his horse bolted and crushed him against the big tree.”

(p.67)

 

“Hugh Crain’s young wife died (…) when the carriage bringing her here overturned in the driveway.”

(p.75)

[25] Reference:

“You will recall,” the doctor began, “the houses described in Leviticus as ‘leprous,’ tsaraas.

(p.70)

 

Tzaraath describes disfigurative conditions of the skin, hair of the beard and head, clothing made of linen or wool, or stones of homes located in the land of Israel. All variations are mainly referred to in chapters 13-14 of Leviticus.

[26]

“People have to live and die somewhere, after all, and a house can hardly stand for eighty years without seeing some of its inhabitants die within its walls.”

(p.78) Continue reading

“The Haunting of Hill House” (Post 1/2)

Hill House 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2


Shirley Jackson’s 1959 classic; the haunted house tale to top all haunted house tales. I read my Penguin Books paperback.

Buy the Book

 5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: At least 5. 

Seen the Movies: Shamefully, no on Robert Wise’s 1963 version but yes on Jan de Bonts awful 1999 version (though, I’ve got to say Zeta-Jones as Theodora and Lili Taylor as Eleanor was the right instinct with casting. Everything else about the movie fails).

And side note: Neither version of The House on Haunted Hill has anything to do with Jackson’s book. The first film version was released in February 1959, which makes me think Jackson and the creators of the film independently came up with very similar titles…?

The Plot:

A small group, gathered by Dr. Montague, sets out to study the supposedly haunted Hill House.

The Haunting of Hill House is an incredible piece of work. It’s hard to write about without entering pretentious literature-class-discussions but don’t let that keep you away. This is an entertaining book above all, one you can get through in a couple of sittings. Dive as deep as you want into interpretations and symbolism or read it for what it presents on the surface: a fantastic horror story.

The book is almost sixty years old but still reads extremely well. Jackson’s language feels fresh and the humor and jealousies between the characters have hardly aged. There’s sexual tension and subtext flying all over the place and the scenes of terror will unsettle the hell out of you if you’re reading it alone at night. Continue reading