Reading: Southernmost

Southernmost, Silas House, Hardcover, 352pp, June 2018, Algonquin Books

Full Disclosure: I bought Southernmost from my beloved local indie, Curious Iguana [CLICK HERE], because it was blurbed by Garth Greenwell, whose novel, What Belongs To You, remains one of my lifetime favorite books. I did not get a free copy. I do not know the author. I am just a reader devoted to good writing.

Full Disclosure Part 2: To read a novel in which many actions are motivated by anti-LGBTQ bigotry in the current atmosphere when a major political party has embraced legislating hate, bigotry, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia into law is, for me, terrifying. I appreciate some people still think gentle education is the answer and cure, I was once a proponent of said approach myself. Now, however, I believe more and more with every passing day and new despicable action committed by the gop and the illegitimate dictator-wanna-be occupying the white house along with his criminal family and jackbooted cronies, that the only answer is revolution. In addition to which, having suffered the results — physical and emotional — and compromised existence resulting from such prejudice as is being promulgated by these fascist-republicans, I am, perhaps, more impatient than most with the gentle treatment of the bigoted-villains in this story.

Synopsis: A flood destroys a Tennessee town in tandem with the Supreme Court ruling affirming gay marriage equality. Pentecostal preacher, Asher Sharp’s nine-year-old son, Justin, runs toward the dangerous rushing waters in search of his beloved dog, Roscoe, and is rescued — sort of — by Jimmy and Stephen, a gay couple recently relocated from Nashville. When Asher offers shelter to the couple whose home has been destroyed, his rabidly-hypocritically-pious wife objects, worried what the congregation will think. Jimmy and Stephen leave, unwilling to stay where they are unwanted, and Asher begins to be plagued by doubts, further exacerbated by memories of his gay brother Luke’s departure a decade earlier when their mother held a gun to his head saying she’d rather see him dead than gay, and Asher, too, turned against him in cruel, bigoted judgment, twisting religion into hate.

When Jimmy and Stephen try to join Asher’s congregation, its members insist Asher reject them. Asher determines this to be un-christian and cites biblical passages to insist they be welcomed and accepted. When the congregation then votes to oust him as minister, Asher makes an impassioned speech about acceptance which goes viral. He leaves his wife, who sues for and wins sole-custody of Justin thanks to a prejudiced judge and backward court system.

Asher, increasingly disturbed by the abusive brainwashing his son is being subjected to, forcibly removes Justin from his grandmother’s home one weekend, inadvertently injuring her in the struggle, and runs with him to Key West putatively in search of Luke, the brother he’s not seen nor communicated with in a decade. Along the way they rescue a stray dog, who Justin names Shady, who can’t replace Roscoe — whose body Asher found, never telling Justin he had done so — but does give Justin something to take care of, a confidante.

In Key West, Asher and Justin and Shady settle in at a guest house owned by Bell, an older semi-recluse, and begin working there along with Evona, another emotional recluse with a mysterious and sad history. Now and then Asher asks someone if they’ve heard of his brother, and he Vespas the streets of Key West in a magic-realism, less than sincere effort at finding long-gone Luke.

What happens then, what’s happened until then, is a story about the shape and the power of beliefs, the cost of constructing one’s own personal morality and faith-based on experience and heart-truths, disregarding the droning cacophony of “should must right wrong black white yes no” of many traditional, conservative religions; a system of beliefs all too often used to bully, frighten, and control people in ways that grow hate rather than spread love, using faith as a weapon of punishment, terrorism, and division rather than praise, acceptance, and inclusion.

Asher questions his past and contributions to that culture of despair, and the damage such teachings and preachings have done. At the same time, he sees that forcing Justin to live in hiding, removing him from his home and others he loves is also doing damage. Asher struggles with questions of faith and accountability, and, too, the many shapes of love and the lengths to which people will go in the service of that love, lengths and actions that distort that love into an unrecognizable force of destruction and harm.

Well then. Okay. I get it. I do. And here’s what Josh Inocéncio in Spectrum South: The Voice of the Queer South [link to entire review, click here] has to say:

And this is why House’s novel is critical, particularly to southern literature. Written in third person, the story is about a conservative, heterosexual man who must challenge everything he knows to pursue a new sense of what is right.

… and this …

With Southernmost, House brings a much-needed message from a palatable point of view. It’s a novel that every gay southerner should read, and then hastily send to any of their kin still struggling with acceptance.

Palatable point of view? I say, fuck that noise. At this point in history, when our freedoms are daily abrogated, our lives quite literally threatened, all with the approval — nay, the cheering on — of a major political party and 62 million bigot-voters — for an LGBTQ writer to approach a story from the point of view of a cis-white-male-hetero-villain’s perspective in an attempt to mollycoddle the bigoted into considering behaving like decent human beings is nothing less than Uncle Tomism, or, I think we’ll call it Uncle Bruce-ism.


I think we’ve had quite enough stories told from the point of view of straight white men. And when man-of-so-called-god Asher suffers pangs of conscience ten years after calling his brother a faggot and disowning him, and then has his life inconvenienced for taking baby-steps toward decency, steps mostly self-serving and ill-conceived, none of which constitute actually DOING anything to undo the damage his actions and preaching have done throughout the years, well, you’ll have to excuse me if I am less than sympathetic.

Like the brother he finally finds who says that none of what Asher did can be undone, I agree. And so, this isn’t me saying the book is poorly written — that’s not the case at all. It moves quickly, speaks in evocative, simple language and Southern-patois with the ring of authenticity, and despite some diminishment of action into cliché and, too, a nine-year-old who is described as an old-soul but who is prescient and empathetic beyond belief, the novel is quite readable.

But, it’s a Lifetime-movie in a time when we need a Tony Kushner play. It is appeasement when we need to storm the barricades, and as such — for me, at least — it, in part, excuses the inexcusable and unforgivable behaviors and attitudes of the haters, without the hater-in-chief main character doing anything other than feeling a little bad about what he’s done. And, in the meantime, managing to hurt his son, his mother-in-law, his brother, and his fellow runaway, Evona, in the process. Typical. The angst and suffering of the cis-het-white-man infects and damages everyone with whom he comes in contact.

Enough. Too much. Rabbit has run one too many times, and Portnoy’s complaints are just privileged whining, and everything Franzen induces furious-gag-reflex now. So, out with the perspective of the oppressors, please.

And, one more time, fuck that noise.



Reading and Writhing; Things Fall Apart

In this post I discuss The Pisces by Melissa Broder, and Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton. But mostly, I talk about myself and my place (or lack thereof) in the world today.

If you want JUST the book talk, skip down to the red headlines and book-jacket photos below. It won’t hurt my feelings. I get it. I’m not always in the mood for 800 words of someone’s personal journey either.

Trigger Warning: This reading recap is more personal than most of my book musings. I find it increasingly difficult to suspend my disbelief when daily life is more implausible and unthinkable than any fiction could be, and as the balance of vileness versus decency tilts ever more toward the despicable, it’s difficult for me to see or write anything through any lens other than that of my horror at the wretched, stinking, sleazy, vulgar bigotry and hatred being promulgated by 45 and his jackbooted supporters, they who are the creations of the last fifty or so years of republican strategy to assure that hetero-cis-white-men maintain power and keep the rest of us in subjugation.

So, there. That. I don’t apologize for my rage. I apologize for having quieted my rage through the decades when I saw this coming, experienced it in micro-ways day after day, but allowed myself to be cowed into silence and complacency by those with more power and privilege scolding me for my over-reactions and paranoia.

To all those who insisted things weren’t that bad, I told you so. I wish saying that made me feel better, but, somehow, the threat of my human rights being further abrogated and children being torn from their parents and sold from concentration camps to adoption racketeers undoes any satisfaction having been right all along gives me.

Satisfaction on any front is difficult to come by lately. Things. Fall. Apart. The center does not hold. The best lack conviction and the worst are full of passion without mercy.

So, why am I reading? Why am I not constantly marching? Protesting? Resisting? Good question, and one with which I have been struggling since November 2016 when the russians installed this criminal family.

If you area regular reader of this blog you know events of November 2016 caused me to spiral into a depression so extreme that after many years resisting medication, I began taking bupropion, the result of which was relief from the dysthymic disorder I had been suffering for decades. I’d had no idea just how depressed I was, it having been a slow, creeping invasion of sorrow consuming more and more of who I was, my thoughts, my energy, but in such small increments I didn’t know the fullness of it. I thought I was a naturally melancholy person. I was not. It was an illness and it was kicked over the edge into manic depression with suicidal ideation by the horrors of November 2016.

So, ironically, in what is easily the ugliest era politically and for humanity in my lifetime, I am more balanced and able to reason and cope than ever I have been. I no longer feel responsible for the entire world because I have come to understand the world does not revolve around me. I rarely ever become angry with anyone for their actions or words because I only spend time and love with people who I trust are coming from a place of love and light, whatever they do, even if it seems to me at first glance to be hurtful. And, equally important, they offer me the same grace. It is as powerful a medicine as the bupropion, after far too long spending time with people who were always finding me coming up short, a disappointment to them, not fulfilling the role they’d written for me, this blessing of knowing I have a tight-knit circle of loved ones amongst whom there is no need for forgiveness because we don’t judge in the first place. We believe in and see the light in one another.

It is incredibly liberating to let go of feeling as if everything you do, think, or say might be misconstrued, might be used against you as evidence you are less than, flawed, wrong.

It has also changed my behavior. I no longer do things I don’t want to do. I don’t do things because I fear someone will become angry with me if I don’t go to their party, or begrudge me my introvert-preference to stay in with a good book.

A good book. There’s the key. Because this new me doesn’t feel obligated to finish every book I start. This new me doesn’t think he has to agree with the literati’s opinion of a book. This new me reads what I want, as I want, and write about it only if it in some way pleases me, or, in some cases, brings to my attention something I feel like sharing. Which is the case with this post, which, since last I talked about a book, I have finished reading two and cast aside two more after 35 and 50 pages. Here are the ones I finished.

The Pisces, Melissa Broder, Hardcover, 270pp, May 2018, Hogarth Press

Okay, up front I say, if you are going to kill a dog in a novel I want a trigger warning on the cover. And if the death is going to be result of neglect and/or abuse, I am not going to read the book.

No one warned me about The Pisces, so, I’m doing a public service and warning you.

I suppose it only fair to tell you I spend a great deal of my time dog-sitting, so, reading about someone who is dog-sitting and finds it okay to not walk the dog when it needs to be walked, lock it in a pantry and tranquilize it so she can get it on with a merman — look, you don’t do that. You don’t bring strangers into someone’s home AND YOU DON’T TREAT A DOG BADLY.

And what is it with everyone falling in love with fish lately?

Anyway, that said, there were some really lovely lines in this novel and it was sometimes funny and here and there touching, insightful about loneliness and lust and longing and self-delusions, so, had it not featured dog-abuse, I think I would have very much liked it. But, as a wise woman in publishing once said to me; “Life is too short and ugly enough. I implore you, if a book has an ugliness that makes you miserable, stop reading it.”

So, despite lines like:

I heard myself talking to the dog, and it reminded me that I existed. Existence always looked like something other than I thought it would.

And this, when the main character is trying to get drugs for the UTI she’s gotten from merman-sex, she tells the doctor that she and her husband have been having a lot more sex lately in order to conceive a child. Then this, from the doctor:

‘Any chance that he could have been exposed to any sexually transmitted diseases?’

Was she implying that my fictitious husband was unfaithful? How dare she!

‘Absolutely not.’

I did laugh out loud there, but it was only page 97, before I began suspecting the dog was going to meet a bad end. And, like I said, despite lines like that and some exquisite passages about aching loneliness — and some very uncomfortable passages about longing for someone because they don’t want you — there was not one truly likeable character in the entire book; they were all, to one degree or another, horrible, mean, selfish, unkind people. So, wish I hadn’t read this book.

If you’re okay with dogs dying from neglect, go for it. Also, never get anywhere near me.

Social Creature, Tara Isabella Burton, Hardcover, 273pp, June 2018, Doubleday

Dear literati-lords, please, I beg you, stop comparing novels to Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. And for good (bad) measure, these blurbs threw in Edith Wharton, Bret Easton Ellis, and Donna Tartt. Now there is a goulash certain to have at least one ingredient to turn everyone off.

Again — and these things seem to come in bunches — there is not one pleasant character in the entire novel. They range from being emotionally dishonest to committing murder.

It’s very fast. I read it in a day. But, honestly, when we already have an illegitimate president who is utterly lacking in any redeeming qualities, who surrounds himself with equally contemptible sleazeballs, I seriously don’t need that kind of repellent goings-on in the things I’m reading to escape the real world.

I suppose I ought be grateful no dogs were murdered. Better to kill off haughty, unkind, wealthy socialites and their milquetoast, obsessed devotees.

So, there it is. I’ve seven more library books stacked by my bed, waiting for me to dive in. All I can say is, nice it up people. Life is full-to-overflowing with assholes as it is, let’s not revolve novels around them.

And on that note, here I am, going.



Reading: Heartseeker: Truth or Despair

Heartseeker, Melinda Beatty, Hardcover, 336pp, June 2018, G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Full Disclosure: I know Melinda Beatty. I know her because she is a bookseller at my glorious local indie, The Curious Iguana. We have never spent time together outside that context: book lover who sells (and writes) books and book lover who buys (and writes about) books. And, to be clear, I bought my copy of Heartseeker. Gladly. I will likely buy a few more for relatives and friends.

I’ve been lamenting of late the lack of books with electric plotting, memorable characters, and artful prose, the kind of books that grab hold of you, pull you into their universe, and stay with you for more than five minutes after you’ve finished them.

Problem solved.

Melinda Beatty’s debut (DEBUT!) novel, Heartseeker, checks all of those boxes and more.

Only Fallow, six years old, lives in small, simple Presston, youngest of three in a family whose father’s cider is favored by King Alphonse, bringing jealous attention to Only and her brothers, Ether and Jon. Feeling like an outcast, Only is drawn to Lark and Rowan, two children of the Ordish, the traveling folk rumored to have gifts of cunning and magic, who help Only’s father each season with the harvest and are much looked down upon, distrusted, and discriminated against by the subjects of King Alphonse, whose agents have been kidnapping Ordish children, using them as slaves until their relatives can raise the ransom for their return. Only feels especially akin to the Ordish when she discovers, with the help of her grandmother, Non, that she has a cunning of her own: she can see lies. Too, her gift comes with a price: if she herself lies, she is stricken by great pain, a seizure-like blacking out. Non advises Only to keep her gift hidden, but through twisted-misadventure, rumor of Only’s abilities reach the King, who believes such an ability to discover liars will help him save his kingdom which is in disarray. But truth being told and liars being revealed are the last things some in the kingdom want to happen, and they attempt to stop Only from taking her place at court in the enormous city of Bellskeep, a role she has only agreed to in order to save her family.

I am rat-rotten at synopses, but that’s a rough-ish outline of 336 pages chockful of adventure, plot, surprises, and fascinations. Melinda Beatty clearly has a cunning, herself. She has built a world utterly unique and wonderfully believable. Her introduction of its specific vocabulary, traditions, belief systems, and social structures is seamlessly, skillfully done by using context and dialogue. There is no pedantic, dull-as-dirt back-story-ing to interrupt the action, the world is made and the characters come to life through the telling of the story.

And what a story! Only Fallow is a likeable, trustworthy narrator and you want to go with her, warn her, stop her, help her, urge her on, hug her, protect her. Her Ordish pals, Lark and Rowan are also attention-grabbing and vitally alive, worthy of their own tales. The there’s the court intrigue. And the love story Only’s brother Jon is one half of (I don’t want to give any more away than I already have). And grandmother, Non, I can’t wait to spend more time with her.

Heartseeker, labeled Middle Grade, is also wildly enjoyable for adults. Enjoyable as in: remember that feeling you had as a child when you discovered Harriet The Spy, or Little Women, or Portnoy’s Complaint (I was a very precocious child)? Heartseeker draws you in with that same entirely other yet also totally familiar world, as in, it’s clearly outside your day-to-day reality, but the emotions and behaviors are on-point, from the heart, as if the author had culled her story from inside your head and dreams.

Melinda Beatty has that cunning of gifted authors who can fabricate riveting, riotously readable tales that elucidate real-life emotions and experiences.

I eagerly await volumes 2 and 3. And, in fact, anything else Melinda Beatty writes. I suspect she will be too busy soon inventing other worlds to sell me any more books, but that’s okay, she’ll be selling lots and lots of books in a new and exciting way by sharing her work with the world.


Reading: 3 Novels (and writers) to Enjoy

In this post I will be discussing Susan Elia MacNeal’s THE QUEEN’S ACCOMPLICE; Mariah Fredericks’ A DEATH OF NO IMPORTANCE; and Allison Pearson’s HOW HARD CAN IT BE?

Before I get to the book-talk, one of my usual pre-ambles. I promise this one will be briefer than the last, but I warn you, it is what some would consider political in nature, while, to me, it is not about politics, rather, it is about the criminals and bigots who are taking over the world.

I know it’s the thing now to bash social media, and it does most definitely deserve much bashing for the role it played in the thieving of the 2016 election and installation of the illegitimate and criminal 45 and his gop-jackbooted-cronies, those usurpers of the SCOTUS seat which ought to have gone to President Obama’s nominee, Merrick B. Garland, who the treasonous lot of rot-sucking no-good goppers, in an unprecedented move, wouldn’t even bring to the floor for consideration thus taking their evil to new heights — but I digress. Yes, Facebook (which I quit five+ years ago) and Twitter are in some part responsible for the decline of civility, the epidemic of tribalism, and targeted-marketed-brainwashing, BUT . . . it is because of Twitter and the Literary crowd who hang there that I have discovered some of my favorite reads and authors. And people.

All three reads in this post are the direct result of Twitter connections, friends, and recommendations; so, even though I have cut WAY back on Twitter, I just can’t give it up and risk missing reads like these.

The Queen’s Accomplice, Susan Elia MacNeal, Paperback, 368pp, October 2016, Bantam

How do I love Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope Mysteries? I would say “let me count the ways” but I have never been good at math and the list would reach numbers with which I am unfamiliar.

In this, the sixth of the adventures, a lunatic serial killer — or, as Maggie’s misogynistic co-investigator, Detective Chief Inspector James Durgin of Scotland Yard insists, sequential murderer — is copycatting Jack the Ripper’s brutalities, especially targeting those women who have been recruited to work as Winston Churchill’s spies, like Maggie herself.

And in 1942, as has always been the case during the horrific war, change and danger always await our heroine. Early on she is surprised by friends with the repair of what had been her grandmother’s home, damaged by blitz bombs. In no time, the same night as the surprise party in fact, Maggie’s dear friend, Chuck and her infant Griffin are moved in, having narrowly escaped being blown to bits by a gas explosion in their residence.

Meanwhile, Maggie’s half-sister, Elise Hess, is being tortured in a Nazi camp, having been captured working for the resistance. Near death, she is mysteriously released thanks to the influence of her conductor father, but there is a price to be paid if she wishes to remain free; she must denounce a patron of the resistance or be returned to the camp, and if she disappears, her fellow prisoners of whom she has grown fond will be murdered.

And, too, the mother of Elise and Maggie, the famous opera star and more infamous Nazi collaborator, Clara Hess, is, perhaps, not as dead as originally thought? And Maggie’s father is in hospital, having lost his …

I’m not giving you any more information. I want you to enjoy the layering of characters and situations, the intricate and ingenious weaving of plotlines, all expertly juggled by Susan Elia MacNeal, whose cunning disposition of storylines is also full of period detail and historical information, fascinating facts and particulars that enrich without distracting. Susan Elia MacNeal is one of those writers whose words create a film in the reader’s mind: You can see EVERYTHING she writes about so clearly, the characters are alive, the locations close enough to touch. She takes you there, into a very specific time and place, peopled by well-developed, wholly human, believable people.

Especially notable in this, number six in the series, the parallels with now. Maggie is assaulted — physically and socially/culturally/verbally — repeatedly by sexism and misogyny, there are men in power, with power, who are actively horrible, and, even worse (and still, so so so common), men who have no idea they are being horrible, who think it is their right to belittle others — women, in particular — and believe them to be less than. As horrifying as it is that seventy-five years later women are still dealing with this crap, it is absolutely terrifying that the methods and behaviors and words of the Nazis are being so closely recreated in the world now, especially here in the United States, where a wannabe oligarch/dictator has been illegally installed in an office not rightfully his, and has gone about destroying what makes this country this country, with collaborators everywhere.

So, while The Queen’s Accomplice is even better than the previous installments; unlike some series, in this one, each installment gets better rather than weaker, there is NEVER anything thrown-away/by rote in Susan Elia MacNeal’s writing. In addition to which, her writing is extremely entertaining, distracting even, it is also a warning about what we ought be resisting daily so as to avoid a repeat of the goings on making it necessary for Maggie Hope to undo these mysteries, and work undercover to sabotage the bad men’s plans about which Susan Elia MacNeal so skillfully writes.

I can’t wait to read number 7, The Paris Spy, which I have, and which I am, as I did with this, delaying until the next is released, which will happen on August 7. Yes, number 8, The Prisoner In The Castle, comes out this summer. Speaking of coming out, I worry that Maggie’s gay friend, David, will be outed and treated in the horrifying way gay people were then. But, I trust Maggie will handle that and protect him, as I trust Susan Elia MacNeal with my reader’s heart.

If you have not started reading Maggie, do. Go on, get busy.

A Death of No Importance, Mariah Fredericks, Hardcover, 288pp, April 2018, Minotaur Books

I read this because Susan Elia MacNeal blurbed the front cover calling the novel suspenseful and complex, and, as I’ve said, I trust her.

I wasn’t disappointed.

This is the first in a series of mysteries to feature the lady’s maid, Jane Prescott. It deals with the upper crust of society in New York City, 1910, and has wastrel, wild playboys, nouveau riche social climbers, anarchists, and a plethora of fascinating characters involved in a carefully plotted tale, rich in historical points, a vivid picture of a changing culture and a rip-roaring mystery. I might have figured it out before the ending, but I read a lot of mysteries. I’ll read a lot (I hope) of Jane Prescott tales, because, like Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope, Jane Prescott is a character you like, with whom you’re comfortable, who is often better than her surroundings and culture allow her to be, and you want her to win. And you want more of her. Wonderful character debut.

And, last but certainly not least, a novel which is not technically a mystery but, one could call it a comic/social issue thriller. My connection to this is that it was edited by the incomparable Hope Dellon who brings us Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series, and M.C.Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series, to both of which I am devoted. This is a sequel (of sorts) by Allison Pearson to her earlier novel, I Don’t Know How She Does It. This one:

How Hard Can It Be, Allison Pearson, Hardcover, 352pp, June 2018, St. Martin’s Press

This is the second novel about Kate Reddy, whose aging children and out-of-a-job, self-help guru-wannabe-in-training husband necessitate a return to the workforce after an extended absence during which she raised a family and turned forty-nine, an age not much in demand — one might even say shunned — in the workforce. Kate fudges her age and her resumé and ends up being hired on a temporary basis by the very same hedge fund she set up years earlier — unbeknownst to those now in charge.

This very, very funny novel hits on so many hot-button growing older, getting through adulthood experiences: the morphing body staring at you from the mirror when yesterday you were tight and twenty; the skin which is now crepe-papery and surrendering to gravity’s pull; the kids from one side pulling at you with their growing up pains and the parents pulling at your from the other with their growing old pains and you, in the middle, with everyone else’s pain to deal with leaving you little time to take care of your own, let alone the misbehaving spouse who is a different person than the one you married, and, maybe, the new version is a not very pleasant sort.

Kate has all of that with which to deal, plus a dilapidated “new” old home in the suburbs which her husband didn’t want in the first place, and the new job where she needs to maintain her semi-false identity and navigate the office politics, which, years later, are still rife with misogyny and backstabbing and credit-grabbing, and add to this list the onset of menopause, her own body tripping her up as she struggles through a return to the workplace and the changing shape of her family and relationships. And herself.

Oh, and then her long-absent near-lover with whom she is lustfully enamored, and who returns the feeling, shows up again.

Allison Pearson has a wicked sense of humour, and a finger (or, more-like, a fist) on the pulse of the Zeitgeist, and delivers a novel both breezily easy to read and recognizably, relatably today in its heroine’s concerns and conflict between her own needs and the demands of those around her/the world, as well as that universal conflict between how we see and think of ourselves versus the box into which the world and culture wants us to fit.

Funny, and without giving anything away, a happy,triumphant resolution — so,good on you Kate. And good on Allison Pearson for giving us a heroine whose humanity includes admitting and owning her flaws and errors with a sense of humour. I wish I were more like her.

So, there it is, my second book post in as many days after a month away. And, just like I had a Twitter connection with all three of these, coming next both a Twitter (two connections there, actually) and personal connection — a fantastic new Y.A. novel, first in an exciting new series by debut novelist Melinda Beatty, Heartseeker. I started yesterday and were I not struggling with the aging, fall-asleep-in-a-chair issue myself, I’d have finished it last night.

Now, off I go. It’s father’s day and so I need to take my dear mom out to lunch and give her the “you raised us alone so you get a father’s day gift, too” card/present. It’s a gift card to Boscov’s because a person can NEVER have too many blouses and earrings. I know this because my mom told me so.

So, here I am, going.

READING: So Little Time, and Less Patience

P.S. TO BEGIN — I started this post more than two weeks ago and have had difficulty motivating myself to finish, or, even, to middle. The world is in such a disastrous, hateful muddle at the moment that doing ANYTHING other than trying to right all the wrongs being committed seems frivolous. But, we must not let the bastards win by losing all of our joy while resisting. So, I’m finishing this damn thing. And now — to the ORIGINAL intro —

I’m not reading less, but I am remembering and writing about reading less, which I’m going to spend a few hundred words explaining. Feel free to skip right down the page to the red headlines which mark the start of my book talk.

There are quite a few books from April and May about which I have not written. About which — some of them — I’m not going to write. Here’s why.

Twice in recent weeks I have lost my phone. Not seriously, just two of those brief, five-minute or so episodes which each seemed an eternity. Once, I’d misplaced it, or, rather,  left it on the seat in the car, and another time it had fallen out of my pocket down beside a chair cushion.

More disturbing than the loss was my reaction; my immediate response to both losses was to think, “I need to call D—— [my sister], and get her to call my phone so I can find it. Of course, I didn’t have my phone so I couldn’t use my phone to find my phone, at which point I seriously contemplated the benefits of getting a back-up burner phone in case my primary phone was lost.

Seriously. Seriously?

After which over-reaction akin to the time years ago when I panicked because I didn’t have two bottles of wine in the house for the evening and realized I might have a problem, I determined it was time for some serious self-inventorying and examination of how I was spending my time and on what I was spending my energy and attention.

Aside from the clear indication I am reading too many thriller/mystery novels in which burner phones play a role, here’s what I came up with: My memory is not what it was. I misplace keys, walk out of a room to get something and forget what it was by the time I get where I thought I was going, names and words are just out of reach, lost in the maze of all the roiling memories and worries occupying brain-space, and fewer and fewer books are bringing me the joy most books once brought. I have been abandoning more and more books at the 50 page mark, too, finding the characters all seem alike, difficult to keep track of, the stories less interesting, rarely fresh, the voices too MFA-ed into alike-ness, and the writing and structure all too formulaic, calculated, and lacking emotional heft.

And, even with those I finish, as it is with my phone and keys and people’s names, I find that in a few days I can’t remember them. For example, someone was talking to me about a book which sounded just wonderful, and when I went to look it up, there it was on my Goodreads list; I’d read it three weeks before and didn’t remember a thing about it.

So, here I am, going to write about only those books that imprint enough on me to last at least until I get around to blogging. Not in this to hurt anyone’s feelings, so I won’t be listing those books I don’t finish or which don’t do much for me. One very good reason: taste in literature is so dependent on life-experience and mood and current circumstance, some very good books don’t move me, and some books others might find a complete waste of time, keep me good company. So, I’m sharing the ones I most appreciate, and allowing that those I don’t are not necessarily “bad books” — but, rather, like most of the men in the world, I’m just not a match for them.


Speak No Evil, Uzodinma Iweala, Hardcover, 215pp, March 2018, Harper

If you have reached your quota of LGBTQ coming out tales and tragic endings at the hand of a bigoted, homophobic, racist culture…TOUGH. Read Speak No Evil anyway because its voice (Well, voices, more later on that.) speaks from a heart/soul-truth while describing a journey and experience all too familiar in impact if not specifics for too, too, too many queer and black people.

Niru is the son of Nigerian parents who hold extreme religious beliefs. His privileged life in Washington, D.C. is interrupted after he finds the courage to come out to his best friend, Meredith, when she initiates sexual moves. Soon after, Meredith installs Grindr on Niru’s phone, but when his father discovers sexually explicit messages on Niru’s phone he explodes his life, forcing him to return to Nigeria — a country where homosexuality is against the law and punishable by fourteen years in prison or death by stoning — for a religion-based cure.

Niru is torn between the truth of who he is and the propaganda with which he’s been brainwashed, as well as his desire to please the parents he loves and live up to the example set by his much praised and adored older brother. Even his excelling at track and early admission acceptance to Harvard is not enough, he knows, to protect him from his parents’ and the world’s homophobia, and the culture’s inherent racism.

Late in the book Niru’s narration ceases and Meredith takes over and what seemed at first another coming of age novel/Bildungsroman becomes a tragedy in a twist that seems not one-hundred-percent earned, or, rather, somehow out of place, as if we are now in a different book than that which we started.

Both would be worth reading, and the topics of homophobia and racism and privilege and religious terrorism are more than in need of literary/artistic illumination but as much as I liked this novel, it wasn’t quite. As in, it seems to be pieces of what might have been different, better novels, finally cobbled together in a way that doesn’t do any of its threads the justice they deserve.

Still, read it. Because it matters.

Some Hell, Patrick Nathan, Paperback, 288pp, February 2018, Graywolf Press

Okay, I hear you, another LGBTQ coming of age novel? Yep. Listen, for centuries we’ve had to — for the most part, in America at least — read about the world from the perspective of the white heterosexual male, they who — for the most part — made up the canon, were embraced by the critics and academics, heralded as the touchstones and benchmarks of literary fiction. Well, Holden Caulfield did nothing for me. Updike and Roth, not interested. Jonathan Franzen, overrated and myopically self-involved. No. As a young queer, I suffered fear each time I heard the sneered put-downs of Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams because they were that way; I knew I too was that way and was terrified someone would point it out. It wasn’t really spoken about openly by Capote and Williams, and they didn’t — for the most part — include it in their work, and they (and most of the other examples of that way I had then) were clearly miserable human beings, unhappy, addicted, outliers and freaks, but they were allowed to be homos at all only because they also owned artistic genius, which I, as a child (and now, as an adult) clearly did not, so my being that way was not going to be okay with anyone, anywhere as far as I could see or tell. My only option was to work on being a genius, and escape to New York or Hollywood where they seemed to be a club of outcasts to which I could — were I genius enough — belong.

Point being, there can’t be too many LGBTQ books as long as there are still places and people in the world who either live in the same kind of fear and loneliness I did, and/or are subjected to the bigotry of others who would have LGBTQ people return to those closeted, hunted, haunted times. You know, like 45 and his gop minions and moronic supporters?

Now, Some Hell is definitely NOT a feel-good book. Sex, suicide, dysfunctional, dissolving families, despairing survivors, and a search for self which leads to dark, dangerous misadventure and sorrow fill the pages. But the writing is searingly honest, etching difficult emotional truths on the heart and mind of the reader.

Colin’s father has killed himself, for which Colin feels responsible, and he is working his way through the notebook/journals his father kept in the office where he shot himself. Too, young Colin is in love with his best friend, who, after something sexual happens between them, distances himself. This passage:

When he passed Andy in the halls, love was the word for the hurt flowering inside him. Naming it made it grow, and to go with his hell he now had a heaven where he and Andy had not parted but admitted to one another what they had, what they could be, and despite his shame he refused not to reimagine that night, not to rewrite it how he wanted. It felt even more real than his hell as it burst all over his chest and dried sweetly in a handful of Kleenex.

That’s poetry made of tragedy and just one example of the intensely beautiful languaging in which Patrick Nathan tells this heartbreaking story. Why read something so difficult? Because, sadly, the impact and shape of the passions and spiritual perturbations in the story — if not the specific details — are part of what form many gay lives, many of all kinds of lives, perhaps yours, and to read it will give you the gift of knowing you are not alone.

I next read Noir, by Christopher Moore, and I’m not going to say a lot about it except that while it started off feeling clever and parodic, it ended up feeling like someone had taken one of those flashes of ideas for a glorious story which eventually show themselves to be not so flashy or glorious after all, and gone ahead and written the book anyway, letting it out into the world with a sort of “meh, it isn’t what I meant it to be but here it is.”

The Only Story, Julian Barnes, Hardcover, 253pp, April 2018, Knopf Publishing Group

The Only Story falls into the category of The Graduate, Summer of 42, the older woman – younger man stories, but is darker, elegiac but in a cynical, cold, near heartless way. This, when years after their first joining as accidental tennis partners and purposeful lovers, Paul visits Susan, now near her end:

…I think I am now probably done with guilt. But the rest of my life, such as it was, and subsequently would be, was calling me back. So I stood up and looked at Susan one last time; no tear came to my eye. On my way out I stopped at reception and asked where the nearest petrol station might be. The man was very helpful.

Sorry to be misandrist, but that’s the sort of thing men feel and write and do. And reading it — albeit it’s the last paragraph, so, took me long enough — made me realize just what it was about this novel I disliked. Older man/younger woman, not even worth much of a nod, let alone an entire novel, let alone a novel imbued with a feckless misanthropy and emotional ennui, Paul having learned little but how not to feel much, worried instead about running out of gas.

And, perhaps that is Mr. Barnes point, but a hellish nasty point and attitude it is. It isn’t as if he hasn’t warned us all the way through:

That’s one of the things about life. We’re all just looking for a place of safety. And if you don’t find one, then you have to learn how to pass the time.

Let alone I take issue with the way the above is punctuated, I take more issue with the jadedness of it.

I’m finishing this post with

My Ex-Life, Stephen McCauley, Hardcover, 324pp, May 2018, Flatiron Books

Reading Stephen McCauley is like hanging out with that friend who not only has the best stories, but also tells them in the most fascinating, entertaining way, with a unique perspective, who, also, manages in the telling to articulate and illuminate things in that way that makes you say, “Yes! That’s exactly what I always felt but didn’t know how to say it!”

It is a fiction of recognition. And it is great fun. Well done. And you know from the start that the conclusion is going to be uplifting, as in, not one damn more tragic ending please.

In San Francisco, David has been deserted by his younger boyfriend for a bigger bank account and his rented home is about to be sold which will leave him homeless and loverless. His ex-life calls in the shape of Julia, his long-ago, brief wife, now mid-divorce, also in danger of losing her home and, one way or another, her daughter Mandy — yes, after the Barry Manilow song. She needs his help. He needs to get away. They come together in a new way, find closure for the old way, and they and those around them find new ways of defining family, friendship, loyalty, and trust.

It’s a great premise, and Stephen McCauley is a lovingly empathetic cultural critic who writes hilariously insightful dialogue. Now, I can hear some of you saying, “Pull a quote.” And, I would, but the humour and wit and insight are so woven into the context that to pull-quote it is reductive and does it a disservice. You know I never lie to you, so, trust me, this book is full of grins, giggles, a couple of guffaws, and genuine “gotchas” at the world’s foolishness, greed, cruelty, and — you get the picture. Now, get the book.

I smiled all the way through this book, and in this day and time, smiling for any reason is a huge bonus. Get this one. Hold it close. Let it give you a literary hug.

Then, GET BACK OUT THERE AND RESIST! Which is, where, here I am, going.

(Coming very soon, another post about Mariah Fredericks’ first in a series (to which I am much looking forward) novel, A DEATH OF NO IMPORTANCE; and Susan Elia MacNeal’s 6th in the Maggie Hope Mystery series (which I very much LOVE), THE QUEEN’S ACCOMPLICE; and Allison Pearson’s follow-up to I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT (which I never read) called HOW HARD CAN IT BE?, which was quite a balm. Stay tuned. Non-spoiler alert — all 3 were kickass good.