Adams, Alice. The Stories of Alice Adams. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.
Reason read: June is Short Story Month.
The first time I read a collection of Alice Adams’s short stories (After You’ve Gone) I noticed similarities that soon became redundancies throughout the stories. The same is true of The Stories of Alice Adams. Virginia, San Francisco, Maine,the Carolinas, and Mexico are popular places for her characters to either live or vacation. Lawyers, artists, and writers are popular occupations for her characters. Old wealth is especially favored. Adultery, money issues, and other marital woes always seem to be in the mix from story to story. In other words, a word of caution: these stories are best consumed intermittently. Like After You’ve Gone I could not read more than one story at a time.
Lots of quotes to quote but here are two I liked, “She was simply enraged at the sea for knocking her down” (p 54) and “Adolescent memories are not only the most recent and thus the most available. They are also the least subtle, the simplest” (p 75).
Author fact: Adams was born in Virginia, raised in North Carolina, and lived in San Francisco. Sound familiar? Proof you write about what you know.
Book trivia: There are a total of 53 short stories in The Stories of Alice Adams. Two stories are mentioned more than once in the Book Lust Challenge and there are eight that I can skip because I already read them in After You’ve Gone.
Nancy said: Nancy said there was an “excellent cross section of her short works in Stories. (Book Lust, p 1).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the very first chapter called “A…My Name is Alice” (p 1).
Adams, Alice. “Verlie I Say Unto You.” The Stories of Alice Adams. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.
Reason read: June is short story month.
My first reaction to “Verlie” is to comment on the blindness of the privileged. Verlie is a maid in Todd family’s home. When news of Verlie’s husband’s death reaches the Todd household no one is sure how to tell Verlie. Their naive expectation of her reaction is one of grief. Never mind the fact Verlie and Horace haven’t seen each other in years. They can’t understand why she smiles at the news. It’s obvious they don’t know their employee even though she has been with them “forever.”
Author fact: Alice’s mother was also a writer, just not as accomplished as Alice.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Good Things Come in Small Packages” (p 102).
Redhill, Michael. Martin Sloane. Back Bay Books, 2002. http://archive.org/martinsloanenove00redh
Redhill, Michael. Martin Sloane. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2001.
Reason read: May is known as missing child month in some parts of the world. Choosing this book for recognition of missing child month was a little tongue in cheek because it’s actually an adult who goes missing, but his childhood plays a big part of the story. In a way, he has been missing since childhood.
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself. I love that song.) I had to feel sorry for Jolene. At the tender age of 19 she becomes a pen pal to a man 35 years her senior. At 21 she becomes his lover and loses her virginity to him. Think about that for a second. He’s old enough to be her father. She dedicates her young life to a man 35 years older than her, teaching him how to drive and caring for him like a husband, all because she fell in love with his artistry at first sight. Little object-filled boxes of life. His life. They intrigued her, then captivated her.
Irish born artist, Martin Samuel Joseph Sloane is a conundrum. When he suddenly leaves his and Jolene’s home in the middle of the night, Jolene is left with his little boxes and a million questions. What follows is a quest for love. The themes of loss and forgiveness are unmistakable but what bubbles to the surface in the end is maturation and grace.
Quotes to catch my attention (and there were a lot of them to chose from), “I’d had my share of exquisite humiliations before, but never with someone I actually liked (p 27), “And we continued to learn the other like explorers expanding their maps of the known world” (p 34), “I learned to live with this spectacle of concealment” (p 52), and my favorite, “Love provokes all kinds of behaviour and in retrospect it all seems warranted: you have to allow for passions” (p 93).
As an aside: I think I have said it before, but I like it when a book introduces me to new music. This time it’s new old music, “When Day is Done.” I found a really sultry version sung by Clint Walker on YouTube.
Another aside: I had never been to Watkin’s Glen, New York before meeting my husband. Redhill inserts a minor character from Watkin’s Glen living in Ireland.
Author fact: Redhill wrote many other novels, some under the pseudonym Inger Ash Wolfe, but I only read Martin Sloane for the Challenge.
Book trivia: Martin Sloane is Redhill’s first novel and it nominated for the Giller Prize.
Nancy said: Pearl called Redhill’s book Michael Sloane instead of Martin Sloane. It’s indexed that way as well.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Maiden Voyages” (p ).
Shields, Carol and Blanche Howard. A Celibate Season. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.
Reason read: April is National Letter Writing month…or so they say.
In a nutshell, a couple is separated by a wife’s internship. The husband stays behind to care for the home life. Together, they decide to handle their separation with minimal phone calls and visits, choosing to communicate primarily through handwritten letters. In truth, I had a love-hate relationship with A Celibate Season. On the one hand, I am a big fan of the epistolary technique. I like the subtle voyeurism of reading someone’s mail, especially strangers. I also found it interesting that what remained impossible for the characters to disclose to one another went into an unsent letter, thus keeping with a true epistolary technique. What I didn’t appreciate was the obvious breakdown of the marriage very early in the exchange of letters. I hated to see it coming that soon. Was it obvious to anyone else when Chas starts moving furniture around as soon as Jock is gone? Or when both of them start criticizing the people (strangers to each other) in each other’s lives? Does Jock bait Chas by mentioning her boss’s inappropriate comments? Or does Chas poke at Jock by admitting the cleaning lady disliked Jock’s kitchen curtains enough to remove them? Before page 50 I predicted Jock would have an affair with Austin and Chas would sleep with Sue. Ugh.
Probably the most realistic argument Chas & Jock have is about money. Chas is an unemployed architect, taking care of their two children while Jock is the money maker. Chas can’t pay the furnace repair bill while Jock frets about needing a new dress for a House of Commons reception.
One last gripe – I don’t think quoting long conversations verbatim is realistic in a letter.
Note to self: stop reading the “Questions for Discussion” section of books before finishing the book itself. I was disappointed by the question about Chas and Jock’s marriage, “Has the “celibate season” made it weaker or stronger?” That to me implies a non-ending ending; one of those ambiguous yet ubiquitous, it’s-up-to-the-reader endings. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.
Book trivia: A Celibate Season was a play before it was published as a novel.
Carol Shields – Shields died in 2003.
Blanche Howard – Howard went on to write a memoir of her friendship with Shields in 2007.
Nancy said: not a lot. She just said A Celibate Season is a good epistolary to read, if you like the technique.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the intriguing chapter called “Epistolary Novels: Take a Letter” (p 80).
Lethem, Jonathan. As She Climbed Across the Table. Read by David Aaron Baker. Maryland: Books on Tape, 2007.
Reason read: February is Lethem’s birth month.
I love Jonathan Lethem’s voice. The style he writes in is so casual, so sly you feel like you need to reread the words to make sure you haven’t missed something important or at least clever. As She Climbed Across the Table is told from the perspective of Anthropology professor Philip. The story he tells you is at once heartbreaking and humorous. His girlfriend and colleague, particle physicist Alice Coombs has fallen in love with a void, a tiny black hole. The only problem with this? The void, named Lack for obvious reasons, has refused Alice’s attempts to lose herself in his depths. This “lack” of affection on Lack’s part only makes Alice desire him more. Why? Because it seems as if he (because it has to be a he for Alice to love) has a personality capable of rejection. He will devour car keys and other items of significance, but not Alice.
As an aside: When Alice repeatedly admits she loves Lack the way she used to love Philip, (but doesn’t anymore), I wanted Philip to be more rebellious. Here is he, allowing crazy, non-speaking, dopey Alice to live in the same apartment all the while refusing the advances of a beautiful and smart therapist who is practically throwing herself at him. Am I too cold blooded to think Philip should have developed more of a “screw you” spine?
Author Fact: This is not a fact per se…but, I ran into a photo of Jonathan Lethem and in it he looked sorta, kinda, somewhat like Mike Gordon from the band Phish. Not exactly like him, mind you. But, close enough to be his kid brother or something.
Audio trivia: David Aaron Baker does a great job with voice accents. The part when Philip is drunk is hilarious.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter “Jonathan Lethem: Too Good To Miss” (p 146).
Hoban, Russell. Her Name Was Lola. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2003.
The first thing one needs to know about Her Name Was Lola is that it’s a short book with even shorter chapters. It’s a quick read – maybe even a lazy Sunday-in-one-sitting kind of read.
November, 2001. Max has writer’s block. As described in the first chapter, “Max writes novels that don’t sell, children’s picture books that do.” Only, the picture books aren’t getting written either. Instead, he is wandering around London, talking to himself and dealing with a dwarf demon called Apasmara on his back. Apasmara out of Hindu mythology and symbolizes Forgetfulness, Heedlessness, Selfishness, Ignorance, and Materialism. He was sent to make Max forget about Lola Bessington.
Flashback to December 1996. Max meets Lola and falls in love. She falls back. A few months later Max meets Lula and falls in love. She too falls back. Two women with similar names. One man with “blighter’s rock.” One big problem. Hoban always announces the date at the beginning of each chapter. To orientate the reader or mark the passage of time, I don’t know. It’s not a spoiler to say Max loses both women, but I think it is a spoiler when I say his fictional character is the one who gets it right. Leave to Max to create a character who is more virtuous than himself.
Reason read: Hoban’s birth month is February. Read Her Name Was Lola in his honor.
the line I liked the best, “People are composed of memories, losses, longings and regrets” (p 28).
Confessional: reading the lyrics to Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana (At the Copa)” took me right back to the late 70s when I was all of 9-10 years old. A girlfriend and I we loved the song to much we wanted to act out the lyrics – especially the “who shot who?” and the “yellow feathers in her hair” parts.
Author fact: Many people think Her Name Was Lola is autobiographical. If Hoban knows an imaginary dwarf named Apasmara then okay. That is awesome.
Book trivia: This is so short it can be read in one day.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “Russell Hoban: Too Good To Miss” (p). This is the penultimate Hoban book on my list. One more and I will be done with the chapter.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Last Tycoon. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1941.
It’s too bad this was never finished. I think this would have been my favorite Fitzgerald book. Even incomplete, I like it better than anything else I have read. This is a simple yet complicated story about love. She loves him. He loves someone else. That someone else is set to marry anyone else but him. Classic love square. You have to feel sorry for Monroe Stahr. He is lovestruck by a woman who strongly resembles his deceased wife. As a man in the movie business he has the money and the power to woo Kathleen into a brief relationship, even despite the fact she is engaged to be married to someone else. Meanwhile, there is young Cecilia, a junior at Bennington College, just willing Stahr to look at her, to notice her. It is her voice that tells the entire story. Fitzgerald explains the first and third person narrative. What Cecilia is not witness to, she imagines. “Thus, I hope to get the verisimilitude of a first person narrative, combined with a Godlike knowledge of all events that happen to my characters” (p 164).
One of my favorite scenes is Stahr’s treatment of a letter Kathleen addressed to him. He manages to not read it for three hours and is proud of his restraint. Why? What difference does it make when he opened it, immediately or three hours later? The fact of the matter is he opened it anyway.
As an aside, this is going to sound awful, but in a way I am glad Fitzgerald died. The story is beautiful as it is – unfinished yet simple. His plans for the rest of the book are over the top: murder plots and a Stahr dying in a plane crash. Children stealing from the dead and their subsequent trial. Cecilia in a sanitarium (like his wife, Zelda?). Like I said, it all seems over the top.
Lines I liked, “His dark eyes took me in, and I wondered what they would look like if he fell in love” (p 22), “It was more intimate than anything they had done, and they both felt a dangerous sort of loneliness, and felt it in each other” (p 102), “What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story” (p 117), and “It would come in some such guise as the auto horns from the technicolor boulevard below, or be barely audible, a tattoo on the muffled dream of the moon” (p 144).
Reason read: F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in September.
Author fact: Fitzgerald died of a heart attack while writing The Last Tycoon. According to the forward, he had just written the first episode of Chapter six. Sad.
Book trivia: The Last Tycoon is narrated by a junior co-ed at Bennington College, but the story is more about Monroe Stahr.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Literary Lives: the Americans” (p 145). This book actually doesn’t belong in the chapter. “Literary Lives: the Americans” begins with this sentence, “If you want to know more about a writer, before or after reading his or her book, here are some top-notch literary biographies” (p 144). The Last Tycoon is not a biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald.