This installment: tasty short stories (f); women’s reproductive lives (f); Ondaatje’s latest (f); hyper-religious fallout in Australia (f); and brilliant short stories (f).
Editor’s Note: Since our print collection is currently unavailable, the titles and links below all direct you to our digital ebook collections, either in Overdrive or Hoopla*. You can learn more about using those services on our blog, and contact us if you need assistance.
*Restrictions to using Hoopla apply based on your home address.
Maggie Brown and Others by Peter Orner
He’s a wonderful storyteller, all over the place literally and figuratively. But often in Fall River, MA, where a novella tells of Walt, a lovely guy with terrible luck and judgment. Some stories are very short, and many seem autobiographical. A character is even dubbed “Ornery” in one about a summer camp. Orner lived in Bolinas for awhile and I was especially interested in how he worked very local references into the material. Sometimes he sounds like a tough guy, sometimes very Jewish, sometimes elegiac—whatever the needs of the tale. Very satisfying and varied.
Red Clocks by Leni Zumas
The title refers, tangentially, to women’s reproductive lives. Here these play out with four women: the Biographer; never married, she yearns for a child but is stymied at every turn. Her subject is a woman from the Faroe Islands in the mid 1800s who studied patterns of ice formation, and her day job is teaching high school history. The Wife, who yearns for time alone but is saddled with a husband who seems like an agreeable guy but demands she do all the domestic work including caring for their two young children. The Daughter who’s smart at math but manages to get pregnant at 17. And the Mender whom locals in this small Oregon coastal town think is a witch; women come to her for all sorts of remedies. Set in the perhaps not too distant future, laws have constricted over abortion ( a crime) and adoption (only for heterosexual couples). It took me awhile to connect, especially with the Faroe material which comes in poetic, stripped down form, but once I sorted out the characters I found it very compelling.
Warlight by Michael Oondatje
The title refers to what we see—or don’t—when war is present. This is WWII in Suffolk. England. 14 year old Nathaniel and his sister, 16, are abandoned by their parents who are connected mysteriously with the war effort. Who’s in charge then? “Criminals” as Nathaniel fondly refers to them, nicknamed Moth and the Darter. Both find after school jobs for Nathaniel in hotel catering and then greyhound smuggling along the Thames. Then he’s in the care of a farmer. Meanwhile his sister, furious (and epileptic), becomes estranged. Mother finally returns from wherever she’s been and Nathaniel lives with her until she’s murdered. She was engaged in dangerous business. Then he dedicates himself to find out who she really was and what she’d done. A faint, frustrating, yet fascinating trail. The book ended for me on an odd note—that’s it? I thought, which reflects the murky yet intriguing tale. Very atmospheric.
The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity Mclean
The three disappeared one night, running away from their crazy, hyper-religious family. One is found dead. The others? Who knows. Tikka, their friend and neighbor, tells us all about it. She witnessed the atrocities, helped with their plans, and has never forgotten the tragedy. Yes, there’s a seductive teacher, a pregnancy, and a father who punishes sadistically while quoting scripture. Set in Australia, vivid and sad.
(Also available as an e-audiobook and ebook on Hoopla.)
Babylon and Other Stories by Alix Ohlin
These are brilliant, every one.The kind of seamless writing that tells you what you want to know about each character, like a direct transmission. I.e. the “writing” doesn’t get in the way. All about human foibles—a basic subject that never fails (for me, at least). Love, jealously, bad behavior, trying to make do, etc. Some stories feature the same folks, so it’s like coming home, as it were. When Ohlin writes about attraction and sex, there’s not a single cliche. I don’t know how she does it. And when she’s tackling academia, it’s often funny and never ponderous. A joy!
See you next week.