Thursday, May 29, 2014

Voices

Winter and spring have come and gone in a blink of an eye, dear reader.

Though I meant to be here a little sooner, my extended absence has been a good thing - after many years of being mostly home with children, some part-time work, and a couple of relocations, I've returned to work full-time. The transition has been intense but exciting, and I'm energized in a way I haven't been in a long time.

Like so many other women navigating the work-family-self balance thing, I have so many feelings about the journey - a journey for which this blog has been a sort of travelling companion over the last few years. It is my virtual suitcase of sorts, fixed constantly in cyberspace while I've packed and unpacked houses, teleported to new states, started children in new schools, settled in new communities. It's been a place to collect and save the treasures and souvenirs I've found along the way - the books that have challenged or inspired or resonated, my occasional attempts at writing beyond a blog post, the online friendships and connections. While I don't open the suitcase as often as I might like these days, it means a lot to have all these conversations and artifacts and mementos close at hand.

Perhaps as an extension of my own journey, I'm finding myself ever more drawn to writers who capture the many facets and complexity of women's lives. I will confess right off that I have read a lot of Meg Wolitzer recently, eagerly devouring three more of her novels soon after finishing The Interestings (which in my humble opinion is the strongest of her books, and one of my favorite books of 2013). Dani Shapiro's Still Writing was another favorite - a loving and encouraging reflection on writing and self - there is wisdom in it for writers of all levels (and for human beings in general). As it is still - well, just barely, but still - Short Story Month, I must give a shout out to some terrific short story collections: Laura van den Berg's excellent The Isle of Youth (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2013) and Jennifer Spiegel's The Freak Chronicles, insightful and introspective stories set in far-flung and exotic corners of the world (Dzanc, 2012).

I'd been looking forward to Orion's Daughters, by Courtney Elizabeth Mauk (Engine Books, 2014) ever since reading her mesmerizing debut novel Spark nearly two years ago. Orion's Daughters is the story of a woman haunted by the fractured remnants of a magnetic but dangerous friendship from her youth. The novel unfolds with suspense and strong emotions - love, devotion, envy, jealousy, loyalty. The writing is lovely:

"She tells a story. Her voice is light, a shimmering thread on which the words are strung like so many jewels. Only I can't hold on to the end. The words slip into my ear and back out, falling, cracked, in heap."

...and with each sentence and chapter perfectly paced and phrased, it struck me as the rare second novel that gains a level of polish and sophistication without giving up the raw power of the first book. Just as with Spark, I was completely enchanted, devouring the book quickly.

I was also recently excited to learn that Ethel Rohan has a brief memoir, Out of Dublin, which explores her childhood and adult relationships with her parents; their deaths, one close upon the other; and the author's profound grief over their loss. Rohan's fiction is full of fierce beauty and emotional force, and these qualities drive Out of Dublin as well. It is a memoir written with immediacy rather than long-range perspective, and it isn't long, but her story is striking - I would have been glad to read more. Rohan was kind enough to answer some of my questions last summer upon the release of her short fiction collection Goodnight Nobody - you can read our conversation here.

Happy reading! What are the books that are currently inspiring, awing or challenging you?

I purchased my copies of Orion's Daughters, The Isle of Youth, and Out of Dublin; Still Writing and The Freak Chronicles were a holiday gifts (and lovely ones at that); my copies of all four Meg Wolitzer books came from my local public library.


10 comments :

  1. Welcome back! It's nice to hear that your transition to working full-time has energized you (and I'm impressed you've managed to fit in quite a bit of reading while so much is going on!). I also work full-time. The challenges of balancing work with family life and my hobbies seem overwhelming sometimes, but I wouldn't have it any other way. For now, it works for our family.

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  2. What works for your family is the most important thing! I'm impressed you keep up so well with the blogging (even when I find time it's often hard to get the other clutter out of my head and organize my thoughts :D). Any hot tips on making it all work are most welcome!

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    1. It's particularly hard to keep up with the blogging when posts usually require finishing a novel, right?! I try to make sure every post I write is book-related, but it's not always a book review. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, two or three blog topics will jump out at me while I'm reading a book.

      Good luck!

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  3. Welcome back, good to see you :) I'm glad the changes are working out, and it's good you had time to read. Orion's Daughters has a beautiful cover and I must admit I'm rather intrigued by your words there.

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    1. Hi Charlie, thanks, so good to see you too! I do think you might enjoy Orion's Daughters - it's a very engaging story and much lovely writing.

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  4. Happy to see you back! This sounds like a very exciting time for you. Orion's Daughters sounds soooo good. That prose is beautiful. So I'll be checking that out haha. If you like books about women/being a woman, you should check out When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams. So beautiful!

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    1. Oh I just absolutely love that title... off to look it up right now. It does sound beautiful, thanks for the recommendation! Definitely check out Orion's Daughters!

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  5. Coming to this post a bit late...and like the others say, it's great to see that you are back. I love your description of this blog as a travel companion. Hope the new job continues to go well, and that you aren't suffering too much wanderlust now that you seem to have settled into place. Do you miss all that packing and unpacking that you mention?

    Great book recommendations. I'm hoping to read the one you reviewed on June 22, which is also mentioned by the previous commenter. "When Women were Birds" is such an evocative title that it alone is enough to grab my attention and make me want to read the book.

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    1. Thanks so much, Chris - Yes, it is a very intriguing title- I think you'll appreciate her writing style and the way she explores the many facets of this unusual gift from her mother- look forward to hearing your thoughts about it!

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Thanks for visiting - thoughts welcome.