Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson (1992)

Denis Johnson died a few days ago (July 1, 1949 to May 24, 2017).  Denis Johnson has often been called "a writer's  writer".   Reading the many memorial articles occasioned by his passing (of liver cancer) he was idolized as someone from whom you could learn how to write fiction.   In the 100 or so Q and A sessions I have done on The Reading Life I always asked each participant what short story writers they admired.  Denis Johnson was very frequently mentioned by the largely Irish writers involved.  I have long had Jesus's Son to my TBR list, sadly it took his death to motivate me to read this amazing work, actually at least as good as the many panegyrics claimed.  

The work consists of eleven short stories, all narrated by a recovering drug addict known only as "Fuckhead". Fuckhead lives in rural America, some say these are very American stories but there is a reason the Irish love them so much, he works at a series of jobs, most memorably as a hospital orderly.  He engages in petty crimes, has romances with women equally addicted.  

This is a terribly funny book, laughing at the horrors and absurdity of the world in which Fuckhead resides.  There are dead end bars, almost everybody dies young, fifty is ancient for a drug addict.  When persons from the "straight" world appear they are presented as ridiculous, like the employees of the hospital in which Fuckhead worked for a while.  Alcohol is the mother's milk of these stories.  Fuckhead and his transient friends are self destructive, some would call them idiots.

These stories are written from Desolation Row.  They are beautiful, the turns in the story are amazing.  I read one article by a writer  who said he had read Jesus's Son over 200 times.  

The title comes from Lou Reed's song "Heroin", I suggest you listen to it as an accompaniment to your reading.  The rush of heroin is a driving force in these stories.

A movie was made based on the stories.  The New Yorker link above contains three podcasts of stories from Jesus's Son.

Mel u

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie (to be published, September, 2017)

Very Good Summery of The Golden House from The Times of India

"How does one live amongst one’s fellow countrymen and countrywomen when you don’t know which of them is numbered amongst the sixty-million-plus who brought the horror to power, when you can’t tell who should be counted among the ninety-million-plus who shrugged and stayed home, or when your fellow Americans tell you that knowing things is élitist and they hate élites, and all you have ever had is your mind and you were brought up to believe in the loveliness of knowledge, not that knowledge-is-power nonsense but knowledge is beauty, and then all of that, education, art, music, film, becomes a reason for being loathed, and the creature out of Spiritus Mundi rises up and slouches toward Washington, D.C., to be born. What I did was to retreat into private life—to hold on to life as I had known it, its dailiness and strength, and to insist on the ability of the moral universe of the Gardens to survive even the fiercest assault.".  - from The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

The Golden House by Salman Rhusdie will probably be hailed as the first great novel depicting the despair felt throughout the reading life world (no doubt the same or worse feelings have been generated in artistic and other segments of society but I can only speak about the feelings of those of us who cherish literature above all as it is what I know).  If Rushdie, this is the fifth of his novels upon which I have posted, never wins The Nobel Prize it will be a tribute to the power of the petro dollar.

I know as soon as The Golden House is published it will be written about throughout the literary press.  A new Salman Rushdie novel is a major event.  I am not inclined to summarize the "story line" in great detail.  Basically it centers on an incredibly wealthy older man with three sons who is forced to relocate from his ancestral home in Mumbai, he still has to think to avoid saying "Bombay" by the ramifications of his past corruptions catching up with him to New York City.  How he got so wealthy is a bit shrouded in mystery. He lives in NYC in a development called "The Gardens", which is inhabited by people very much like the trump family.  The family patriarch is in his early seventies, he has a much younger trophy wife.  The scenes are split between NYC and Mumbai.  There is a very interesting treatment of the terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, a symbol of opulence.  

The story is told be a neighbor of the Golden family, a filmmaker, who decides to make a movie about the family.  We get to know Mr. Golden and his sons well.  It was impossible for me not to see Golden's sons as meant to bring to mind those of trump.  The wife might as well be a very expensive prostitute, Golden cannot get her pregnant and in an intriguing subplot the filmmaker begins an affair with the wife, she gets pregnant and the child is thought by Golden to be his.  

Rushdie depicts trump mercilessly in all his completely self centered shallowness, devoid of any culture, the champion of those who worship the ignorant or maybe use those the people who voted

for him to safe guard their own status, preying on and abandoning their followers as soon as they are no longer needed.  Of course I do not see any trump supporter actually reading The Golden House so it will only impact those who already despise what he has brought forth.

I love the lush language of Rushdie, his descriptions are so vivid, his imagination so powerful.  I also really liked all of the literary and classic cinema references made by the narrator.  

The Golden House is everything a supreme literary work of art should be.

I don't doubt there are deep meanings in this work,cultural allusions and historical references that I missed on my first reading.

I am very thankful to have been kindly provided a review copy of this book.

Mel u

I will be very curious to see how it is received.

Salman Rushdie

Photo of Salman Rushdie
Photo: © Syrie Moskowitz


Salman Rushdie is the author of twelve novels—Grimus, Midnight’s Children (for which he won the Booker Prize and the Best of the Booker), Shame, The Satanic Verses, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, The Moor’s Last Sigh, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Fury, Shalimar the Clown, The Enchantress of Florence, Luka and the Fire of Life, and Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights—and one collection of short stories: East, West. He has also published four works of nonfiction—Joseph Anton, The Jaguar Smile, Imaginary Homelands, and Step Across This Line—and co-edited two anthologies, Mirrorwork and Best American Short Stories 2008. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University. A former president of PEN American Center, Rushdie was knighted in 2007 for services to literature

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Passion According to G. H. by Clarice Lispector - translated by Idra Novey

"What matters is the magnetic love she inspires in those susceptible to her. For them, Clarice is one of the great emotional experiences of their lives. But her glamour is dangerous. “Be careful with Clarice,” a friend told a reader decades ago. “It’s not literature. It’s witchcraft.” Benjamin Moser, in his introduction to The Collected Short Stories of Clarice Lispector 

My Prior Posts on Clarice Lispector

I first entered the world of Clarice Lispector when I was kindly given a digital review copy of The Complete Short Stories of Ćlarice Lispector.  With a marvelous introduction by Benjamin Moser, I think many will find the reading of these stories the start of a deep fascination with Lispector's work and life.  I think the publication of this collection of short stories will be at least the most important translated work of short stories in 2015.  It is said among short story people that Kathernine Mansfield is the only writer that ever frightened Virginia Woolf, I would just say she never met Clarice Lispector.  

After I finished my first read through of the short story collection, I have posted on about ten of the stories and will be rereading and posting more as time goes on, I read Why This World:  A Biography of Clarice Lispector by Benjamin Moser.  This is a truly excellent biography which goes deeply into her cultural roots.  By coincidence shortly before I encountered Lispector I read the complete Yale Yiddish Library and Moser helped me understand the ways in which Lispector is part of the tradition of Jewish Kabbalstic thinkers and how her early life in the Jewish shetls in the very anti-Jewish Ukraine shape her fiction.    Also in the very long ago I studied Spinoza and this helped me.  Moser lets us see the impact of Spinoza in the work of Lispector, especially in her perhaps most overtly philosophical work The Passion According to G. R.  

G.R is the female narrator of the novel.  She is an affluent well regarded  sculpturor living in Rio de Janeiro.  The novel is all about a long very widely ranging interior monologue initiated in the mind of G.R. when she enters the room of her live in maid who recently quit.  She was shocked to see a drawing of herself on the wall.  There are strong post colonial and racial matters in The Passion of G.R, the maid was black.  She then sees a roach on the floor of the maid's room.  She has a horror of roaches and she slams the door on the roach.  He is partially crushed but not killed.  

She begins to reflect on the very ancient, long before man, history of the roach.  Soon all human history unfolds before her.  She begins to reflect on the nature of divinity and of God.

This book way transcends my ability to describe it.  I knew pretty much what exoect in The Passion of G.R. as Moser talks about it a lot in his biography but it still shocked me.  

Mel u

"Señor Pinedo" by Mavis Gallant (1954)

Buried in Print's Mavis Gallant Reading Schedule 

Mavis Gallant on The Reading Life

I have been reading short stories by Mavis Gallant (born Montreal 1922, died Paris, 2014) since 2013.  I was delighted when a blogger I have happily followed for years, Buried in Print, announced they would be reading and posting on her many short stories (116 published in The New Yorker alone) on a weekly basis.   I have on my E Reader The Collected Short Short Stories of Mavis Gallant (contains per Gallant about half of her stories) so I decided to try to read along with Buried in Print's weekly schedule as much as I might.

 This week's story, "Señor Pinedo" is set in a boarding house, a pension in Madrid, sometime after the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939- often portrayed as a war between democrats seeking a free Spain, think Hemingway and such versus Spanish Fascists promising great things for the common man if they will follow the leadership of Francisco Franco now seen as Fascist element  of the Falange Party, remember Picasso's Guernica).  The story did bring to my mind the works in Katherine Mansfield's first collection, In a German Pension.

The boarding house used to be a big middle class home, but as the narrator tells us, economic hard times caused the owners of many such home to turn their houses into boarding homes.  The owner and her brother live there now, in two rooms.  The rest of the building has been subdivided into a number of small rooms.  Our narrator, is an English speaking woman, we don't learn where she is from or why she is in Madrid.  She lives right next to the Pineda family, the 23 year old wife, her civil service employed husband and their baby.  The walls are so thin the Pineda's alarm wakes them up.  She can hear the Pinedas talking about money.  In addition to tourists, there are other permanent tenants.  They include a bullfight promoter, seen as a bit of a vulgarian, a man who used to be a literature professor but now works in a drug store (he lost his job because he was neutral in the Civil War, and others.  I laughed so much when I read the narrator's description of an English woman living in the pension, the description was just so perfect

"There was also the inevitable Englishwoman, one of the queer Mad Megs who seem to have been born and bred for pension life. This one, on hearing me speak English in the dining room, looked at me with undisguised loathing, picked up knife, fork, plate, and wineglass, and removed herself to the far corner of the room; the maid followed with the Englishwoman’s own private assortment of mineral water, digestive pills, Keen’s mustard, and English chop sauce."

Señor Pinedo is very proud of the accomplishments of the government.  He brings home brochures from work describing the great strides of the government.  Gallant has such a masterful touch, in just a few lines she can bring characters to life, let us see below the surfaces of relationships.  In one really great scene he is bragging to the narrator, and his captive audience of fellow residents about the great strides being made in housing.  His wife at once interjects, asking him why then do we not have our own house.  Any married man will come close to cringing at this!

The pension residents have little privacy, a kind of instant intimacy of a transient sort prevails.  I felt in this story a sense limited futures, people clinging to hopes like Senor Pineda's idolization Falange leaders.

To me the tone and colors of this story reminded me of Goya

A tragic event occurs toward the close of the story.  It could have been avoided. We see the fatalism of the Spanish in the close, or at least I do. In a way it is a story also about being an immigrant, about the world views clashing, about anger over indifference in the mind of our narrator.

I read this story in The Collected Short Stories of Mavis Gallant, containing about half of her stories.  As far as I know it cannot be read online.  I also could not locate the first publication data but for sure it was in The New Yorker.

I offer my great thanks to Buried in Print for hosting this one a week read through of Gallant's short stories.  I read this story twice.  I look forward to reading many more.

Mel u

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh (2015, Part Three of The Ibis Trilogy, 624 pages)

Works in The Ibis Trilogy

Sea of Poppies - published 4/2008, read 4/2012

River of Smoke - Published 6/2012, read 2/2015

Flood of Fire - Published 3/2015, read 5/2017

Flood of Fire of Fire is the final installment in The Ibis Trilogy by Amitav Ghosh.  The Trilogy is set largely in the Bay of Bengal region of India and in the Canton region of China.  It is historical fiction on a grand scale, over 1600 pages in total.  It's center of focus is the impact of the opium trade on India and China, focusing on the period leading up to the first opium war, 1839 to 1842.

The ship The Ibis, was once used in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  A former first mate, Zachary, his mother was an slave owned by his white father, serves as kind of a unifying character.

Book One of The Ibis Trilogy focuses on the impact of the opium trade on people living in the Bengali region of India, near the Bay of Bengal.

Book Two focuses more on the areas of China where opium entered the country, near Canton.  It shows the destruction the drug reaped on the Chinese.

Book Three details the economic aspects of the opium trade and very excitingly depicts naval and land battles between the English and the Chinese.  It goes into a lot of fascinating detail about The British East India Company, which had a very large army.  We learned what is was like to be an English officer, an Indian sepoy in the service of the army, the wife of a top British officer, a servant of an officer and much more.  I think anyone interested in 19th century India, English Colonial activity, the history of the drug trade, or the British East India company will love this book. As The Flood of Fire opens Zachary is in a bit of trouble.  The Ibis has stopped in Bengal and cannot sail for months.  The owner cannot or will not support him while the boat is being repaired.  He is trained as a ship carpenter and is offered a job restoring a Junk to be used as a pleasure craft by a high ranking East India Company officer.  In a weird, ok some will find this unintentionally funny, I think, segment the owner's wife observes him one day, through a telescope, polishing a brass handle.  She notices he often does this and becomes convinced he was engaging frequent masterbation, considered by the woman a great sin.  She approaches him, at first he has no idea what she is talking about, and offers him a brochure on dealing with this "vice".  Soon they become sexually involved, a horrible social offense for both.  During their sexual encounters they speak in pidgin English, I found this over done and silly almost.  Zachary becomes very involved in the opium trade and in naval battles.

Sea of Fire also focuses on an Indian servant of a British officer as well as the widow of an Indian woman, her family was rich from the opium trade, who discovers her husband had a long time mistress, a Chinese woman,  and a son in Canton.  There is a lot of drama surrounding her trip to Canton to meet her husband's son, now a young man. Characters in the previous two books, like Paulette, reappear in Book Three.

To me the best thing, and I'm enthralled by this aspect, was the historical details, the many terms I learned, the inside look at the opium trade and the British East India Company, life in Bengali, and the pervasive corruption and evil of the drug trade.  We also see how the drug trade helped make Hong Kong a great city.

Some say the characters in Book Three are not as well developed as those in the first two segments and I guess I agree.

Don't consider reading Flood of Fire  without reading the first two installments.
To read it in full is a big commitment of reading time.  I was able to recall much of the first two segments by reading my posts on them.  My reading of the work was  over a five year period as I waited for parts two and three to be published.  In the interim I read the author's very good work set in mid 19th century Burma, The Glass Palace.

I strongly endorse this Trilogy to lovers of historical fiction, especially those interested in the time and place the book covers. The work has a kind of old fashioned feel to it which I relished.

Ghosh spent over ten years working on these books, you can see tremendous research behind the details.


Official Site of Amitav Ghosh

 My Prior Posts on Amitav Ghosh

Friday, May 19, 2017

Down Below by Leonora Carrington

Leonora Carrington (1917 to 2011) was born in England and died in a country she much preferred, Mexico. Interest in her writings and her surrealistic art is now quite high, brought on my recent publications occasioned by the 100th anniversary of her birth, including a collection of her short stories and a biography.

The first quandary one has upon completing Down Below, I read it the minimum needed twice, is to decide if it is a memoir of her period of mental illness and her confinement to an asylum, is it a work of the imagination perhaps stimulated by these experiences or should it be read as a fictional
account of the narrator's descent into madness?  Is it a Dantesque journey into the Under World, the Down Below, of Surrealism inspired by occult theories behind that movement?  You can read it as working out "Daddy Issues" with her very rich father who regarded her interest in the arts as itself a manifestation of mental illness

A good bit of the work is taken up with her time in the asylum.  She talks about her reaction to the arrest of her lover, a leading Surrealist. The narrator hallucinates and views workers and doctors as embodied representatives of evil spirits.  She sees her father everywhere.  We also go along when she escapes to a Mexican consulate and is given shelter, as we're many artists, from the Nazis.  She moves to Mexico.

She was initially pushed into madness when her great love, the artist Max Ernst, was sent to die in a concentration camp for producing what the Germans saw as "degenerate" art.  The narration mixes simple reporting of what happened to Carrington with out of accepted reality interpretation of events.  Down Under is considered one of the great treatments of the descent into madness.  It completely fascinated me.   In the way back I was fascinated by the occult, maybe I'm coming back to this.

The just published New York Review of Books edition of Down Below contains a very informative and generously lengthy introduction by Marina Warner, who was acquainted with Carrington.

Even the publication history of Down Below requires an explanation.  Here are the textual notes from the NYRB edition.

"NOTE ON THE TEXT First written in English in 1942 in New York (text now lost). Dictated in French to Jeanne Megnen in 1943, then published in VVV, No. 4, February 1944, in a translation from the French by Victor Llona. The original French dictation was published by Editions Fontaine, Paris, 1946. Both the French dictation and the Victor Llona translation were used as the basis for the text here, which was reviewed and revised for factual accuracy by Leonora Carrington in 1987."

My prior posts on the short fiction of Carrington contain links to nine of her short stories as well as articles and videos I found interesting.

Please share your experience with Carrington, either through her art or writings, with us.

Mel u

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey (2016)

I was drawn to read Idra Novey's debut novel, Ways to Disappear, for three reasons.  Firstly, It was awarded the $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize by the Jewish Book Council for best Jewish book of 2017.  (I highly recommend subscribing to their newsletter.). Secondly she translated The Passion According to G. H. by Clarice Lispector, anyone that helps make her work more accessible has my great thanks. Finally it is set in Brazil, of which I have very fond memories.

The novel is a kidnapping crime mystery work.  One of Brazil's most loved writers was last seen, in Rio, climbing up a tree.  She is now missing.  Her American translator decides to search for her.    There is romance, hey it is Brazil, the ambience of the tropics, the corruption of Brazilian law enforcement, descriptions of Kilogramma, my favorite inexpensive Rio restaurant, and ever complicating mysteries.  Kidnapping is an ever present risk for the wealthy and it looks like this is what may have happened.

The translator reflects on her craft.  The missing writer is Jewish, as was Clarice Lispector, and we see aspects of traditional Jewish family practices.  The setting is not just Rio de Janeiro but also Salvador and an off shore resort island.

Jewish migration to Brazil   goes back to the start of Portuguese rule.  In the early 20th century many Jewish families, as did that of Clarice Lispector, left Eastern Europe for Brazil, to escape vicious anti-Semitic pograms.  Recife in Salvador was the most common initial destination.

Ways to Disappear is an exciting fast read, well worth your time.  It drew extensive rave reviews in the literary press.

Idra Novey is the author of the debut novel Ways to Disappear, winner of the 2017 Sami Rohr Prize, the 2016 Brooklyn Eagles Prize, and a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize for First Fiction. Her poetry collections include Exit, Civilian, selected for the 2011 National Poetry Series, The Next Coun­try, a final­ist for the 2008 Fore­word Book of the Year Award, and Clarice: The Visitor, a collaboration with the artist Erica Baum. Her fiction and poetry have been translated into ten languages and she’s written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, NPR’s All Things Con­sid­ered, New York Magazine, and The Paris Review. She is the recipient of awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Poets & Writ­ers Mag­a­zine, the PEN Trans­la­tion Fund, and the Poetry Foundation. She’s also translated the work of several prominent Brazilian writers, most recently Clarice Lispector’s novel The Pas­sion Accord­ing to G.H. She’s taught at Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity, Columbia, NYU, Fordham, the Catholic University of Chile, and in the Bard Prison Initiative. This fall she is the Visiting Distinguished Writer in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at LIU Brooklyn.  From

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Isabel Yap - Two Fascinating Works of Speculative Fiction

Isabel Yap's Webpage. Includes Links to her Stories

Very recently I read and posted on Alyssa Wong's Nebula Prize Winning short story, "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers".   In an interview on Wong's very well done webpage, she recommended several other writers of speculative fiction, among them Isabel Yap.

Isabel Yap's webpage has links to several works of speculative fiction (some use the term "fantasy").  Yap grew up in the greater Manila area, where many of my readers as well as my family and I live, and some of her fiction is set there.  I read two of her stories (there are links to all these stories on Yap's webpage) and I liked them both a lot.

Short, third-person bio: Isabel Yap writes fiction and poetry, works in the tech industry, and drinks tea. Born and raised in Manila, she has also lived in California, Tokyo, and London. In 2013 she attended the Clarion Writers Workshop. Her work has recently appeared on, Uncanny Magazine, Shimmer Magazine, and Year’s Best Weird Fiction volume 2. She is @visyapon Twitter and her website is
Photo credit: Katie Williams
Photo credit: Katie Williams
Longer bio:
I was born in Manila, Philippines in 1990, and grew up in Quezon City. In 2013 I graduated from Santa Clara University with a degree in Marketing and minors in Japanese and English. That same year, I attended the Clarion Writers Workshop in San Diego. By day I work for a San Francisco-based start-up in the mobile app industry (yes, it’s very Silicon Valley).
I once almost slid off the muddy face of Mt. Makiling and plummeted to my doom.
I like to write all kinds of things, especially short fiction and poetry. I’ve also written over a hundred fics for more than thirty fandoms. I haven’t written too many lately, but I pop up every now and then if I think a story needs telling.
Someday I hope to write longer things.
If you feed me sugar I will be rather pleased.
I like nice people, ugly dogs, observation, music, tea, hard lemonade, and ramen. From her webpage 

I will keep my comments on each story brief so as to allow those into speculative fiction to expand without having the plot of the stories overly revealed to them.

"The Orian's Song" is a very impressively written and researched work about the life of a woman being used, during World War II, as a "pleasure girl" by a troop of Japanese soldiers.  She was raised in the floating world of Tokyo in a tea shop, when such places were combinations of brothels and geisha houses.  The soldiers could not have afforded the rates of the floating world so below the surface this is a story of class distinctions.  The woman has been taught to shot and has other duties also.  We come to learn of the names of spirits of the countryside of Japan. The woman hates the soldiers, there is also a seemingly gay young man also with her.  "The Orian's" song is very interesting for the use of folk lore, the recreation of the days of World War II, and for the skill Yap shows in getting us involved with the characters.

"Have You Heard the One About Anamaria Marquez?" Is set in Manila.  It really does a wonderful job with the venue in an all girls private school and makes use of a wide range of suspicious or folk beliefs.  It is narrated via conversations among prep school girls.I admit I laughed out loud when I read these lines about one of the teachers at the school.

"Ms. Salinas was young and super skinny, which made up for her ducklike face. On the scale of teachers she was neither bad nor good. She liked to wear white pants, and a rumor had recently spread about how she liked to wear lime-green thongs and was therefore slutty. We amused ourselves during home ec. trying to look through her white pants every time she turned, crouched, or bent."

As to why wearing lime green thongs means you are a slut, who knows, but it for sure rang true as part of the conversations of the students.

The story begins with an account of the opening of the third eye of a teacher.  It quickly expands into various explanations as to how and why one of the students committed suicide.  The story does make uses of Tagalog expressions, to me they enhance the story.  Students at elite private schools all speak English, most instruction is done in English but in conversation even with each other in English they will often use Tagalog expressions.  Google translate will tell you "ate" means "older sister" but there is a deep cultural meaning to this expression and others used in the story.

The girls are all from affluent families and you can sense this in the story.  I really enjoyed this work.

I hope to follow Isabel Yap's development.

Mel u
The Reading Life

Friday, May 12, 2017

Smile by Roddy Doyle (2017)

Smile is the ninth novel by Roddy Doyle I have read and posted upon.  Obviously I greatly enjoy and admire his mostly set in Ireland novels.  I have also read a few of his short stories.

Smile focuses on a middle-aged recently divorced man, Victor Forde, on his own for the first time in years.  He has gotten in the habit of going to the same pub every night for a pint.  One evening a man his age, who he does not quite recall, comes over to speak.  It turns out they went to school together, the teachers were Christian Brothers.  The ensuing conversations bring back memories he had not wanted surfaced of sexual abuse by one of the Brothers.  The man had a sister that Victor fancied.

Flashing back to memories of childhood to those of his marriage we learn Victor was a well known radio commentator famous for his shocking remarks.  His wife is a very well known celebrity and a great beauty.

Like his other novels, Smile is very much a dialogue driven work, the conversations are sharp, funny and real.  We are given real insight into Victor.  As you read on you begin to reevaluate your assessment of Victor.

Smile was a great pleasure to read, just as I expected it would be.

I was kindly given a review copy of this book.

Mel u
The Reading Life

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

"Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers" by Alyssa Wong ( 2015 Nebula Award Winner for Best Short Story and 2016 World Fantasy Award Winner for Best Short Fiction)

Alyssa Wong's Beautiful Webpage- Includes Links to Eight of her Award Winning Fiction 

From Nightmare Magazine May 2017- A Very Open and Interesting Conversation with Alyssa Wong

A few days ago I as kindly given a review copy of a forthcoming soon anthology, The New Voices of Fantasy, edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman.  I was completely shocked by how much I liked the beautiful lead story, "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong.  Last month I first read the surrealistic short fiction of Leonora Carrington.  If April 2017 was for me the month I "discovered" Leonora Carrington, then quite possibly May will be observed as the month I first read Alyssa Wong.  I know this sounds hyperbolic but I can for sure visualize Leonora being stunned by "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers, i certainly was.  I was on first reading mesmerized by the sheer elegance of Wong's prose combined with the very ugly and evil story she tells.

Told in the first person by a young woman out on a first date with a man she met online, a Harvard alumni he claims, the setting is Manhattan.  She is from Taipei.They are on their way to dinner.  We soon learn the woman can read thoughts.  The man is trying to impress her by telling her of his penthouse complete with a Jacuzzi.  Most women would be frightened to learn their date was a serial killer was eagerly looking forward to splitting her body open.  I want to share enough of Wong's style to give my readers a fair sample of her style, which I just love:

"As we cruise uptown toward his fancy-ass penthouse, I ask him to pull over near the Queensboro Bridge for a second. Annoyance flashes across his face, but he parks the Tesla in a side street. I lurch into an alley, tottering over empty cans and discarded cigarettes in my four-inch heels, and puke a trail of champagne and kale over to the dumpster shoved up against the apartment building. “Are you all right?” Harvey calls. “I’m fine,” I slur. Not a single curious window opens overhead. His steps echo down the alley. He’s gotten out of the car, and he’s walking toward me like I’m an animal that he needs to approach carefully. Maybe I should do it now. Yes! Now, now, while the bitch is occupied. But what about the method? I won’t get to see her insides all pretty everywhere—I launch myself at him, fingers digging sharp into his body, and bite down hard on his mouth. He tries to shout, but I swallow the sound and shove my tongue inside. There, just behind his teeth, is what I’m looking for: ugly thoughts, viscous as boiled tendon. I suck them howling and fighting into my throat as Harvey’s body shudders, little mewling noises escaping from his nose. I feel decadent and filthy, swollen with the cruelest dreams I’ve ever tasted. I can barely feel Harvey’s feeble struggles; in this state, with the darkest parts of himself drained from his mouth into mine, he’s no match for me. They’re never as strong as they think they are. By the time he finally goes limp, the last of the thoughts disappearing down my throat, my body’s already changing. My limbs elongate, growing thicker, and my dress feels too tight as my ribs expand."  She changes briefly into his appearance, before she leaves his body near a dumpster, not knowing or caring if he is still alive.

This is not the first man whose life she has ended.   "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers" shows us the sexual love of our narrator, her roommate and a high fashion woman she meets for each other.  We also meet the narrator's mother, a hoarder whose house is shoulder high packed with junk, including jars containing the essences of men she has killed, including our narrator's father.  Her mother advised her it is best just to go for common criminals as no one will make a big effort to figure out why they disappeared.  There is a deep feeling of evil in the story, hidden by the beautiful prose and the elegance of the women.

Wong says she wants to write stories in which the chief characters are Asian American lesbians.  There is much in the story I have not touched upon, I want first time readers to not have too much advanced knowledge.

Bio Data from the collection

Alyssa Wong’s considerable reputation rests on only the handful of stories. Still in her mid-twenties, she is the youngest author to appear in this collection. Her work has appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, Black Static,, and Lightspeed: Queers Destroy Science Fiction. Her first published story, “The Fisher Queen,” earned immediate acclaim and was nominated for the Nebula, World Fantasy, and Shirley Jackson awards. Wong’s fourth story, “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers,” was published the following year to even stronger acclaim, winning the Nebula and World Fantasy awards, and was nominated for the Shirley Jackson and the Bram Stoker awards, and was a finalist for the Locus Award. She was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2016. She lives in Raleigh.

She is the first author of Filipino ancestry to win a Nebula Award.

I will be reading and posting on seven more of her stories.

If just a few of the stories in The New Voices of Fantasy are close to this good, it is well worth acquiring.

Leonora Carrington, best known broadly for her paintings had a very long, seventy years or so, creative career.  I wish the same for Alyssa Wong.

Mel u

Monday, May 8, 2017

Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi (2013)

2017 African Reading Challenge- Hosted by Kinna Reads

I have wanted to read Ghana Must Go for years.   I read and posted on her debut work of fiction, "The Sex Lives of African Girls" which was published in The Best American Short Stories of 2012.

As the novel opens Kwaki Sai, a doctor, has returned to Ghana, from living for a long time in America.  He is now living,in a house he designed, with his second wife.  He is slowly dying of a heart attack and is recalling, in a poetically rendered cascade of images, his five children, with his first wife, all grown now and highly accomplished immigrants to America.

The children learn of the news of the death of their father while still in America and plan a reunion in Ghana.  His oldest son has followed his father to become a surgeon, he is married to a Chinese American woman. The Guardian review perfectly describes the children:

"Across the ocean in America their children learn of the news. They have their own pre-existing pockets of grief. There is Olu, the oldest, responsible, neat, also a surgeon, married in Las Vegas to Ling, a Chinese-American for whom his love knows neither beginning nor end, yet whom he finds it difficult to accept as his family. There are Taiwo and Kehinde, the beautiful hazel-eyed twins, whose relationship and self-image were skewered by a horrific episode in Lagos when they were children. Taiwo, a gifted writer, sulky and aloof, is studying to be a lawyer, but flounders into a scandalous affair with the dean of her college. Kehinde has become a successful painter, hidden away in a warehouse studio in Brooklyn with scars on his wrist. And then there is Sadie, the youngest, her mother's favourite, the most insecure of all and bulimic with it, studying her hardest at university to shine as brightly as her siblings."

We learn that Africa students are under intense pressure to excel.  The tangled web of colonialism impacts every one in the story.  I sense that people from Ghana tend to feel inferior to Nigerians, or maybe that is just the perception of Nigerians.

Selasi elegantly renders the chaos of Accra, which is still a magnet for self-exiled citizens.  We see the interactions between the educated affluent Ghanaians and other residents, servants, cab drivers and such.  We see relationships between generations.  There is a starkly rendered horrific sex scene I found disturbing.  Violence is never far from the surface in Accra.

This is a challenging book,just as the immigrant experience confuses the characters, we must concentrate to follow the narrative.

The prose is lush and poetic.  The characters are real and very interesting.

A writer and photographer of Nigerian and Ghanaian descent, born in London and raised in Boston, now living in Rome and Berlin, who has studied Latin and music, Taiye Selasi is herself a study in the modern meaning of identity. In 2005 she published the much-discussed (and controversial) essay "Bye-Bye, Babar (Or: What Is an Afropolitan?)," offering an alternative vision of African identity for a transnational generation. Prompted by writer Toni Morrison, the following year she published the short story "The Sex Lives of African Girls" in the literary magazine Granta.
Her first novel Ghana Must Go, published in 2013, is a tale of family drama and reconciliation, following six characters and spanning generations, continents, genders and classes.

2017 is the fifth year  Kinna Reads has hosted an African Reading challenge.  This novel begins my participation in this wonderful event.  The rules and reading suggestions can be found on the link at the top of this post.

Mel u

Sunday, May 7, 2017

"Uncle Sam Carrington" by Leonora Carrington (1939)

I tried to discover if Carrington had an Uncle Sam but I did not find any references to him in various brief online biographies.  I do know Carrington had serious "Daddy Issues" with her very wealthy father, a Northern England industrialist.   

Uncle Sam Carrington and his wife Aunt Edgeworth (is the name meant to echo Maria Edgeworth?, it brought her to mind for me) occupy the first floor of the family residence.  They laugh hysterically at the full moon and are a source of embarrassment to the narrator's mother.  The narrator, a young girl, sets out one night, carrying a loaf of bread and a jar of jam, to find a solution.  After passing some cabbages involved in a nasty fight, she encounters a good friend, one she tells us will play a big part in her future, a talking horse.  The horse tells her to seek the council of two sisters.  Of course the two sisters are very strange.  She asks them for their help, they ascent to her request but tell her they will ask a high fee.  In these words you can enjoy the flavor of the story.

"The book was titled: The Secrets of the Flowers of Distinction and the Coarseness of Food. When the two women had left, the horse asked: “Do you know how to walk without making a sound?” “Certainly,” I answered. “Then let’s see the señoritas devoted to their work,” he said. “But if your life matters to you, don’t make a sound.” The señoritas were in their orchard which extended behind the house, surrounded by a wide wall. I mounted the horse and a surprising scene offered itself to my eyes: the señoritas Cunningham-Jones, each armed with an immense whip, were striking the vegetables, and shouting: “It’s necessary to suffer in order to go to heaven. Those who do not wear corsets will never arrive.” The vegetables, on their part, fought among themselves, and the older ones threw the smaller ones at the señoritas with angry screams. “Each time it happens so,” murmured the horse. “They are the vegetables that suffer on behalf of humanity. Soon you will see how they pick one for you, one that will die for the cause.” The vegetables did not have an enthusiastic air over dying an honorable death. But the señoritas were stronger. Soon two carrots and a little cabbage fell between their hands."

You can see this as a surrealistic mockery of religious doctrines of numerous sorts.  Horse are important to Carrington.  

In an interview toward the end of her life Carrington said art critics tend to Way over intellectualize her work, looking for hidden meanings.  Carrington tells us just look at her paintings, don't over think them.  For now I am just trying to enjoy the stories of Carrington as I make my first ventures into her world via her short stories.

I am a totally new reader of Carrington, there may well be factual errors in my posts, please feel free to share your knowledge with us 

My prior posts contain links to very good video presentations on Carrington.  

Mel u

Friday, May 5, 2017

"The Oval Lady" by Leonora Carrington (1939, republished in 1975)

Leonora Carrington- Britain's Last Surrealist Tate Shots. A wonderful beautifully done video -  (By the author of The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington, Joanna Moorhead, includes a conversation with  Carrington as well as images of her art)

Leonora Carrington A Surrealist Trip 

"The Occult Lady" was first published in 1939, in French along with six other stories.  In 1975 it was republished in English, translated by Rochelle Holt.  As far as I can determine it out of print and may still be under copyright protection in many countries.  I found online a PDF of the collection, which you can download and read if you wish.  I don't know a lot about Lucretia Carrington but I am pretty sure she would not mind.

As of now I have read and posted upon four of Lenora Carrington's surrealistic short stories.  All are quite brief and can be given a first read in five minutes or so.  Carrington is best known for her art.  Authorities on her work suggest you need an understanding of the symbolism of magic, alchemy, witchcraft and Mexican mythology to decipher the meaning of her stories.  In the long ago I made a bit of a study of such things but I resist for now seeing the best way to way to experience her fiction as attempting to decipher hidden meanings accessible only to occult initiates.

Violence is in all of the stories I have so far read, a cruel murder and the worship of the dead, hate of parents, a talking hyena and a very strange fly are just a few of the delights of her story.

As the story opens the narrator has now walked past the window of a mansion seven times. A very tall thin woman is always standing behind the window, never moving. As the narrator approached the door, it opened.  The lady in the window is ten feet tall, at least.  She does not turn to look at her visitor who struggles to find a conversational entrance:

"Senora, do you like poetry?"

No, I detest poetry

Perhaps you might like a cup tea?

I don't drink.  I don't eat.  I do that to protest against my father, the goat".

The tall girl, her name is Lucretia, she is sixteen, takes the girl to her toy room.  She loves her wooden horse.  Her pet raven Matilda, whose tongue she split ten years ago, flies into the room.  An old servant woman lurking in the background tells Lucretia she must report her activities to her father, whom Lucretia hates and fears.

Ravens, Matilda, wooden horses, oval shaped dishes, giant girls, the number seven all do have occult meanings.

The father inflicts a cruel punishment on Lucretia.

Mel u

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Master by Colm Toibin (2004, Short Listed for the Booker Prize)

Colm Toibin has obtained great commercial and literary success. I have posted on several of his novels and short stories as well as his works of literary criticism.

I first read his The Master about ten years ago, before I began The Reading Life.  I was motivated to read it again by all the glowing reviews and by the sale price for the Kindle edition of $2.95.  I also wanted to reread it after reading a number of the fictions of James and a biography of Constance Fenimore Woolson, about whom I knew nothing ten years ago.

The Master focuses on the life of Henry James from January 1895 to October 1899, years he lived in London.  It is centered on the interior world of James.  It opens with the humiliation of James when his play Guy Domville is a total flop on the London Stage.  James reacts by deciding he needs more solitude to focus on his novels.  He buys a house in London.  One of the things I  recalled from ten years ago was the great pleasure skill Toibin had in showing us the great joy James found in furnishing his house.

We see his complicated relationship to his brother William and his sister Alice as well as to his parents.  The mystery of the sexuality of James is dealt with very subtly.  Homosexuality was illegal and the fate of Oscar Wilde was very harsh.

James had a very close relationship to the American novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson, which plays a large part in The Master.  Some say it was the inability or refusal of James to enter into a romantic relationship with her that led to her suicide.  This is of course speculation.  We see him with her in Venice.

If you are into Henry James then you will find The Master fascinating, as did I.

Mel u

Monday, May 1, 2017

The April Reading Life Review

I will remember April 2017 as the month I first encountered Leonora Carrington

April Blog Stats

There was a surprising change in the top blog visiting home countries, for the first time since I began to track this over seven years ago, India was in second place.

The Philippines

I have had 4,573,305 page views since inception

There was also a change in the most viewed post category

The most  viewed post was

"The Assignment" by Sadaat Manto Hasan, a classic Partition short story, in second place was Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford.  Rounding out the top five were three stories by writers from the Philippines.

The latest new country was Mali.  I also received my first visit, since I began tracking this in February of 2016, from American Samoa.

There are now 3035 posts.

Works Read on Which I did not Post

A Serious History of Jewish Comedy by Jeremy Dauber.  A very good book with some Hilarious jokes:

"An iconic joke of the period depicts two Jews before a Russian firing squad, both offered blindfolds. One accepts, the other scornfully refuses. His friend urges him: “Shh . . . don’t make trouble.”

Hadrian the Seventh by Baron Corvo.  A very strange book!

"A Birthday" by Katherine Mansfield

"The Semplica-Girl Diary" by George Saunders

"Kohl Do" by Sadaat Manto Hasan.  Another Partition short story, some say his most famous work

Literary Biographies

Last month I read two works named by Richard Holmes as among the very best of the form

Lytton Strachey The New Biography by Michael Holyrod

The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography by A. J. A. Symons


Way Station by Clifford Simak. - A Hugo Award Winner

The House of Dreams by Colm Toibin

Dawn by Octavia Butler

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Bloodlines by Octavia Butler - A Hugo and Nebula Prize Winning Novella.  A powerful work

Swing Time by Zadie Smith.  Loved it and will try to read all her other novels soon.  I have read several of her short stories

The Dream by Ivan Turgenev, a novella, a rare venture into the supernatural

Additionally I read and posted on four Yiddish Short Stories and three by authors from the Indian Subcontinent

Review Policies

I have no defined policy.  I look at every book I am sent.  I am very interested in posting on new works of literary biography.

Leonora Carrington

I read three of her Surrealist short stories.  I will be reading as much of her work as well as secondary works on her as I can.  I admit I was spooked out a bit when I saw her with a cat that looked just like our Mr. C, passed away in 2012 after 19 years.

I offer my great thanks to all who leave comments.  They are very appreciated and help keep me going.

Mel u