Thursday, July 30, 2020

A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch on Book Beginnings



Another summer week is rolling by. This one feels like it has gone so fast. It's the first really warm week of the summer here in Portland, Oregon, with our first run of days over 90 degrees. That may sound funny, since it will be August this weekend, but this is a chilly, damp corner of the country. And as soon as summer finally arrives, we complain that it is too hot. Oregonians!

BOOK BEGINNINGS ON FRIDAYS

It's time to share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are enjoying this week. Leave a link to your post below. If you post on social media, please use the hashtag #bookbeginnings so we can find each other. 

MY BOOK BEGINNING

I'm reading A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch this week. It's her 5th novel, published in 1961. 


OPENING SENTENCES:
"You're sure she doesn't know," said Georgie.

"Antonia? About us? Certain."

A Severed Head starts off with a common Murdoch set up. Martin Lynch-Gibbon is perfectly happy married to his wife Antonia with his girlfriend Georgie on the side. His girlfriend knows about his wife but his wife doesn't know about his girlfriend. Murdoch likes to squeeze every drop she can get from this arrangement.

From the back cover, I know the story is going to go a different direction when Martin's wife leaves them for a mutual friend who is also her psychoanalyst. Looks like this one could get fun. 

YOUR BOOK BEGINNING

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THE FRIDAY 56



Every Friday, Freda's Voice hosts another weekly blog event called The Friday 56. Participants share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 (or the electronic equivalent) of the book they are enjoying. Visit Freda's blog for details and to share your post.

MY FRIDAY 56

I loved her with a wild undignified joy, and also with a certain cheerful brutality, both of which were absent from my always more decorous, my essentially sweeter relationship with Antonia. I adored Georgie too for her dryness, her toughness, her independence, her lack of intensity, her wit, and altogether for her being such a contrast, such a compliment, to the softer and more moist attractions, the more dewy radiance of my lovely wife.

Iris Murdoch is one of my favorite authors. Any other fans? I am trying to read all of her fiction. I keep a list of her books here and keep track of those I read. 



Sunday, July 26, 2020

Hidden Falls by Kevin Myers - BOOK REVIEW

book cover of Hidden Falls by Kevin Myers


Kevin Myers' new novel, Hidden Falls, follows protagonist Michael Quinn back to Massachusetts following the unexpected death of his father. Middle-aged, single, in a strained relationship with his own kid, and at the peak of a dead-end job in print journalism, Michael is on the brink of a classic mid-life crisis. What he gets instead is a real-life crisis when he discovers his father was involved with organized crime and Michael lands in the middle of a criminal conspiracy.

Although it starts with a bang, literally, the first chapter is just a teaser, before the story starts for real "a few weeks before." Then the first quarter of the book is about Michael's workaday life in Portland. He's a columnist for the Portland Daily newspaper, waiting to be downsized out of a job in the next round of layoffs. He's divorced, with a son just starting college, and is trying to navigate the stormy waters of middle-aged dating. One amusing subplot has Michael following the "Missed Connections" listings on Craigslist, convinced a younger co-worker is flirting with him.

Michael carries his everyday concerns with him to New Bedford when he returns for his father's funeral. These concerns don't go away – especially when his ex-wife, son, and potential girlfriend show up for the funeral – but Michael's perception changes as he falls deeper into the realities of his family's life in New Bedford. Those realities are exciting enough, with gamblers, gangsters, and crooked cops to spare. Tensions are high, tempers run hot, and Michael is right in the middle of it. It's a good yarn.

Meyers chose his setting well. New Bedford, with its whaling history, is the archetype of a certain kind of New England town, once great centers of now dead American industries. Meyers explores what is like to grow up in a town like New Bedford, with the pride shown for a heritage long past, a fierce connection to professional and amateur sports, and a hometown bond that is not easy to explain. He has an ear for the accent and an eye for the mores that bring New Bedford to life for the reader.

Meyers tells Michael's story with subtle humor and a big heart. Don't expect an edge of your seat, blood and guts thriller. But if you like a good story, well told, Hidden Falls is the book for you. It's got humor, romance, family drama, and enough crime to make it exciting.



NOTES

I'd recommend Hidden Falls for fans of Richard Russo, Jim Harrison, and Dennis Lehane, and anyone who likes a good midlife crisis story, father/son story, stories set in New England, or just something new.

Read my interview of Kevin Meyers here on Rose City Reader.

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Likeness by Tana French on Book Beginnings


BOOK BEGINNINGS ON FRIDAYS

I am late posting this week! So sorry!

My sister is moving and I was helping her the last couple of days. I lost track of the days of the week. Good grief! Things are a little crazy here in Portland. My sister is fed up with living downtown and is moving to the suburbs, for a lot of reasons. She will miss her beautiful apartment in an old building, but I understand her decision completely.

Here is the link to post your Book Beginnings. I will come back after a work meeting and post my own.

YOUR BOOK BEGINNINGS


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MY BOOK BEGINNING



Some nights, if I'm sleeping on my own, I still dream about Whitethorn House.

-- The Likeness by Tana French.The Likeness is the second book in French’s Dublin Murder Squad series after In The Woods. Detective Cassie Maddox is the star of this one.

Any other Tana French fans? What did you think of The Likeness?

I confess I gave up on Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light and switched to this one. I was looking forward to it, but it just wasn’t keeping my attention like the first two did. And the audiobook is 38 hours long! After two days, I was only 9% of the way through. Maybe someday. But not now.

I’m a completist and rarely give up on a book, especially the third in a trilogy. In fact I probably can count on one hand the books I’ve abandoned. One of my goals is to be better about giving up on books that I don’t enjoy and not be bothered by that feeling of leaving something unfinished.

Is there a name for the need to scratch things off lists? If there is, I have it. Who else? Is there a cure?



THE FRIDAY 56

Over at Freda's Voice, Freda hosts The Friday 56 where participants share a teaser from page 56 of the book they are reading or featuring. Visit Freda's Voice for details or to link your post.

MY FRIDAY 56

The squad room holds 20, but it was Sunday-evening empty: computers off, desks scattered with paperwork and fast-food wrappers -- the cleaners don't come in till Monday morning. In the back corner by the window, the desks where Rob and I used to sit were still at right angles, the way we liked them, so we could be shoulder to shoulder.



Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Sandell Morse, Author of The Spiral Shell: A French Village Reveals its Secrets of Jewish Resistance in WWII: Author Interview

headshot of author Sandell Morse

Author Sandell Morse has written widely for literary magazines including Ploughshares and the New England Review. Her new book, The Spiral Shell: A French Village Reveals its Secrets of Jewish Resistance in World War II is out now from Schaffner Press. It is both a memoir and the history of the Jewish resistance movement in the French village of Auvillar.

book cover of The Spiral Shell by Sandell Morse

Sandell talked with Rose City Reader about The Spiral Shell, writing in France, WWII stories, and book tours during COVID19:


How did you come to write your memoir, The Spiral Shell?

In 2011 at age 72, I was awarded a writing residency at Moulin à Nef, an artists’ retreat owned and operated by the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Auvillar, a village in southwest France. Before leaving home, I researched the village and learned that Auvillar was on one of the pilgrimage routes that ends at the Shrine of Saint James in Santiago del Compostello, Spain. I thought of Crusaders walking that route, and whenever I think of Crusaders, I think of Jews. My thoughts jumped to the Second World War and I wondered if Jews had lived there then. My original intent was to write a series of essays on this subject.

Your memoir is also the story of Jewish resistance during World War II in the French village of Auvillar. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

I was very lucky to find Gerhard Schneider, a German, Catholic theologian who lived in the village. Not only was Gerhard willing to talk to me, he was interested in facing the dark history of both Germany and France. Gerhard was married to a French woman, and early in their marriage, he set out to bridge the two cultures. So, like me, Gerhard was interested in connection and our common humanity. Others, also shared stories of their families. I read a lot, researched a lot.

If you’re asking me about specific resistance in that area, yes, the resistance worked there. I researched Jean Hirsch, a nine-year-old resistance courier during the war. He and his family sheltered in Auvillar. His father and mother both worked for the Jewish Scouts of France, a normal scouting organization before the war, an organization dedicated to saving Jewish children during the war. Both parents were sent to Auschwitz. I won’t say more because I tell their story in the book. Also the German presence was nearby. There were also Nazis sympathizers in the village.

How does your story, the memoir part of your book, connect with the story of Auvillar?

My maiden name is Hirsch, and I felt an immediate connection to Jean Hirsch and his family. I was not on a quest for my roots, but I understood, that my fate as a Jew rested on the fact that my father’s family had left the Alsace Lorraine in the mid 19th century and his had not. In addition to his story, I tell the story of four families deported from Auvillar, a history that to this day remains hidden to most villagers and visitors. Nothing marks the houses where they lived. For years and even today, many in France do not want to face their past any more than we in the States want to face our legacy of slavery or our native American genocide. I would say the memory part of my book connects with Auvillar on a deeply human level.

What is the meaning of the title, The Spiral Shell?

I was on a walking tour in Paris, exploring a part of the marais, Jewish Section, I hadn’t explored before. The tour leader stopped and pointed to a limestone building block. France was once an inland sea and buildings in Paris are made from limestone dug from quarries under the city. I couldn’t see what I was supposed to see. Then I saw it, the indentation of a spiral shell, a fossil. Then, later the tour leader found a tiny spiral shell among crushed up shells that made a path. He dropped it into my palm. It sits on my desk. The shell is like my narrative; it spirals up.

Did you consider turning your personal experiences and what you learned about Auvillar into fiction and writing your story as a novel?

I did not. I started out as a fiction writer, and I have about four unpublished novels on my shelf. I’ve had agents. I’ve come in second in contests. I figured that was enough. I turned to essays, and I loved the form.

Who is your intended audience and what do you hope your readers will gain from your book?

I want everyone to read and love The Spiral Shell. In the book, I cultivate empathy and connection, two things we need desperately right now.

Can you recommend any other memoirs about the Holocaust or Jewish resistance in World War II?

A classic would be Margaret Duras, The War, A Memoir. I loved The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Wall, not exactly a resistance story, but I found myself retracing his peoples’ steps in Paris. De Waal led me to the Musée Nissim de Camando in Paris. I highly recommend The Lost Childhood by Yehuda Nir. It’s published by Schaffner Press, publisher of The Spiral Shell. Three more are A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell, The Crooked Mirror by Louise Steinman, and The Rescuer by Dara Horn.

What do you think people today can learn from the stories about WWII and the Holocaust?

Is everything an okay answer? The struggle for justice is never over. It’s an ongoing fight. The challenge is to retain our humanity in dark times. This, too, is an ongoing struggle.

You have a terrific website and are active on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Goodreads. From an author's perspective, how important are social networking sites and other internet resources?

In this time of COVID19, they are my lifeline. So many wonderful people have taken me under their wing. I’m a debut book writer with no track record, and my book came out when the country shut down. I felt like Sisyphus rolling his boulder up hill. Then, the wonderful Jenna Blum introduced the book on pub day on A Mighty Blaze.

Many, but not all, of my bookstore events went to Zoom. I’ll be interviewed by Annie Mcdonnell of The Write Review on August 31st.  I list all of my events on the events page on my website.

What are you working on now?

I’m keeping it pretty close. I will say it’s another memoir, and it takes place during the time I was writing this memoir and visiting France, so 2011- 2017. It’s a family story, and it has many of the same themes, social justice, what it means to be a mother, and for me a grandmother. We live simultaneous lives, but we can only write about one at a time.


THANK YOU, SANDELL!

THE SPIRAL SHELL IS AVAILABLE ONLINE FROM ALL MAJOR SOURCES.


Saturday, July 18, 2020

Off Island by Lara Tupper: Book Review

book cover of Off Island by Lara Tupper

Off Island by Lara Tupper (Encircle Publications, 2020)

In Off Island, Lara Tupper creates an imagined history of artist Paul Gauguin, famed for his vibrant paintings from the South Seas, visiting an island off the coast of Maine. A hundred years later, a contemporary painter finds the paintings and letters Gauguin left behind and learns that maybe Gauguin also left a family in Maine.

The two stories run parallel. While Gauguin is in Maine painting and writing letters home, his wife Metter Gad is in Denmark, raising five children and trying to make ends meet. In 2003, Pete is a painter and Molly holds down the fort. Both Gauguin and Pete wrestle with addiction issues. The most powerful part of the book is Mette's story. Tupper is careful to give her an independent voice and not make her a victim. The two story lines intersect convincingly by the end.

Tupper teases out coastal themes that work with the story. Artists paint seascapes; characters are at sea. There is tension between permanent residents and outsiders, the fishing community and artists who live there and the city tourists. These themes and conflicts give the story a nice heft.

Off Island is a terrific book for anyone who enjoys fictionalized art history and historical fiction with a braided contemporary narrative.

NOTES

Lara Tupper has written short stories, an earlier novel, and a screenplay, and is a jazz and pop singer. She taught at Rutgers University for many years and now presents writing workshops and retreats in Massachusetts where she now lives.

Read my Rose City Reader author interview with Lara Tupper here, where Lara talked about Off Island, the authority of a narrator's voice, Zooming her book tour, and other fun bookish stuff.

Read an article about Lara Tupper and Off Island from The Boothbay Register, where Lara talks about her book and the research that went into it, as well as growing up in Maine.




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