“Issy Bradley” and me

A Song for Issy Bradley  by Carys Bray tickles your sense of humor, nudges your heart with compassion for these struggling characters, and reveals the inner tickings of the Mormon faith. A close English family knit to the church by their enduring faith and the father’s function as a Mormon bishop, the Bradleys suffer a huge loss. Each family member: Mom Claire, Dad Ian, sons Al and Jacob, and daughter Zippy, mourns in his/her unique way.

This book gives insights into Mormonism, its strengths and weaknesses. IzzyThe great humanity of the characters shines through Bray’s luminous writing. One memorable character is Jacob, 7 years old, who plans for, then waits for a miracle, providing the reader with both humor and fascination at the twists of a young mind grappling with the unknown.

Taking us into Jacob’s mind, Chapter 1 begins “Jacob wakes up early. He isn’t sure why at first then he remembers it’s his birthday, which makes his stomach tip like a Slinky. It’s still dark, the thick kind that hides your hands from you. He lies quietly for a few moments, willing morning to get nearer.”  The reader also enters into the thought processes of the other family members. This is the author’s first novel, and Ms. Bray quickly establishes that we are in the hands of a master.

And, the first line of the author’s bio, “Carys Bray was brought up in a devout Mormon family. In her early thirties she left the Church and replaced religion with writing,” tells it all.

Being brought up in a strong faith marks one indelibly, even if one later replaces or abandons that religion. I speak from experience.

Don’t miss this one.

P.S. New Year’s Resolution: blog more often.

Potpourri: dancing and books

New Release.

Book cover Disconfort of happyiness 001 (640x635)Congratulations to son Jeff on the writing and publication of the first of his series of non-fiction books: The Discomfort of Happiness: Mastering the Art of Vitality. Jeff has mastered the art of writing inspirational, educational material to help improve one’s life. He also learned all the skills necessary to publish same. We wish him well in his new endeavor as writer/educator.

Andre Dubus III has an outstanding new work of fiction:  Dirty Love. In these four novellas, Dubus exhibits his muscular, detailed prose, as he probes the lives of Mark, the controlling husband dirty love book 001 (427x640)who confronts his wife’s infidelity; Marla, the young wife who faces the reality of marriage vs. one’s dreams of it; Robert, an unfaithful husband who deeply wrongs his pregnant wife; and Devon, a teenager brought low by her misused sexuality, but perhaps redeemed by an Iraq vet. The characters are deeply flawed, wonderfully human, and Dubus captures the suffering and hope that reside in the most ordinary of lives.

Recommended Memoirs:

Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart: Russian immigrant, growing up in the US, after various false moves, becomes writer, makes good. Told with great honesty and humor.

At Home in the World  by Joyce Maynard: 18 year old girl survives a year with J.D. Salinger.

Another topic: Square dancing has called us back to its charms after a long hiatus. This often happens as one ages and various body parts take a temporary, we hope, time out. My husband recovered his mobility after correction of a bone spur, and we’re back. If you’ve never tried this most American of dances, you’re in for a treat. The hardest part is convincing the gentlemen they will enjoy it. They will, because it is moving to music in patterns, which the dancer has learned and is comfortable with. You don’t need to be musical; anyone who can feel the beat can do it.

I met my husband square dancing, so you see its importance in our lives. The lessons are free at first, then very low cost, done by your local square dance clubs. They always need new members to help them dance. The challenge of the dance is you need 8 people to form a square–4 men, 4 women, though talented dancers can dance either part.  During the dance, you vary your position in many ways, performing the moves at the caller’s cues. You dance all around the square, but usually wind up where you started from. Nice symbolism.

So now Sunday afternoons we attend workshops to help us remember what we once knew well, moving around a square to music. Saturday nights, too, there’s often a square dance nearby for both entertainment and exercise.

Makes us feel younger. Good stuff.

Unmerry, but not unhappy

The big celebrations are over for another year. It was going to be a quiet holiday, anyway, with no guests. Those who invited us to dinner uninvited us, because of their illness. But that was okay, because we got sick, too. At least half of us did. He said he caught it while shopping for food for our holiday dinner. Whenever it was, it hit the eve of the holiday, when he asked me to go and buy cold pills and orange juice. Those are his remedies, and they are slowly working.

So it’s quiet recovery time now. Reading, resting in the comfy chair,then in bed to read some more, seem to be the activities of choice this sunny on the Oregon coast.

Happy New Year.

The time for revels and recovery now is ending: it’s back to work. To writing, the main work.

I never stop the parallel activity: reading, my refuge and my salvation. When I give my coming talks to persuade people to buy my book, that it’s worth taking the journey to Clinton Street, my theme shall be the importance, the necessity of reading–especially of reading novels. Good novels, well-written works, invite us to explore the yearnings and workings of our humanity in its many guises.

I don’t understand how one can be a writer and not read.  Siamese twins who cannot be separated, reading and writing are mutually dependent. Reading begets writing: most DSC_4399writers begin as readers who decide they, too, can create a fictional world for others to explore. Writers need readers; readers need writers. Each activity nourishes what I can only call my soul. Since reading came first, it’s perhaps the favorite child, can both sooth and disturb, and most importantly, make me think new thoughts, or sometimes echo my own, so I find a comrade, a like-mind.

Recent memorable reads: Men We Reaped: A memoir by Jesmyn Ward. The author shares her loss of five young men in four years, friends and relatives, felled by drugs, accidents, and suicide. She comes to see that they shared the disadvantages of growing up poor with little hope of a better life, which breeds drug addiction and fragile family ties. She bravely tells her own story, similar to that of the young men, with the exception that she received a good education, was able to leave home and to write this story that haunts her and us.

The Pure Gold Baby – Margaret Drabble – A single mother in London, an anthropologist, raises her special needs daughter whose sunny nature belies her handicap. A coming to terms with one’s choices and seeing the full extent of a mother’s responsibility.

Movies: “Dallas Buyer Club” – Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto are outstanding in an amazing urban survival story.

American Hustle – One of the year’s best. Comedy with a serious side. They don’t get much better than this.

Let us Wish for a Good Year For Us All!

The Saddest Novel

When is the best time to read a powerful but sad novel? Never, many would say, perhaps feeling that reading of the misfortunes of others adds to their own sadness. They prefer lighter reading fare.

By sad, I don’t mean negative, but simply realistic subject matter. To me, that’s what well-written, non-happy endng novels convey: the reality of many of the lives of our fellow humans. And perhaps our own.

So Long, See You Tomorrow, by William Maxwell, first published in 1980, begins with a murder committed in 1920, and goes on to fill in the details of domestic tragedy for the families of all concerned. The story is narrated by a young man who is also the victim of a different but just as painful domestic tragedy.

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The novel contains piercing insights into the ordeals we humans perpetrate on ourselves, other adults, children, and animals. The insights are powerful. “Whether they are part of home or home is part of them is not a question children are prepared to answer,” Maxwell writes, hinting at the overpowering influence our early home life has upon each of us. A few pages later he writes “…People neither get what they deserve nor deserve what they get. The gentle and trusting are trampled on. The rich man usually forces his way through the eye of the needle, and there is little or no point in putting your faith in Divine Providence….” This is hard news for some, but it’s difficult to argue with, when we see, and perhaps experience it, daily.

There may be no good time to read a sad, true, beautifully written novel, but the feelings it evokes are worth feeling: compassion for the suffering of others, especially the innocents among us. Perhaps if we read more novels such as this, we might be moved to greater kindness to one another. It’s worth a try, and So Long, See You Tomorrow is a place to begin.

Let’s get started…

Reading is my passion. I cannot go a day without reading. I prefer novels to escape into and explore the writer’s world. I still remember starting a Gail Godwin novel (I can’t remember which) and the first page was, literally and metaphorically, a door opening and the reader stepping into the home of a new friend and watching the characters interact. I didn’t want to leave that world.

Another time, years ago while traveling in Europe, I was in the middle of reading Sophie’s Choice. Sitting in a street cafe in Rome, I began weeping when I realized the agonizing choice Sophie was forced to make.

When I read almost anything by Philip Roth, I admire both his clarity of style and his rigorous honesty in dealing with his characters.

Not long ago, I finished Joseph Anton by Salmon Rushdie. It’s a long work, a memoir, giving a short account of his early life and an in-depth exploration of his years of living under the sentence of death–for writing a book! Mind boggling.

So reading takes me places, introduces me to folks I could not meet in any other way, teaches me to be more tolerant and less judgmental.

I think it was Jonathan Franzen who wrote a long article about reading and writing in which he said that, after a while, in one’s reading career, one decides she, too, can do this. Thus  a writer is launched. This is what happened to me. I write novels, short shorties, even a poem or two.  I belong to a writers’ workshop which I helped start. We’ve been meeting for almost two years now. Keeps one humble and also encouraged, as we pursue our goal of becoming the best writers we can be.

I’m about half way through Midnight’s Children, which some consider Rushdie’s best book. I started Satanic Verses, but abandoned it. Midnight’s Children is a much different experience. More on it when I finish in a few days.

So much for a beginning. I’d love to hear your comments.