Mendocino Fire

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You have to want to write, but love you can do without wanting: which makes it sound as if it’s the simpler thing.

 

I thought I knew my authors but Elizabeth Tallent was an unfamiliar name. I was instead attracted to its title, more Mendocino than Fire.

The book and I got off to a rocky start. The first couple of stories weren’t connecting with me, but when I got to Mystery Caller, I just wanted to stop and read it and then reread it all over again. Because that was a story that just worked for me, it just clicked right into place and I knew that this story – even if none of the other stories worked for me – that this story would make things alright.

Ten years later, this can happen to her: someone can set his coffee cup down on the counter instead of in its saucer, and she can, for that, love him.

Other stories, like Eros 101, weren’t quite so much my style:

Q: Examine the proposition that for each of us, however despairing over past erotic experience, there exists a soul mate.

A: Soul? In some fluorescent lab an egg’s embryonic smear cradles a lozenge of silicon, the vampiric chip electromagnetically quickened by a heartbeat, faux-alive, while in a Bauhaus bunker on the far side of campus, a researcher coaxes Chopin from a virtual violin, concluding with a bow to her audience of venture capitalists, but for true despair, please turn to Prof. Clio Mitsak, at a dinner party in her honor, lasting late this rainy winter night, nine other women at the table, women only, for the evening’s covert (and mistaken: you’ll see) premise is that the newly hired Woolf scholar will, from her angelic professional height and as homage to VW, scheme to advance all female futures, and the prevailing mood has been one of preemptive gratitude, gratitude as yet unencumbered by actual debt and therefore flirtatious, unirksome even to Clio, its object.

 

Yup that’s one long sentence. But goodness, the way Tallent writes, it makes me envious. It is elegant and evocative, her observations of every day life.

Her husband has taken the twins to soccer practice. She wants them gone, and they will be – rarely does domestic life offer such a happy intersection of desire and circumstance.

To be honest, at times while I was reading these stories, I wondered if I were just not literary, not learned enough to fully appreciate this book. It felt like these stories are meant to be dissected, analyzed by lit students, by creative writing MFAs and writing workshop participants.

(Or perhaps it was just the way I was rushing through this collection of stories, needing to read them in order to write this post. Or perhaps it was just the state of mind I was in while reading them. Because sometimes you just need to be in the right frame of mind to be reading certain books. And these days my mind seems to be framing me towards comics and SF/fantasy.)

But back to Mendocino Fire – is there something there for the rest of us? Yes, from the fishing community to the redwoods to the cafe on Telegraph Avenue, the stories are about all of us. The fears and hopes we have about our relationships, that secret desire to call an ex and listen in on their background noise to figure out what’s been going on in their lives, that dreadful knowing that a loved one is on his last breaths. Old love, new love. Loss, desire. Pain and suffering, joy and happiness.

 

 

Elizabeth-TallentElizabeth Tallent is the author of the story collections Honey, In Constant Flight, and Time with Children, and the novel Museum Pieces. Since 1994 she has taught in the Creative Writing program at Stanford University. She lives on the Mendocino coast of California.

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I received this book for review from its publisher and TLC Book Tours 

Check out the rest of the tour stops

Tuesday, October 20th: Books on the Table
Friday, October 23rd: Bibliotica
Monday, October 26th: A Bookish Way of Life
Tuesday, October 27th: Back Porchervations
Wednesday, October 28th: Olduvai Reads
Thursday, October 29th: she treads softly
Friday, October 30th: M. Denise Costello
Tuesday, November 3rd: Read. Write. Repeat.
Wednesday, November 4th: Worth Getting in Bed For
Thursday, November 5th: Imaginary Reads
Friday, November 6th: Raven Haired Girl
Monday, November 9th: Lavish Bookshelf
Tuesday, November 10th: Dreams, Etc.
Wednesday, November 11th: You Can Read Me Anything
Thursday, November 12th: The Well-Read Redhead
Friday, November 13th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie

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Sometimes you chance upon books by fate, others by the placement of library shelves.

My most often frequented shelves in the library, other than the children’s section, are the Hold shelves. I do a lot of book holds, which can be tricky as the library only allows TEN HOLDS! And it’s an Argh ARGH situation as I request books for myself and the more popular picture books for the kids.

But because the Holds shelves are located perpendicular to the ‘A’s and ‘B’s of the adult fiction shelves, I tend to scan those as I walk past. And this time, Sherman Alexie’s Ten Little Indians called out to me. I’m not sure why. It’s cover art isn’t exactly eye-catching. But I pulled it off the shelf anyway and opened the cover.

And there I saw this paperclipped note from Hilton Singapore. And I knew I was meant to borrow this book! Haha!

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Alexie sure knew how to suck this reader into the first story, with a bookish college student named Corliss. She’s a reader, a lover of books.

“In the Washington State University library, her version of Sherwood Forest, Corliss walked the poetry stacks. She endured a contentious and passionate relationship with this library. The huge number of books confirmed how much magic she’d been denied for most of her life, and now she hungrily wanted to read every book on every shelf. An impossible task, to be sure, Herculean in its exaggeration, but Corliss wanted to read herself to death. She wanted to be buried in a coffin filled with used paperbacks.”

Sometimes when writers do this I want to yell, hey that’s cheating! How could you throw in a bookish book lover knowing that a bookish book lover would be reading this too? That just means that I cannot help but fall for this story. How could I not want to befriend, to hug a character who thinks such thoughts:

Corliss wondered what happens to a book that sits unread on a library shelf for thirty years. Can a book rightfully be called a book if it never gets read? If a tree falls in a forest and gets pulped to make paper for a book that never gets read, but there’s nobody there to read it, does it make a sound?

And this:

Corliss had never once considered the fate of library books. She’d never wondered how many books go unread. She loved books. How could she not worry about the unread? She felt like a disorganized scholar, an inconsiderate lover, an abusive mother, and a cowardly soldier.

Corliss is Spokane Indian and she comes across a book of poems written by a Spokane, someone she had never heard of and since “only three thousand other Spokanes of various Spokane-ness existed in the whole world” she didn’t understand how she had never heard of this fellow poetry-loving Spokane.

And she is determined to track him down. It’s a bit tricky because he doesn’t want to be found.

In another story, Do You Know Where I Am?, Alexie writes of a couple who have been together since college.

“We laughed and kissed and made love and read books in bed. We read through years of books, decades of books. There were never enough books for us. Read, partially read, and unread, our books filled the house, stacked on shelves and counters, piled into corners and closets. Our marriage became an eccentric and disorganised library. Whitman in the pantry! The Bronte sisters in the television room! Hardy on the front porch! Dickinson in the laundry room! We kept a battered copy of Native Son in the downstairs bathroom so our guests would have something valuable to read!”

Of course it’s not about their reading habits, not at all. But this passage was too cute. And the story was just so very sweet.

The other stories in Ten Little Indians aren’t really sweet but they were mostly good reads.

 

 

TLC Book Tours: Married Love: And Other Stories

Short stories intimidate me.

I never know quite how to write about them. And sometimes I don’t quite know how to read them either. I often want to hop from one story to another, but that doesn’t quite allow ample absorption of each individual story. And with this great collection of stories, you don’t want to rush it.

Hadley is a master of the every day, but with a hint of something a little darker. These are things that could be happening to someone out there, every day. An 18-year-old wants to marry her professor, a husband drops dead in his home, a flight is delayed, a young couple meet each other’s families for the first time, a girl tries to get over her brother’s suicide. There are relationships that are broken, starting anew, romantic – in all their intensity and complexity.

Hadley brings the reader’s attention to the details, such as in title track Married Love:

“A squall of rain urged against the steamed-up windowpanes, the kettle boiled, toast sprang from the toaster for no one in particular. Vaguely, they all looked at her, thinking their own thoughts. Lottie emanated intensity; her personality was like a demon trapped inside a space too small. Even as a baby she had been preternaturally perceptive and judgmental. Her talent for the violin, when it was discovered, had seemed an explanation for her surplus strength, or a solution to it; she had begun on an instrument so tiny that it looked like a Christmas-tree decoration. Now she was living with her parents while she studied for her music degree at the university.”

She takes us into the heart of their lives, their homes, tells us their stories, and then backs away, leaving the reader with an image to remember, that doesn’t necessarily resolve the situation, if indeed there is a situation to resolve, but is nevertheless striking and full of impact, like in A Mouthful of Cut Glass, where the girls throw apples at the window: “standing out in the grey daylight as he watched them, hurling all the apples at him, one after another, until they reached a layer of impossibly mushy ones at the very bottom of the bucket”.

In an interview with NPR News, Hadley explained:

“It’s the twists and turning and unexpected bit that leads off to the left when you thought you were going right and then the dead end. And that’s what I love to follow.”

With this collection of subtle, layered stories, Hadley has definitely captured this reader’s attention. And I’d gladly follow her writing anywhere.

“The fiction writer’s ambition is modest and overweening: to take the imprint of the passing moment, capture it in the right words, keep it for the future to read.”

Tessa Hadley

Tessa Hadley’s works
2011 The London Train
2007 The Master Bedroom
2007 Sunstroke and other stories
2003 Everything Will Be All Right
2002 Henry James and the Imagination of Pleasure
2002 Accidents in the Home

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and Harper Perennial for this review copy

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour stops:

Tuesday, November 20th: Unabridged Chick

Monday, November 26th: Olduvai Reds

Tuesday, November 27th: Sweet Tidbits

Thursday, November 29th: Walking With Nora

Monday, December 3rd: BookNAround

Tuesday, December 4th: Kind of a Mess

Wednesday, December 5th: In the Next Room

Thursday, December 6th: What She Read…

Wednesday, December 12th: The Betty and Boo Chronicles

Thursday, December 13th: A Patchwork of Books

Monday, December 17th: Eclectic/Eccentric

TBD: The House of the Seven Tails