Friday, June 24, 2011

Unfinished Business by Lee Kravitz

A few years ago I did an early review on a memoir very similar to this one.  Do-over was the author's take on 10 separate incidents in his life that he did poorly, and in the memoir he did his best to recreate the scene and do it all over.  I found the narrative to be entertaining because it was a childhood memoir combined with a stunt memoir.  It worked on both levels for me.

Unfinished Business follows a year in the life of Lee Kravitz, a work-a-holic editor who finds himself without a job.   While he is trying to get his life together, he makes a list of 10 things that he should have done that he never did and sets about to right a bunch of (mostly social) wrongs from his past.

The book started off with a bang.  The voice held my interest, the story seemed enough different from Do over, and I began reading quickly.   Now that I am finally finished after two weeks, my honest reaction is that it was a very good effort, but it felt like it would have better filled 10 short essays for Sojourners magazine rather than one long memoir.  Mr. Kravitz would introduce the piece of unfinished business, describe how he finished it, and then was philosophically about it for 20 pages.  In a nutshell, taking care of all his unfinished business:  writing a condolence card, eulogizing his grandmother, paying an old debt, finding a long lost friend, changed him for the better.

The two chapters I found most interesting were the first, where he sets out to find a favorite and long lost aunt who has been locked away in an institution for many years and the second to last where he uses his reporters research skills to corroborate a family story that involved Eliot Ness and bootleggers in his hometown of Cleveland.

This paperback version of the book comes complete with your own guide to unfinished business.  How do you right some of the wrongs that you committed when you were young? Seems cheaper than therapy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A major Award!

I am pleased to announce that I have won a MAJOR AWARD!  I came in third place in a local short story contest. It will be 6 months before my story appears in print, so I will wait till it comes out to post here and share the story and the publication.

Needless to say, I am very excited.  I won a small gift certificate to a local restaurant.  I plan to take out the lovely ladies who helped me workshop the story over several weeks.  I couldn't have done it without them.

Also, a big shout out to Women Writing for (a) Change-Bloomington which also creates the venue for me to tell stories and revel in a marvelous community of women writers.

I must tell you that I enjoy summer so much it is hard to get to the reading I want to do.  These posts may slow down a bit over the summer months.

Peace and hope you are enjoying some good reads!  Post and let me know what they are.

Friday, June 10, 2011

On Finding things

A few weeks ago I wrote about my newfound love of FOUND magazine which chronicles the flotsam and jetsam people find on the streets and in library books of life.  Davy Rothbart, who has made a cottage industry out of finding things and writing about them, edited a book of short stories by writers and celebrities about things they have found.

Requiem for a Paper Bag is an eclectic assortment of short tales (some are true some are fiction) all about the things people find that have created stories and stuck with them over the years.  The book itself is a tribute to storytelling of the most basic and most beautiful form: clever observations about finding a lucky rock or returning someone's wallet or reading an old store clerk's diary after she dies, or finding a photo of a stranger in an unusual place.  These are the stories that surround us at the dinner table or cocktail parties.  This is the bread and butter of our lives.

A few of the entries were ruminations on found objects that tried to tell the fictional tale of why the note was written or why the photo appeared where it did.  These stories were also fun and clever twists on the theme.

As a writer and storyteller I am captivated by how we tell stories and how we find the stories we tell to begin with.  This volume gives me more thoughts about good storytelling and how we find those stories and peer into them.  I hope my writing friends out there will use this idea as a prompt...what have you found and how has it stayed with you over the years?  Did it change your life?  Or what story can you create behind the found object?

I am certainly going to begin watching for things and noticing more finds.  What have you found?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

Rachel Simon previously wrote a work of non-fiction called, Riding the Bus with my Sister.  This story catalogs one year of Rachel spending time with her developmentally disabled sister Beth as she rides the city bus every day.  Now Ms Simon captures the life of a developmentally disabled girl in a fictional institution that houses the "feebleminded".

The Story of Beautiful Girl was well written and engrossing.  The stories haunted me.  Partly, it is the history of the evolving views and treatment of the disabled in our community, but it is also a love story and a heart pounding quest and adventure tale.

Beautiful girl and her companion show up on the doorstep of  the farm of an old widow one rainy day.  They have with them a newborn baby.  The widow gives them clothes and comfort, and before she can know their story the police arrive to arrest them and take them back to the institution from which they escaped.  As beautiful girl is stuffed into the  car to go back to her terrible life, and the companion escapes out the widow's window, Beautiful Girl whispers to the widow,  "hide her."  The widow understands she is to hide the newborn baby.

And so the story progresses: each of the four characters is living a horrible life, waiting to get back to the others.  Will Beautiful girl and her companion ever see each other again?  Ever meet their daughter? and what does the old widow do with her new responsibility?

It is a tad schmaltzy, especially toward the end, but it is a fascinating look at how the disabled are perceived in our society and how they also might perceive the world.  It can be terribly sad throughout the book but also has a lovely, sweet ending.  It is a fast, easy read especially if you like a thick coat of sugar.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

Someone recommended this book on Facebook, and I went immediately to the library website to request it:  whoa, long waitlist, it must be good.  So after waiting a few months, I finally got my hands on this book, and it took me awhile to get through it.  While the characters were compelling and the situation interesting, the plot kind of dragged out and the whole thing felt sort of contrived in places.  In other words, I am not sure it lives up to its hype.

The story is rooted in Shakespeare (which my husband figured out from the title.  Brush up your Shakespeare for this read.)  and tells the story of three sisters and their lives after they return home to care for their ailing mother.  Sister Rose (Rosalind) is the responsible, motherly, accomplished never left home sister.  Sister Bianca has fled from their home and developed a nasty NY lifestyle of lies, stealing, and cheap one night stands. Cordelia just runs and keeps the life of a vagabond, not really caring much about anyone or anything.  One summer they all return home and begin to solve all of thier problems and heal their mother.

The one interesting twist on this novel was that it was told from a first person plural point of view.  All the sisters are apparently telling this story from the point of view as a single sisterly unit.  It was most unusual, and I have never read anything like this before.  It is probably the single facter that kept me reading until it finally turned into a page turner for me.

As a general rule if a book does not compel me to keep reading within the first 10-20 pages of the book, I don't usually continue.  The fact that I kept plowing through this, really says a lot for the hope I had that it would get better.

You will enjoy this if you know your Shakespeare and like a nice tidy ending for your fiction.  Also,  if you enjoy unique perspectives, this one is worthy of taking a look at.  We might be able to learn a thing or two about writing.  Maybe this was why there was such a long waitlist for it.

For those of you waiting,  I am returning it today.