Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mirror Mirror by Stephanie Hart

Early review of memoirs and stories about just an average woman coming of age in the 50's and 60's.  Ms Hart's writing is lovely and sweet.  Short bursts of observation about leaving home at 7 to attend boarding school when her parents divorced, her mother's alternating rage and undying love, her late life love, and her life in NYC.  These short stories and memories remind me why I love to write and also show me that really everyone has a story to tell.  All of us.  And it is within our power to tell it.

The book is divided into 4 parts and the first three parts are the memoirs. The last part is the most interesting for a writer to read.  She had memories of parents and grandparents and great grandparents that have been told to her as stories.  She has taken these stories and imagined them: place, street, people, smells and feelings and painted them into true tales. This writing and this ability to recreate what has been a part of family lore is especially exciting to read and think about.  Some of the stories in this last part seem a little disjointed. The flow is disrupted now and then, but overall, I loved the exercise and the writing.  They are smart and truly felt.

I don't think this book will get a lot of attention, but would be writer's should take note.  Write it! I would also be happy to lend it to anyone who wants to take a look.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

You know when the men are gone by Siobhan Fallon

I don't often finish a collection of short stories.  I tend to finish one story, feel satisfied, and then move onto something else.  The storytelling in this fine new collection of home front war tales was so even and so captivating that I really wanted to read every one.

All of the tales (save one) in this collection are set at Fort Hood in Texas and all relate to the men who deploy to Iraq and their spouses who wait for them back home.   All the subjects are universal:  infidelity, grief, childhood, teen rebellion, and of course, divorce, and they are set uniquely against the back drop of the people who are left behind when men go to war.

I thoroughly enjoyed this look at a culture and customs that evolve around this interesting group of people.  What unique circumstances threw these people together and how do they make sense of all the craziness? The stories are very loosely connected by a character here and there, so you know that all the characters are part of the same big picture story.

As a writer, I am always looking for new ways to tell some universal themes, and I felt that Ms Fallon mined some clever ideas.  My only regret is that this was not longer.  I know from a life well lived, that for each of these perfectly rendered stories of chaos in the time of war, there are are at least 1,000 more.  I hope there are more, many many more.  This would make a great spring break read.

This book should be readily available at your local public library or, of course, on Amazon.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Time Together by Carol Burnett

I'm so glad we had this time together
Just to have a laugh and sing a song
Seems we just get started and before you know it
Comes the time we have to say, "So Long!"
                  -from the Carol Burnett show

As a kid, I loved watching the Carol Burnett show on Saturday nights with my parents.  I was old enough to appreciate the zany humor of Carol and friends, especially the talented Tim Conway.  I laughed aloud along with my parents at Carol when she made fun of Gone with the Wind.  Her dress was made of curtains with the curtain rod still inserted.  The dress was  the classic television funny moment, and no one else but Carol could pull it off.  The dress now resides at the Smithsonian, testament to the wacky days of the Carol Burnett Show and her brilliant costume designer Bob Mackie.  

Carol tells many many tales of coming of age in the entertainment industry and all the people she met on the way up the ladder.  These stories are not literary feats or a great philosophy on life, rather just funny moments behind the scenes with some of America's most beloved entertainers and actors.  

It took me on a trip down memory lane.  Many of the sketches she writes about you can relive on youtube.  If you enjoy Carol Burnett, and want to take out a quick evening for some fun stories and funny reminiscences of a great comic lady, this would be a good book to pick up at the library.  I wonder if we could get her to host Saturday Night Live?

Meanwhile enjoy this old Carol Burnett sketch:

Sunday, March 4, 2012

India Becoming by Akash Kapur

I have vivid and a bit disjointed memories of my one very short trip to India many years ago.  I visited what was then called Madras and is now called Chennai as part of a student group that was sailing the world.  Since that amazing trip, I have had many encounters with Indian Culture and have always been fascinated by the country, its people, food, religion and place in world history.

Akash Kapur was raised in Southern India near Chennai, leaves for the West for many years, and then returns with his family to live and work.  He has written a memoir/literary journal/portrait of the new modern India which seeks to explore all the beauty and beastliness of this ancient and provocative nation.

He paints many individual character portraits of men and women caught in the crosshairs of change:  a young gay man struggling with his identity, a young woman who divorces and then chooses to live with her boyfriend and not marry, another young woman who moves to the city to take advantage of all the amazing work opportunities, but chooses to retain a very traditional lifestyle regarding dating, a man from the dalit caste who defies local customs, a farmer and his wife living apart: country mouse and city mouse.  All these stories he follows over several years. 

Part II of this book is kind of character study of India itself: a painting of the price of progress.  He profiles the immense poverty that still exists in the cities that sits on the backs of the new Indian elite, the huge problem with waste and pollution that plagues even him and his family, the disorganized state of the police and the vast contempt for the rule of law, and finally the state of India once hard times hit the newly prosperous nation.

All of the stories are varied, interesting, often disturbing, and well written. I felt that he could have spent some more research time on some of his topics. He seemed to rely almost solely on anecdotes told by friends, and friends of friends, to make points about poverty and pollution.  A few facts and figures could go a long way to bolstering some of the portraits of people and problems.

All in all, a great read.  Mr Kapur reminded me somewhat of an Indian Malcolm Gladwell.  This was enjoyable.  I plan to share it widely.