Please forgive me for playing hooky from my blog on Mental Health Monday. We were in Charleston and it was my “free day” to either stay in the hotel room writing a blog post … or [drum roll] go sight-seeing and shopping. Considering my own mental health, I ended up taking a carriage tour of the historic Battery area, which was wonderful, and then did a little shopping up and down King Street. (I managed to escape with only one new dress, which barely fit into the small suitcase I packed for our weekend.) Oh, and I had lunch right on the water—Fleet Landing—and enjoyed the view and the fresh catch flounder. But now I’m home and back at work writing. And reading. Today’s post is a “mini review” of two books.
First up is Sean Ennis’s short story collection, Chase Us, which was launched at the Powerhouse in Oxford, Mississippi, during the recent YOK writing workshop I attended. Sean, who teaches at Ole Miss and also for the Gotham Writers Workshop, was one of the manuscript critique workshop leaders at YOK, but he lead the other group (I was in Scott Morris’s group) so I didn’t really get to spend much time with him. But I loved his reading of “This is Pennypack,” a crazy story of two teenage boys who found two Indians locked in a cage outside a park in Philadelphia the summer before their ninth grade year. So many things were wonderfully outrageous about this story, but my favorite part was the names the boys gave to the Indians:
‘What’re your names?’ Clip said finally. I wasn’t going to say anything.
One man said, ‘No keys.’
The other said, ‘Gotta smoke?’
‘Whoa! They’re Indians,’ Clip said. ‘That’s, like, their teepee!’
The wind changed, and we got a whiff of their stink—armpits and waste. No Keys started picking through the empty potato chip bags, looking for crumbs. He ignored us. But Gotta Smoke said his name again, louder this time.’
And the story gets crazier as it continues. All the stories show vivid images of boys swinging on the pendulum between childhood and manhood, holding onto their tenderness where they can. But Ennis tells them with a voice that’s both humorous and edgy.
A Publishers Weekly review back in March says this of Ennis’s writing:
… the author presents the raw messiness of fear and confusion through a lyric cadence.
Well said. And kudos to Sean for this wonderful debut book! To learn more about Sean, read this interview at WIP.
I just finished my first “summer read” last week. Erika Robuck’s Hemingway’s Girl appealed to me because (a) I love Hemingway and (b) she shows the reader a historic person and place through a fictional character. This is what I’m trying to achieve with my novel, Cherry Bomb. (I love historical fiction yarns that spin around art and literature. Like Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, T. C. Boyle’s The Women, Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, The Girl with the Pearl Earring and other books by Tracy Chevalier, Deborah Davis’s Strapless, and most recently, Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning book, The Goldfinch.)
As Robuck explains in this video, the story takes place in Depression-era Key West, Florida, in 1935. The protagonist, Mariella, is a young Cuban-American who is hired by the Hemingway family as a domestic. But she catches Hemingway’s heart. Robuck reveals many of Hemingway’s characteristics through scenes with Mariella—including one where he explains why he always quit writing just when the story is getting exciting, so that he will have a good place to begin writing the next day. Robuck hopes that readers of her book will gain a greater appreciation for “the man behind the legend,” and will be inspired to go back and read his work. She succeeded in her goal for this reader. I’m adding A Moveable Feast to my summer reading list. And maybe I’ll revisit The Old Man and the Sea.
What else is on my summer reading list so far? My current reads (yes I often read more than one book at a time) are: Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir by Frances Mayes (reading on my Kindle) and Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder (paperback, Harper Perennial). Next up? Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty (memoir) by Diane Keaton—I loved her first memoir, Then Again. And then Jeannette Walls’ first novel, The Silver Star (paperback, Scribner). (I loved Walls’ memoirs, The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses, and I’m interested to see how well she does fiction. I loved meeting her back in 2011.) So, it looks like I’ve got three memoirs and two novels on my summer reading list so far. What are YOU reading this summer? I’d love to hear from you!