book review: The Nakano Thrift Shop

nakakano gift shop

The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami. Europa Editions| June 2017| 240 pages | $16.00| ISBN: 978-160-945-399-2

RATING: ****/5*

“Takeo arrived, again smelling of soap. For a moment, I wondered if I ought to have taken a shower, but I quickly pushed that thought aside, since had I done so, he might have thought I was expecting something. This was what made love so difficult. Or rather, the difficult thing was first determining whether or not was what I wanted.”

Such a gem of a novel. Author Hiromi Kawakami brings layers and depth to seemingly ordinary, routine lives. Lots of interesting characters plus solid descriptions to create strong setting & sense of place. I appreciated the novel as it allowed me to experience Japan –from the rainy season to love hotels–through these characters. The novel focuses on twenty-something Hitomo who works part-time at the thrift shop. Kawakami writes: “With its second-hand goods (not antiques), Mr. Nakano’s shop was literally filled to overflowing. From Japanese-style dining tables to old electric fans, from air conditioners to tableware, the shop was crammed with the kind of items found in a typical household from the 1960s or later.” Hitomo sort of dates her aloof co-worker Takeo and builds bonds with shop owner Mr. Nakano and his artist sister Masayo. Her relationship with Takeo reminded me of my current on-again/off-again situation. She’s intrigued by Takeo and attracted to him. Does she need to know what kind of relationship she’s going to have with her co-worker? Some people, most of society, feel the need to label something, to put it into a box, cross things off a list. Few people (including Takeo and this guy I was seeing) are willing to allow something to unfold organically and mindfully. You can make plans for the future and have goals but you can also enjoy the moment. Relatable: “We were so different from each other in the first place—it’s not surprising that two people with nothing in common would end up like this, I thought to myself as I threw caution to the wind and continued to steal glances at Takeo’s face.” Also relatable: “When I thought about the idea of spending the rest of my life like this—going through my days I a fog of anxiety and fear—I felt so depressed I could have laid down on the ground and gone to sleep right then and there. But despite all that, I loved Takeo. When I scrutinized love, I still found myself in a world that felt empty.” On her boss Mr. Nakano’s lover: “’The Bank’ was pretty. To call her a beauty might have been going too far, but she had a delicate complexion—she seemed to be wearing hardly any make-up yet her skin was flawless. Her eyes might have been narrow but her nose was straight. There was something inexplicably vibrant about her lips. At the same time, she had purity about her.” Besides beautiful, thoughtful writing, I’m often attracted to the Europa book covers. Look at that cover! Book design credit goes to Emanuele Ragnisco.

 

–review by Amy Steele

 
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Europa Editions.

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on tour: Chris Robinson Brotherhood

©Jay Blakesberg

Chris Robinson Brotherhood will tour in support of new album Barefoot in the Head and will be playing House of Blues Boston on August 19, 2017. Chris Robinson said: “The music that we make, the concerts that we play, it’s this world we’ve created for ourselves and our people. We want everybody to understand that no matter where you are in your life that you can always be barefoot in your head. There’s always this other place you can go. Is that place it real? That’s your decision to make, what you’re going to let be real to you.”

$29.50-$45, Thursday, August 19, House of Blues Boston, 15 Landsdowne Street, Boston, Mass., houseofblues.com.

TOUR DATES

August 5 – Petaluma, CA – Petaluma Music Festival
August 9 – Wilmington, NC – Greenfield Lake Amphitheatre
August 10 – Asheville, NC – The Orange Peel
August 11 – Virginia Beach, VA – Shakas
August 12 – Charlottesville, VA – Jefferson Theatre
August 13 – Annapolis, MD – Rams Head On Stage
August 15 – Portsmouth, NH – The Music Hall
August 17 – Manunuck, RI – Ocean Mist
August 18 – Asbury Park, NJ – Stone Pony Summerstage **
August 19 – Boston, MA – House of Blues **
August 20 – Holyoke, MA – Gateway City Arts
August 22 – Pittsburgh, PA – Mr. Small’s Theatre
August 23 – State College, PA – The State Theatre
August 24 – Ithaca, NY – The Haunt
August 25 – Woodstock, NY – Bearsville Theater
August 26 – Washington, DC – The 9:30 Club
September 7 – Pompano Beach, FL – Pompano Beach Amphitheater *
September 8 – St. Augustine, FL – St. Augustine Amphitheater *
September 9 – St. Petersburg, FL – Jannus Landing *
September 10 – Orlando, FL – The Social
September 12 – Pensacola, FL – Vinyl Music Hall
September 14 – Atlanta, GA – Variety Playhouse
September 15 – Atlanta, GA – Variety Playhouse
September 16 – Macon, GA – Cox Capitol Theatre
September 17 – New Orleans, LA – The Civic Theatre
September 19 – Chattanooga, TN – Revelry Room
September 21 – Oxford, MS – The Lyric Oxford
September 22 – Charlotte, NC – Neighborhood Theatre
September 23 – Louisville, KY – Bourbon & Beyond Festival
September 24 – Knoxville, TN – Bijou Theatre
September 26 – Greensboro, NC – The Blind Tiger
September 28 – Charleston, SC – Charleston Music Hall
September 29 – Raleigh, NC – Lincoln Theatre
September 30 – Raleigh, NC – Lincoln Theatre
October 1 – Nashville, TN – Third & Lindsley
October 3 – Augusta, GA – Sky City
October 5 – Norfolk, CT – Infinity Hall
October 6 – Ardmore, PA – Ardmore Music Hall
October 7 – Ardmore, PA – Ardmore Music Hall
October 27 – Placerville, CA – Hangtown Music Festival
October 29 – Santa Barbara, CA – Lobero Theatre
October 31 – Englewood, CO – Gothic Theatre
November 2 – Westbury, NY – The Space at Westbury
November 3 – Port Chester, NY – Capitol Theatre
November 4 – Hartford, CT – Infinity Hall
November 5 – Burlington, VT – Higher Ground
November 7 – Portland, ME – Port City Music Hall
November 9 – Providence, RI – Columbus Theatre
November 10 – Niagara, NY – Seneca Niagara Casino & Resort
November 11 – Cleveland, OH – House of Blues
November 12 – Grand Rapids, MI – The Intersection
November 14 – Columbus, OH – Newport Music Hall
November 16 – Minneapolis, MN – Fine Line Music Cafe
November 17 – Milwaukee, WI – Turner Hall Ballroom
November 18 – Chicago, IL – Thalia Hall
November 19 – Madison, WI – Barrymore Theatre
December 2 – Portland, OR – Revolution Hall
December 3 – Seattle, WA – The Neptune Theatre
December 5 – Santa Cruz, CA – Historic Cocoanut Grove Ballroom
December 7 – Las Vegas, NV – Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas
December 8 – San Diego, CA – House of Blues San Diego
December 10 – San Luis Obispo, CA – Fremont Theatre
December 12 – Sacramento, CA – Ace of Spades

* w/ Blackberry Smoke
** w/ Donavon Frankenreiter

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new music: Jason Wilber; Samantha Urbani

jason wilber

Wistful, upbeat and comforting, it’s kick back with a beer or a glass of wine and soak it in music from a talented songwriter and guitarist. Indie-folk/Americana artist (and longtime John Prine guitarist) Jason Wilber will release a new album, Reaction Time, on August 11, 2017. His music is in the vein of Neil Young, Replacements, Father John Misty, Son Volt and Old 97s.

The Bloomington, Indiana-based musician said:

“Making records, for me, is a process of discovery. Often, the song you thought was gonna be great turns out to be okay, and the one you thought was just okay turns into something amazing. And that’s because of all the collaboration—with the producer, with all the other musicians—and also the unknown, the mystery of what’s gonna unfold when you start working on a song. You can never predict what’s gonna happen. So as you go through the process, you have to keep your ears open for the things that are magic.”

Looking for a fun, catchy summer song? With sweet vocals and heavy beats this is a good choice. New York pop singer Samantha Urbani wrote, recorded and co-produced the song and directed the video. Urbani is the front-woman for conceptual punk pop band friends and this is her solo project. Urbani said “Go Deeper” is about “how necessary visibility and accountability are – getting to the bottom of things, transformatively: the harder it is, the more worth it. The only way out is to go through.” Debut EP out soon.

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book review: Made for Love

made for love

Made for Love by Alissa Nutting. Ecco| July 2017| 320 pages | $25.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-228055-8

RATING: *****/5*

“During her marriage, she sometimes visited her father just so she could feel better about her life when she left. A trip to his home always made a pretty convincing argument that his gruff personality, heavy flaws, and the shortcoming of her childhood that his present-day existence kept freshly resurrected in her memory were fixed roadblocks that would prevent her from ever experiencing true joy, so her choices and lack of personal ambition or work ethic or relative sobriety didn’t really have to matter.”

So much to love about this novel. It’s smart, a bit bawdy, immensely clever, introspective and observational. Hazel recently left her tech billionaire husband, Byron Gogol, and moved in with her father at a trailer park for senior citizens. Her father, who just received his mail-order sex doll Diane, isn’t all that thrilled to have a new roommate. Hazel wants to start over but Byron isn’t going to make it easy.

The marriage seems a compromise. Byron wanted a wife and Hazel wanted an escape from what she assumed would be a rather dead-end life. Author Alissa Nutting writes: “Her life was going to be different from what she’d thought. This had felt sad and she wasn’t sure why, because she’d always planned on having a terrible life. But familiar terrors: loneliness, paycheck-to-paycheck ennui, unsatisfying dates with people a lot like her whom she wouldn’t enjoy because she did not enjoy herself.” She met Byron while in college and they married fairly quickly. His power and wealth dazzled her. He seemed both delighted by her and intrigued by her. [“Here was the thing: Hazel had not delighted her parents, ever. Nor had she delighted herself.” And then . . . “Hazel had never intrigued her parents or herself either.”] She’s been with him for a decade and over the years he’s become more controlling and Hazel’s been limited. During the marriage he’s kept tight tabs on his wife through technological surveillance and tracking. Hazel reached her limit when he planned to connect them via brain chips in a “mind-meld.” Byron’s methods to track down and bring his wife back become intense, severe and threatening. Hazel realizes she must make drastic measures or this megalomaniac will control her for the rest of her life. Or he’ll kill her. Neither appeals to her.

“It was easy to get along with him because she acted like a mood ring, always agreeing with what he found great and what he found intolerable.”

Technology connects us in a plethora of ways yet also disconnects us by making in-person communication less frequent and less necessary in many situations. It’s rare to find someone that has absolutely no social media presence. And if you do it’s just a bit suspect. How can one possibly keep up on news, politics, entertainment, celebrities and college friends without twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We rely on technology for both our professional and social lives. When you end a relationship there’s generally tons of data out there on social media to remind you of that relationship or make it difficult to move on. Plus how are relationships defined in the age of social media?

There’s a blunt honesty, offbeat humor and near absurdity in Nutting’s writing. It’s easy to relate to Hazel’s predicament and moods. Most readers will find solace in both her determination to begin anew and her frustrations in allowing the relationship to continue as long as it did. She’s not afraid to tackle unpleasant or taboo subjects [Nutting’s previous novel Tampa focused on a teacher-student romance] nor does she hold herself back in delving into these topics. In this novel it’s wealth and sex and loneliness and relationships. There’s the strange and humorous relationship between her father and his sex doll Diane. He treats the doll like a person. He’s content with her company.

In her marriage, Hazel felt lonely and isolated. She felt sad and detached. Nutting writes:  “But Hazel hoped now that after so many bad years of internal and external surveillance, of cohabitation with someone she’d grown to hate and fear alike, the absence of sadness might feel something like contentment, or close enough. At one point she meets a guy in a dive bar named Liver who tells her: “I just meet women in this bar. Mainly they use me to help them reach bottom. I’m like a brick they grab onto midair. Sleeping with me helps them admit their lives have become unmanageable. They realize they want and deserve something more, and then their recovery process can begin. I get laid in the meantime. Win-win.” Sounds quite like the last few lowbrow working-class guys I’ve dated.

The perfect blend of absurd and genuine, Made for Love is one of the best novels I’ve read this year.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Harper Collins.

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fall tour: Widowspeak

widowspeak

Indie rock band Widowspeak kicks off a fall tour in support of new album– Expect the Best [Captured Tracks]–out August 25, 2017.  The band recently released a swirling single called “Dog.” Widowspeak’s Molly Hamilton told NPR the song “Dog” is, “about the compulsion to move on from things and places, even people, when you’re not necessarily ready to. Sometimes, I get caught up in ‘the grass is always greener’ mentalities, or cling to an idea that ‘I’d be happy if…’ and then make a drastic change. Then, inevitably, I feel restless a few months later and it starts again.” read NPR interview here

 

Expect The Best tracklisting:

The Dream
When I Tried
Dog
Warmer
Good Sport
Let Me
Right On
Expect The Best
Fly On The Wall

TOUR DATES:

09/08 – Boston, MA – Great Scott
09/09 – Burlington, VT – ArtsRiot
09/11 – Toronto, ON – Garrison
09/12 – Detroit, MI – El Club
09/13 – Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle
09/15 – Minneapolis, MN – 7th St. Entry
09/16 – Madison, WI – High Noon
09/17 – Des Moines, IA – Des Moines Social Club
09/19 – Denver, CO – Hi Dive
09/20 – Salt Lake City, UT – Urban Lounge
09/21 – Boise, ID – Neurolux
09/22 – Portland, OR – Mississippi Studios
09/23 – Seattle, WA – Barboza
09/24 – Vancouver, BC – Biltmore Cabaret
09/26 – San Francisco, CA – Swedish American Hall
09/27 – Visalia, CA – Cellar Door
09/28 – Los Angeles, CA – Pico Union
09/29 – San Diego, CA – The Hideout
09/30 – Phoenix, AZ – Rebel Lounge
10/01 – Santa Fe, NM – Meow Wolf
10/03 – Austin, TX – Sidewinder
10/04 – New Orleans, LA – Gasa Gasa
10/05 – Birmingham, AL – Syndicate Lounge
10/06 – Nashville, TN – The High Watt
10/07 – Atlanta, GA – The Masquerade
10/08 – Asheville, NC – The Mothlight
10/10 – Washington, DC – DC9
10/11 – Philadelphia, PA – Boot and Saddle
10/12 – Kingston, NY – BSP Kingston
10/13 – Brooklyn, NY – Rough Trade

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: Hallie Ephron

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“Vanessa looked back and forth between the photograph and the doll. The doll in Janey’s arms was the right size. It had on a similar long while dress and what was left of its blond hair was tied with a thin ribbon. But the resolution was nowhere near sharp enough to see whether the doll in the picture had a dimple like the one on the mantle, and the wig on the real doll was too threadbare to make a comparison.”

While playing in the yard forty years ago, Lissie’s younger sister Janey went missing. Lis feels guilty and responsible. They’ve never found out what happened to Janey that day. Every year on the anniversary of the sister’s disappearance, their mother, Miss Sorrel, places an ad in the local paper with a picture of the one-of-a-kind porcelain doll Janey had with her when she went missing in hopes that she’ll find answers. This year, the doll returns and it sets off new theories and a few leads into Janey’s disappearance. Someone must know what happened to Janey decades ago.

Set in a fictional South Carolina town, Hallie Ephron’s latest novel–You’ll Never Know, Dear— explores three generations of women and the aftermath of a devastating event. Miss Sorrel makes dolls which look like the little girls who own them. There’s a certain creepiness to porcelain dolls. Her daughter Lis moved home after getting divorced. Lis’s daughter, Vanessa, conducts research on dreams and PTSD in graduate school.

I spoke with Hallie Ephron last month by phone.

HallieEphron1PhotobyLynnWayne062014

Amy Steele: As the book’s set in the south, what kind of research did you do?

Hallie Ephron: I’d been in the south very little. In South Carolina you find a lot of wealthy northerners there for the warmth of the winter season. I‘d been to Beaufort– a beautiful riverfront southern town– it’s where they filmed Forrest Gump. It’s a very colorful and beautiful place. I wrote half of it coasting on my memories and then realized I needed to go down and spend a few days with my camera and tape recorder. I spent four days absorbing it. The way that the marsh grass is a matted surface on the water, pecan trees … all the details went into the book. I’d already created my characters and I added details. The big thing I learned is that Beaufort has its own storied past. I fictionalized it so I wouldn’t be tethered to the true history of the place.

Amy Steele: Your parents being screenwriters, how did that influence your writing?

Hallie Ephron: I spent a lot of time not writing. I have three writing sisters and I was going to be the one who wouldn’t write. It took a long time to cave and I don’t think I would have if I didn’t have the genes. It’s a hard slog getting good enough to be published. I think my books are fairly cinematic. That’s from a kid growing up in Hollywood in a house that was movie-oriented. I was afraid I wouldn’t be good enough and I had to be old enough not to care. It took me a lot of time to get confident. There is a story in being a sister and a mother, in the everyday.

Amy Steele: You wrote about three generations of women. What did you like about that?

Hallie Ephron: I like writing about family and generations. I think we’re each so formed by our generation but you’re also formed by your relationship to your family. I particularly like writing older women. I think they’re often caricatured. Especially women over 60 or 70. I take a special pleasure in writing them as human beings with weaknesses. I liked writing Miss Sorrell. She’s kind of a tart individual.

Amy Steele: What do you like about writing in the mystery/thriller genre?

Hallie Ephron: I like figuring it out. I like the click when I figure it out. I usually don’t know the ending when I begin.I just know the set-up. Then I write all the complications, setbacks and challenges and all the while I try to think what does it look like is going on and what do I think is going on. I think in this book the mystery isn’t so much whodunit. I think the reader will realize halfway through who the villain is. But what are the motivations? What are the secrets they’re hiding? That’s what I try to figure out as I work my way to the end.

Amy Steele: How do you organize the novel or your writing?

Hallie Ephron: I have multiple time lines. I think of each character as having a life before the book began and after the book ends. I make a table where each character has a column and the rows are years. I plot the characters in their slots– when they were born and where they went to school– and see where the characters are as their lives progress as well as as the novel progresses. This novel I think takes place over three or four weeks so I do a drilled down version so that I know where the characters are. Even if the reader doesn’t know, I know.

Amy Steele: Do you come up with the characters first or the plot idea?

Hallie Ephron: The first thing I knew is that there would be doll parts. What does that mean? If there were doll parts there would be a doll maker. And who would she be. The story and the character go back and forth as I go along.

Amy Steele: What was the greatest challenge in writing this novel?

Hallie Ephron: I started with two narrators: Lis and Vanessa. I knew I couldn’t be in Miss Sorrel’s head because she knows too much. That was the 20someting and the 40something. I started to ask myself who’s story is this, who’s the protagonist and the answer can’t be both of them. I realized it had to be Lis. She’s the one who lost her sister. She’s the one who had to find her. Lis is the hero. It worked.

Amy Steele: What kind of books do you read?

Hallie Ephron: I read lots of books. I’m reading The Mothers. I just finished Joe Finder’s book. I read lots of books on South Carolina. I powered my way through Pat Conroy’s books. I don’t like horror. I don’t like romance.

You can catch Hallie Ephron speaking about You’ll Never Know, Dear at these events [for more events see her website]:

July 9, 2017
Rockport Public Library
Rockport, Mass.

July 11, 2017
Ferguson Library
Annual Women’s Fiction Night
Stamford, Conn.

July 27, 2017
Maynard Public Library
Maynard, Mass.

August 22, 2017
Bacon Free Library
Natick, Mass.

 
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new music: Tomten; American Opera

Tomten, “Weissnichtwo”

I’ve been listening to the new Ride and Slowdive albums quite a bit lately and this song falls in nicely with its Brit-influenced shoegaze, swirly sound. There’s lots of layers with the opening part establishing a gentle calm while an underlying guttural churning bubbles up to maintain the soothing vibe. The Seattle pop band also mixes in organ, electric piano and analog synthesizers for its electro-folk sound. The artistic, eclectic result works on several levels on the upcoming album—some songs ring a bit clearer than this track, others are much more upbeat and there’s lots of wistfulness. Tomten is: Brian Noyes-Watkins (keys, guitar, vocals); Jake Brady (drums) and Dillon Sturtevant (bass, vocals).  The trio will release its third full-length Cremation Songs [ Plume Records] on July 7th, 2017 on CD, vinyl, and digital formats.

“I first thought of the name Cremation Songs as a bit of a joke to poke fun at our previous record The Farewell Party,” says Brian Noyes-Watkins. “It later dawned on me that it fit the songs well, seeing as most are vaguely about death in some way or another, excluding ‘First Song of Spring’ and ‘Mette’s Tune.’ I just hope our next record doesn’t mark the Born Again / Embracing a Cult phase.”

“I became obsessed with drawing extended arms (usually blue) posing inside of little boxes,” Noyes-Watkins reveals about the cover artwork. “I did a few versions: a hand drowning in the sea, another with a crystal ball, one juggling a rainbow. I settled on the apple/applecore because I liked the idea of having a sunrise/sunset theme on the jacket. I’m hoping to complete a collection of 20 or so to release in a booklet for a limited edition of the record.”

American Opera, “Monsters Among Men”

A beautifully melodic and thoughtful song with powerful vocals and an urgency in its message, reminiscent of Joan Osborne’s “One of Us.”  American Opera is New York singer/songwriter John Bee’s project. He said that  “Monsters Among Men” is: “about getting older while trying to stay true to who you were when you were young. I was raised in the church. Three things happened in my life that made me question everything I ever believed. My friend took his own life, my cousin’s life was taken from him, and the Sandy Hook shooting. I still don’t know what to believe. But I know what I want to believe.”

American Opera’s full-length album Small Victories is out June 30, 2017.

 

 

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