IN THE REALM: Fall Reading Part One

by isaac israels

by isaac israels

Grab a cuppa and a fuzzy blanket, tuck in for some fall reading.

contemporary lit:

LovemeBack

Love Me Back by Merrit Tierce
Doubleday [September]
RATING: *****/5*

“Tanya had been halfway nice to me, in that beatup way career low-grade hospitality workers have. The ones on whom something has quit, bitterly, and then quit again, resigned. They’ve made it this far by not fucking up too much or knowing how to manage it when they do, so they’re typically proficient if not too shiny.”

Raw, creative novel about a young mother who works as a waitress. Sex –she admits to having sex with 30 men in a three-month stretch–, drugs [cocaine, cannabis, pills] and the nitty gritty of working in the hospitality industry. The young author Merritt Tierce used her own experience in various restaurants to create this character. Marie had so much potential as valedictorian of her high school until she got pregnant and married her daughter’s father at 17. She’s scrappy, opinionated and tough. As Marie remembers her self-destructive times, her wilder days [where she drank, drugged and hooked up for an escape, for obliteration], she’s also astutely aware and contemplative. It’s graphic, sometimes shocking and chocked with angst. One of the best novels in a while about finding your way and developing a sense-of-self in your twenties.

“In that restaurant all of us were off. Chipped. Everybody on the way to the curve. Maybe it’s the same in a law firm, a nail salon, whatever high or low. Maybe that’s just what it is to be alive, you’ve got that broken sooty piece of something lodged inside you making you veer left.”

nonfiction:

alice and freda forever

Alice & Freda Forever by Alexis Coe
Zest [October]
RATING: *****/5*

“Only Freda knew the whole story and she wanted nothing to do with Alice anymore. It was as if their love had never existed, her world shattered by a phantom. The box, hidden in the kitchen, was all she had left, the only proof that Freda ever loved her.”

True story of murder, love, same-sex relationships and betrayal in turn-of-century Tennessee. School mates 19-year-old Alice Mitchell and 17-year-old Freda Ward were close and were engaged at one point until Freda’s family intervened. They didn’t want their reputation tarnished and forbid Freda from any continued communication with Alice. The plan had been for Alice to pass as a man so the two could marry. Teenage love can be complicated, to say the least. Alice was crushed. She became obsessed that Freda should never be with anyone but her and she stabbed her to death in 1892.

A long-forgotten scandal, Alexis Coe brings it all back through extensive research from court records, letters and other related materials. Same-sex relationships still receive much public scrutiny though more accepted 120 years after this case. Matthew Shepard was brutally killed 16 years ago. Same-sex marriage is possible in 30 states after intense legal battles. Coe discusses that there were certain expectations for how a woman should act and the opportunities available to women. Mostly for Alice and Freda, that would be marrying well. A beautiful thoughtful book that discusses gender identity and same-sex relationships in the context of this long-ago tragic true crime in Memphis.

republic of imagination

The Republic of Imagination by Azar Natisi
Viking [October]
RATING: ***/5*

In this book, Azar Natisi contemplates three novels– The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers [one of my all-time favorites]– in her teaching and immigrant experience in America. She juxtaposes her experience teaching in the states with teaching in Iran. It’s part-memoir, part literary-analysis. Rather academic at times. I’ve yet to read Babbitt so completely unfamiliar with that novel.

“The crisis besetting America is not just an economic or political crisis; something deeper is wreaking havoc across the land, a mercenary and utilitarian attitude that demonstrates little empathy for people’s actual well-being, that dismisses imagination and thought, branding passion for knowledge as irrelevant.”

How many people do you know or have talked to who proclaim they “don’t read” as if that’s a positive? Natisi emphasizes the importance of great literature, the knowledge and discussion elicited from reading.

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