Posts Tagged Peter Stamm
Agnes is the story of a romance. A writer writes the story of his relationship with Agnes, a PhD candidate. It becomes unclear what’s real and what’s fiction. Life completely imitates art. He writes: “In my head, our relationship was already much further advanced than it was in reality. I was already wondering about her, beginning to have my doubts, though we hadn’t even been out together.” Soon enough his writing changes the relationship as Agnes follows in the footsteps of her fictional counterpart. The author crafts exactly what he wants to happen. It’s the power of the pen in full. If he wanted her to dress a certain way for an upcoming event, he’d write about it.
He writes: “Now Agnes was my creation. I felt the new freedom lend wings to my imagination. I planned her future for her, the way a father would plan his daughter’s.” Do they really care about each other or is this writing now solely interested in writing the perfect character and story? Writers possess the power to change circumstances and create narratives. The writer begins to become more focused on writing about the relationship than actually being in the relationship. He writes: “I wasn’t daydreaming. I was fully in control, and everything I thought to myself instantly became real. It was a feeling like walking along a narrow gorge that I couldn’t leave. And if I tried to, I felt a kind of resistance, the presence of another will, some sort of elastic fetters that kept me from setting off in the wrong direction.” It’s an intriguing concept and beautifully written in this short, strong novel.
review by Amy Steele
1. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi [Riverhead]
clever, stunningly gorgeous novel about race.
2. The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott [Doubleday]
If you grew up in Massachusetts like me, you likely went on a Lowell Mill tour at some point during an elementary school or junior high field trip. I went twice because when my Aunt and cousins visited from Texas they wanted to go. While you rode on a boat along the Merrimack River listening to a guide speak about girls and young women leaving their families from all over New England to work at the Lowell mills it was easy enough to disassociate from it yet dreadful to think about the harsh conditions these women faced back in the 19th century.
Like the Salem witch trials the industrial revolution and bitter working conditions for Lowell mill girls happened essentially in my backyard and I feel particularly close to the plight of the mill girls depicted in this novel. It’s only the second five-star rating I’ve given to any book this year. Kate Alcott vibrantly brings the stories of the Lowell mill girls to the page as she creates strong, outspoken female characters enduring adverse situations that dare imagine and dispute better working and living situations.
3. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng [Penguin Press]
Anything I write will never be enough to convey the power and magnificence of this debut novel.
4. Fallout by Sadie Jones [Harper]
Fallout revolves around Luke Kanowski, a young man with a mother living in a mental institution and a a former Polish POW father who remained in England after the war. Both parents rely tremendously on Luke. Living in a rustic northern town, Luke escapes the familial strain and dead-end choices through a passion for theatre. He reads everything and remains updated on all theatrical goings on. One night he meets aspiring producer Paul Driscoll and theater student Leigh Radley who will influence his future in myriad ways
5. Visible City by Tova Mirvis [Houghton Mifflin Harcourt]
Author Tova Mirvis writes with a melancholy gorgeousness about connectivity and disparity. When we imagine others’ lives we never expect what we eventually discover to be true. Perfection masks insecurities. Contentment hides dissatisfaction. What is happiness? Our ideal is never another’s ideal. How something looks from afar rarely looks as virtuous once you start to delve into the grit and imperfections.
6. Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen [Viking]
Author Bich Minh Nguyen writes about a Vietnamese-American family and its connection to the beloved American Ingalls-Wilder family as seen through the eyes of a savvy, inquisitive young woman. Almost everyone remembers reading the Little House on the Prairie books about Laura Ingalls and watching the television show.
7. Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce [Doubleday]
One of the best novels in a while about finding your way and developing a sense-of-self in your twenties.
8. The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman [Berkley Trade]
When I’m thinking about a novel for some time after reading it, I know it’s remarkable. Think you’ve heard all the stories about WWII. Think again. The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman focuses on the Italian Resistance. Elodie, a young student and cello player, becomes involved in the Italian Resistance when artists and teachers at her school become targets for Mussolini’s Fascist regime.
9. Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill [Vintage]
10. All Days are Night by Peter Stamm [Other Press]
A popular television news reporter wakes up severely disfigured by a car accident. The novel beautifully traverses past and present. Stamm writes in an effectively laconic and melancholy style. He’s exploring appearances from various angles. It’s a gripping read about art and connection.
11. Life Drawing by Robin Black [Random House]
stunning writing. brilliantly explores marriage in all its nuances.
12. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant [Scribner]
This is the story of the education of Addie Baum. Jewish daughter to immigrant parents Addie grew up during the mid-1900s in a one-room tenement house in Boston. In telling Addie’s story, author Anita Diamant covers a lot of history: prohibition; 1920s flappers and artists; WWI; The Great Depression; illegal abortions, birth control and Margaret Sanger; the Spanish Flu; women’s education; women’s careers; journalism; civil rights. Like The Red Tent, Diamant depicts history through a feminist eye. Intelligent, resourceful and intellectually-curious Addie is a wonderful feminist character. I probably truly fell in love with this novel when Diamant mentioned Simmons College, my women’s college alma mater in Boston. At one point, Addie discusses her goal to attend college but that she fears many won’t accept her because she’s Jewish. [“There’s Simmons College,” I said. “They even accept the Irish if you can imagine.”]
<em>All Days are Night</em> by Peter Stamm. Publisher: Other Press [November 2014]. Fiction. Hardcover. 192 pages.
A popular television reporter, Gillian, wakes up in the hospital to a disfigured face and a dead husband. Matthias, her husband, drove the car drunk, hit a deer and caused the couple to crash. She lost her beautiful visage and through numerous surgeries she’ll get a face back that was never hers. “It’s relatively straightforward to put an ear back, said the doctor, but a nose has a great many delicate blood vessels. We are going to have to build you a new one,” the doctor, hand mirror in his grip tells Gillian. “It doesn’t look very pretty at the moment, he said, but I still think it’s a good idea for you to take a look at it.”
She’s lost her identity. We’re all completely connected to our faces and bodies no matter what we think or desire. It’s a visual world. For some more than others. Gillian must deal with this loss and reconcile with whatever the surgeons reconstruct. Even her parents can barely deal with the new reality. Her mother can’t even look at her. Reminds me of the facial transplants completed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Final result: not exactly you and not exactly the donor.
“Her life before the accident had been one long performance. Her job, the studio, the designer clothes, the trips to cities, the meals in good restaurants, the visits to her parents and Matthias’s mother. It must have been a lie if it was so easy to destroy with a moment’s inattention, a false move. The accident was bound to happen sooner or later, whether in the form of a sudden catastrophe or a gradual unraveling, it was coming.”
Not only does she have to deal with reconstructive surgeries but career loss. To rebuild, Gillian escapes both the city and the tragedy. She heads to her parents’ isolated vacation home in the mountains. Gillian encounters an artist, Hubert, from her past that may or may not feature into her future. The fight between Gillian and Matthias occurred because Matthias found naked photos of Gillian that Hubert— an interview subject– took. Matthias drank too much at a party the couple attended and despite their friends’ concerns he insisted on driving. German author Peter Stamm revisits the encounters between Gillian and Hubert that caused tension between Gillian and her late husband.
As a cultural reporter, Gillian dipped into the arts and music scenes. An intriguing world combined with an electrifying profession. Hubert is a fame-fueled artist. Neither Gillian nor Hubert is terribly sympathetic. However they are both relatable and intriguing. Losing one’s looks, one’s face, one’s identity in that manner. A ghastly, unimaginable thought. What would you do? How would you cope?
The novel beautifully traverses past and present. Stamm writes in an effectively laconic and melancholy style. He’s exploring appearances from various angles. It’s a gripping read about art and connection.
–review by Amy Steele
<em>FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Other Press.</em>
purchase at Amazon: All Days Are Night