Time to Read Americanah

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an award winning novelist and short story writer, produced a short story for the Book Review of the New York Times – The Arrangements.    The title had me  wondering if the story would mimic Maggie Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements, set in Nantucket, but the political cartoon on the page promised something better.  No matter what your politics, this “Work of Fiction,” will have you wondering and laughing.

9780307455925_p0_v2_s192x300     I have not yet read Americanah, Adichie’s acclaimed story of a young Nigerian woman who emigrates to the United States for a university education and stays for work.  I now have it on order at the library.

Have you read it?

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The Matisse Stories

9780786158270_p0_v1_s192x300Only three short stories in this small volume – The Matisse Stories – by A.S. Byatt, with each story revolving around a Matisse painting.

Each includes a feminine protagonist pushed to her limit. The women are ordinary at the beginning – an older classics professor and her hairdresser, an overworked mother and her housekeeper, and a college dean with the task of deciding the fate of an erratic doctoral student.  The beauty of Byatt’s writing is the familiarity of the circumstances that morph into crisis mode.

in “Medusa’s Ankles,”when the professor is sitting in the chair listening to her hairdresser, you may recall your last conversation with yours.  Most likely, though, your hairdresser was doing the listening.  In Susannah’s case, her patience snaps when she is faced with a redecorated salon and a substitute messing with her hair.  Ironically, the hairdresser sublimely sees Susannah’s extreme action as a sign to move on – perhaps to another career.

In “Art Work,” Mrs. Brown, the housekeeper, patiently observes her frantic overlords – a woman trying to juggle career and family as the primary breadwinner, with an artist husband who thinks too much of himself and his untalented work.  In the end, Mrs. Brown launches her own artistic sensibilities into a lucrative career, and perhaps motivates her former boss to finally follow her own dream.

The last story, “The Chinese Lobster,” focuses on a luncheon conversation between the graduate dean and the advisor of a doctoral student in art, whose final project has drawn criticism and the possible end of her pursuit of a degree.  In retaliation, the graduate student has filed a complaint against the advisor, who adamantly holds that the student is incompetent, does not appear for classes, and does not complete requirements – all true.  The standoff is now in the hands of the dean, who is trying to convince the advisor to pass the student on, forget about her, give her the degree, and move on, to avoid the trauma of a long investigation.

At first, the advisor is appalled, but in the end proclaims: “At the same time, exactly at the same time, I don’t give a damn…” – unfortunately, a situation I have seen in my own experience many times.

 

 

Honeydew by Edith Pearlman

9780316297226_p0_v2_s260x420The short stories in Edith Pearlman’s Honeydew are zingers.  When motivation to read a full novel is lacking, the compact pleasure of a well-constructed short tale delivers me from my inertia.

The setting for the first short story in Honeydew, “Tenderfoot,” is Paige’s pedicure parlor.  Bobby, a college instructor who lives across the street, befriends his neighbor but secretly spies on Paige and her clients from his upstairs window.  His torment revolves around a car accident and his “failure to act.”  The pedicurist becomes his confessor, but the mutual resolve of the story neatly ties them together while leaving the reader with a thoughtful problem.

After reading Laura Van Den Berg’s review in the New York Times – Edith Pearlman’s HoneydewI skipped to the two stories she had noted: “Honeydew” and “Castle 4.”

“In the title story, the headmistress of Caldicott Academy finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. Her lover, the father of her child, also happens to be the (married) father of a student who is mired in the dark wilderness of anorexia. The affair tumbles ahead; the headmistress suspects she will be forced to resign once her pregnancy is revealed; the starving student studies the stomachs of ants…” 

…“Castle 4” illuminates the intersecting fates of the characters — an anesthesiologist and his doomed patient among them — connected to a hospital that “was named Memorial Hospital but was soon referred to as the Castle…”

I’ve deferred the other stories for a while, when I need something short to get me going.

Now, I want to read a novel.

 

Tessa Hadley – Under the Sign of the Moon

Another Tessa Hadley story about a train – this time a short story in The New CV1_TNY_03_24_14Juan.inddYorker – Under the Sign of the Moon – involved me with her usual talent for creating relationships in unusual encounters.  What better place than a train for meeting strangers.  In this tale, Greta is traveling to visit her daughter, and meets a strange persistent man on the train.  Hadley melds the landscape around Liverpool with Greta’s life, describing the moving scene as Greta remembers her past, and wonders about her fragile future.  The ending offers a chilling possibility – who was that young man, really?

Hadley offers her perspective in an interview with Deborah Treisman – This Week in Fiction – Tessa Hadley, but you might want to read the short story in the March 24th issue and decide for yourself.

Review of another Tessa Hadley train story: The London Train

 

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Lost Lake

9781250019806_p0_v5_s260x420When Sarah Addison Allen offered her free short story online (Waking Kate) as the teaser for her new book Lost Lake, I anticipated an emotional story with a little magic and some romance.  In a recent interview, Allen discussed her recent health issues – as she does in the acknowledgments at the back of the book – and noted that although her writing helped her through a tough time, she was not writing about it.  Instead, Allen stayed with her successful formula from past books, creating relatable characters who overcome adversity and heartbreak to find a new life with the help of quirky magical happenings and, of course, true love.  Laced with just enough drama, the predictable plot is comforting and enjoyable.

In Lost Lake, Kate and her daughter Devin, return to her great-aunt’s holiday campground just as she is about to sell the property to a villainous, greedy land developer.  Recovering from the recent death of her husband, Kate has delayed starting over, until she finds Wes, her first teen love of fifteen years earlier, who has never left the lake.  Allen changes the rules of the formula romance by adding her trademark magic, daring the reader to suspend belief and enjoy the moment.  In this case, a boy reincarnated as an alligator communicates with Devin to save the day.

I’m a fan of Allen since reading Garden Spells, and always enjoy her stories – this latest brought me out of my reading slump.

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