The Birdcage Archives

Thursday 30 November 2017

Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995 – 2014

Hello Gentle Reader

There is something about a collection of stories reading: ‘selected stories,’ or ‘the best of,’ or ‘the collected stories of [ author ],’ is always reminiscent of a greatest hits album of some has been band or aged pop star—that final and desperate step of revitalizing a career, which has since expired. Often a selection or the collected stories of author, often reads the same way. These stories often feel commissioned or half-hearted attempts at novels since abandoned, or worst: simple and poor writing exercises. Then again, what is to be expected of short stories? They are not grand. They are not epic. They are not larger than life. They lack the soap opera dramatics. Action generally takes place off stage. The characters are only brief passerby’s, existing solely in the existential peripheral. Short stories are therefore often considered children’s play. They are the stepping stones, and the basic scaffolding for novels. Bad short stories, and their writers, often lead the genre to getting its pubescent reputation. Yet, there are writers who are capable of taking the short story beyond its perceived limitations and creating a piece of work, which retorts and refuses to be classified as juvenile in composition and nature; and rivals the novel.

Despite my personal love for the short story genre (when it is done correctly), the one aspect the short story collection often lacks is: a sense of unity, or complete connectedness. At times the stories appear to be disconnected planets residing in isolated orbits in the solar system, tracing and retracing their trajectories as they circle a distant sun. Now these short stories do not need to share characters or a common narrative strand; but a common unifying theme explored, constructed, and deconstructed, through varying lens of the characters, which experience, perceive and ponder the theme presented to them. “Selected Stories,” or “Collected Stories,” can and never will offer the sense of independence for each story, but a unified thread or concept connecting them all.    

Alice Munro once said: “I can’t play bridge. I don’t play tennis. All those things that people learn, and I admire, there hasn’t been time for. But what there is time for is looking out the window.” This quote describes the world, writings, and perspectives of Alice Munro, a view which finds the extraordinary in the ordinary, the complex in the mundane. Her view is that everyone leads and lives their own adventure, riddled with personal dramas, betrayals, romances, heart breaks, suspense and tragedies. In this regard, Alice Munro has built a long but understated career on probing the internal life of everyday people. Her career as a writer was not met with immediate appreciation. Her first collection of short stories was met with praise, even going on to win the Governor Generals Award. However, Alice Munro was considered a housewife first, and as her literary career began she was often deemed a housewife before a writer. Yet as Munro has said, housework did not bother her; what bothered her, was the fact it was expected to be her life. As she points out in another quote: “[ . . . ] when you’re a housewife, you are constantly interrupted. You have no space in your life. It isn’t the fact that you do the laundry.”

Alice Munro has always been that ‘housewife,’ writer. She was not an academic, like Margaret Atwood or Anne Carson. Munro by contrast was someone who was convicted and sentenced to the obligations and societal conventions of her time. She did spend time studying English and journalism at the University of Western Ontario, on a two-year scholarship. After the two years the scholarship had run out, and Munro had no further financial options in which to continue her studies. During this time she met her first husband James Munro. Eventually the young couple moved to Victoria, British Columbia, where they opened Munro’s Books. The marriage ended in divorce after twenty years. During this time, Munro published her first collection of short stories: “Dance of the Happy Shades,” which would go on and win the Governor’s General Award, and would mark the beginning of a rather understated and quiet career, of a ‘housewife,’ turned writer, who through the course of four decades would release fourteen collections of short stories; as well as another seven collected and selected stories. She announced her retirement in two-thousand and twelve, with her final collection of short stories: “Dear Life.” A year later, she was announced as the Nobel Laureate in Literature, with the citation: “Contemporary Master of the Short Story.”

“Family Furnishings,” is guide through the later stories and career of Alice Munro. The stories range from the complex to the minimal and understated. The subject matter varies from story to story, the quiet tragedies of daily life and the personal dramas; but it all unfolds with Munro’s particular perspective, always moving away from the epicenter of the dramatic event, and instead focuses on the peripherals of the action, whereupon she depicts the perspectives and responses the individuals and characters have towards the event. A prime of this backstage and side stage focus is her short story “Dimension,” from her short story collection: “Too Much Happiness.”

“Dimensions,” opens with Munro’s renowned simplicity and matter of fact decryption. It describes Doree (or Fleur) on a journey which requires her to take three buses, before casually cutting away to discuss her job as a Chambermaid at an inn. She enjoys her job, preoccupies her mind. Her older co-workers encourage her to seek training, she’s young enough she could work behind the desk. Yet, she declines—she doesn’t want to talk to people. In the next paragraph however, Alice Munro casually welcomes the reader to take a fleeting glimpse at the shadow which haunts Doree:

“None of the people she worked with knew what had happened. Or, if they did, they didn’t let on. Her picture had been in the paper—they’d used the photo he took of her with all three kids, the new baby, Dimitri, in her arms, and Barbara Ann and Sasha on either side, looking on. Her hair had been long and wavy and brown then, natural in curl and color, as he liked it, and her face bashful and soft—a reflection less of the way she was than of the way he wanted to see her.”

[. . . ]

“Since then, she had cut her hair short and bleached and spiked it, and she had lost a lot of weight. And she went by her second name now: Fleur. Also, the job they had found for her was in a town a good distance away from where she used to live.”

It immediately becomes clear: Doree had experienced personal trauma, which also shocked and bewildered the community. Munro continues her slow excavation into the past and psyche of her character throughout her bus trip. How she attempts to remain calm, as she edges ever closer to the destination to see: him. She admires the landscape with bemused causality, while also observing her fellow passengers with vacant and distant curiosity.

One of Alice Munro’s signature moves with the short story is playing with the linearity of time, and “Dimension,” showcases the casual talent by how Munro further goes back into Doree’s life, and in a few brief sketches describes the defining moments which lead to her current situation: how she met the orderly Lloyd, the death of her mother by an embolism, her marriage at seventeen, the birth of her first child and the subsequent two to follow; and the beginning signs of a marriage crack and just beginning to unravel at the seams. Through flashback and present moment; through conversations with a Mrs. Sands, we are eventually led to the defining moment which changed Doree into ‘Fleur.’ Lloyd was a man of a troubled mindset, and his manic episodes had gotten the better hand of him; when Doree had walked out on him one night, he killed the children. He was deemed criminally insane and therefore unfit for trial, and sent to a secure psychiatric institution.

When I had first read “Dimension,” in “Too Much Happiness,” the narrative had left me cold. It was an uncomfortable story, riddled with insanity, naivety, and of course the death and murder of children. The causality and understated prose was ice through the veins. Yet upon reflection and re-reading the story, one sees Alice Munro’s charm and talent come through. She deals with the subject matter by circling around it, only gradually insinuating at a grander and darker narrative, which she finally gets to. Though in the grander collection, “Dimension,” is one of those much later stories of Munro’s career, where she has further refined her characteristically understated narratives, into more brief flashes and sketches, providing minimalistic

By contrast, “The Love of a Good Woman,”  showcases Alice Munro shaping the short story genre, into a complex format, often defying linear narratives and chronological storytelling; and shows her ability to rival and even trump novelists in the amount of detail she can grasp in fifty or so pages, which takes others five hundred or more to make clear. The story opens with a discussion of a new museum in Walley which houses old butter churns, horse harnesses, archaic apple peelers, among other outdated curiosities—a throwback so to speak, to the: ‘simpler times.’ Among the collection, a red box of optometrist equipment stands out:

“[. . . ] D. M. WILLENS, OPTOMETRIST Printed on it; and a note beside it, say, “This box of optometrist’s instruments though not very old has considerable local significance, since it belonged to MR. D. M. Willens, who drowned in the Peregrine River, 1951. It escaped the catastrophe and was found, presumably by the anonymous donor, who dispatched it to be a feature of our collection.” 

Mr. (or Doctor) Willens is a shadow throughout the story. His medical instruments used in the diagnosis and prescription remedies for eyes, maybe casually described and displayed at the Walley museum, as a contemporary curiosity in relation to its more distant neighbours. These medical mundanities, however, stirred a community and usurped lives with deathbed confessions, concealed guilt, regrettable grief, and everyone’s greatest desire to maintain normalcy while: keeping up appearances.

“Part I Jutland,” was perhaps my favourite part of the story. Munro describes the conventions and realities of small town life in way which makes it emphatically and relatable—coming from a small town, its quick and easy to discern the non-regulated social principles and ways of behavior, such as:

“Men didn’t bother greeting boys by name, ever if they knew well. They called them “boys,” or “young fellows,” or, occasionally, “sirs.”
            “Good day to you sirs.”
            “You boys going straight home now?”
            “What monkey business do you young fellows been up to this morning?”’

This quick discussion and sketch solidifies with concrete assurance the atmosphere and reality these people live in. It’s a community engrained in traditions, conventions, and a false sense of moral superiority; one in in which Munro often satirizes and criticizes. Alice has described these small town ideals of being: humbleness, modesty, and never rebel or revolt; or the worst crime of all: call attention to oneself. The expectation is to be sheepish and to fit into the approved roles and boundaries which have already setup for them. In such community’s alienation, ostracisation, and exile can be quickly passed and enforced.

With her usual lightness of touch, Munro quickly showcases the small town realities, as well as introduces the unfortunate ghost who haunts and lingers the story. ‘The boys,’ Cece Ferns, Bud Salter, Jimmy Box, are three boys who pass time the best way they know how. Admittedly too old for former childhood games, they’ve now set their sights on the adult world and its tantalizing freedom. As they move further away from town they imagine what they can scrounge up and make use of. A recent and yearly flood always scavenges and brings to light the discarded, disposed of, and lost. They boys envision their lives with budding and growing maturity. They think of building a makeshift raft or shed; they consider the tools they need and the items ideally to scavenge. Muskrat traps become the most desirable commodity. They envision an entire business venture, revolving around pelts, the money, the independence, the freedom and the life. They would relieve themselves of their societal yokes and the indignities placed on them because of their age, they would be respected and equal. Despite their lives and expectations already set out for them, due to their circumstances, family life, and living situations. For now though they were free. Yet their agency has an expiration date. But their trip out the flood plains leaves them to discover a unfortunate incident, which inevitably shakes their quiet community, and disrupts the order conventional peace.

The boys discover Mr. (Doctor) Willens ‘Austin,’ car and body in the flooded plains. Needless to say: he was dead. This discovery ties them together; as if they were partners in crime; or members of a cult blood bound and obligated to uphold the order, in its corruption and defiled sanctity. They each agree they need to inform the authorities of their unfortunate discovery—though, more unfortunate as it is not old barn wood, or muskrat traps, the practical equipment of their independent dreams.

From there, Alice Munro offers us three windows into the lives of: Cece Ferns, Bud Salter, and Jimmy Box. Of the three, Cece Ferns is the one who attracts the greatest sympathy. An only child, with derelict parents; a mother whose mental constitution may or may not be frayed, as well as a drunkard father, a slobbering, aggressive, and vicious man with neither sense or wits about him. Yet, Cece has matured fast and has become appropriate and practical in handling of his situation. He takes care of the cooking, as it is implied his mother is not capable of completing or doing the chores, due to mental or existential exhaustion, or perhaps a physical ailment. Regardless, Cece has become—through necessity—functional and proficient in the kitchen. This proficiency is disdained by his father; who would, will, has made such remarks as making a fellow (of homosexual nature) a dandy wife. Of course such sarcasm and off-handed comments were reserved if the old man was in a good mood. The opposite was even more dangerous. As Munro describes:

“’Smart bugger aren’t you? Well, all I got to say to you is better watch out.”
            Then if Cece looked back at him, or maybe if he didn’t look back, or if he dropped the egg lift or set down with a clatter—or even if he was sliding around being extra cautious about not dropping anything and not making a noise—his father was apt to start showing his teeth and snarling like a dog. It ould have been ridiculous—it was ridiculous—except that he meant business. A minute later the food and the dishes might be on the floor, and it the table overturned and he might be chasing Cece around the room yelling how he was going to get him this time, flatten his face on the hot burner, how he would like that?”

Every town appears to have that ‘Cece,’ and his father. The old man, getting drunk in the bar; the mother barely keeping the house together, as it verges closer and closer to the edge and implosion. There is pity and sympathy but little else. Some keep their phones close and others keep their doors open. They offer sympathetic advice, and touching counsel, always staying clear from being abrupt or too assertive in their frustrations.

Bud Salter’s family sits in the majority of the town: exhausted parents and squabbling siblings. The usual rowdy house riddled with what many call: family life. Jimmy Box’s home and family, is at the front untraditional, and riddled with generations, but it contains manners, but also the slight inconveniences of economic disparity (micro and macro), as well as the lack of personal space or corner of possession to call one’s own.

These first parts and pages only set the scene for the entire story, which revolves around Enid as she coaxes, comforts, and assists the terminally ill to their eventual expiration. Its gruesome work, and would not be considered a flirtatious selling feature, or polite to mention. Yet it’s rewarding and adheres to the strict conventions of modesty and retaining humble appearances. After all, what could be more humbling then the charitable natured work of accompanying those dying to death? However, her current patient—a Mrs. Quinn—whose young life is coming to, what many would call: its premature end. Dying young with wasted potential is a miserable reality, evoking the sense one has committed a shameful—if unavoidable—crime. For this Mrs. Quinn, like many who are dying, finds herself resentful, bitter, and scathingly aggrieved. The brunt of her last vitriol is always Enid. Who else is there? Again it’s the nature of a charitable and humbling job.

Mrs. Quinn and her husband, Rupert, know quite a bit about the fate of Mr. (Dr.) Willens, and how he ended up in his car and in the water, dead and all alone. In her profession, Enid is accustomed to confessions, concessions, and acknowledgements of guilt and regret. With Mrs. Quinn its different. She expresses the regret and guilt, but finds the situation more humorous, and with the apathy of someone who has completely accepted their fate, with no fear of mortal laws and consequences. As for Enid the entire care and devotion to the Quinn’s was difficult. She grew up with Rupert, and through her care of his ailing and dying wife, grew attached and fond towards Rupert. All Enid can offer and provide is the love of a good woman, but that’s all. Her business requires her to be devoted and compassionate, blind with kindness, and thick skinned from the agitated assaults of the dying, who are less interested in love and care, and more interested in getting it over and done with.

She may not have the poetic precision of Herta Müller, or the poetic adventure of J.M.G Le Clezio; but much like Patrick Modiano, Alice Munro is well adapt at depicting, describing, analyzing a particular place and time. Munro understands the unique cultures of the small town Canadian community, one steeped in its religious doctrine of modesty and humbleness, where one is expected to conform and never bring unwanted—or any—attention to themselves. She understands the narrow and myopic perspective, and the gossiping politics of the community. In this Munro is able to depict an air of oppression, reminiscent of Müller’s “Nadirs,” or the willful amnesia of Modiano’s Paris. Just like her fellow Nobel Laureates, Munro’s characters rebel, confront, runaway and desperately seek an escape from these small communities and their rigid constitutions. Their lives, however, are not always fairytale or ending happily. Sometimes they end in murder, or premature death, stillborn babies, abject poverty, and societal isolation and humiliation. Others may make it, they make a difference in their lives, though they are still not without their own hiccups and slight tragedies, and even, when they return these same runaway and wayward children now come to the defense of their parents and their families from outsiders who are quick to criticize and penalize their lives. The world of Alice Munro is one riddled with family furnishings; some are tainted, some are cheap, some are heirlooms, and others antiques. But their world is their own and in it, we each find something that slightly reminds us of home or some distant relation or family member.

“Family Furnsihings,” is a lovely mixed bag of a collection of short stories, showcasing Munro’s penchant for location and its population; it has her lightness of touch and her unique blend of storytelling. In all: a splendid, final curtain call of a collection of her short stories which truly showcase her breadth of style and scope, while magnifying her talents.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

Thursday 23 November 2017


Hello Gentle Reader

Gas stations often bring to mind desolate landmarks, places of transience and convenience. There bright lights are a welcomed sight on the dark nights of a long haul road trip. Those well versed in long car rides and road trips know the routine of a gas station: get gas, go to the bathroom, stretch ones legs, get cigarettes if needed, and purchase some food or drink. The experienced traveler is knowledgeable about all gas stations; as they are all the same. The experienced traveler knows to pay for gas first, while the others (if there are others) use the restroom, take a short walk through the parking lot, or grab food. After the gas is pumped, they’ll use the rest room, where enroute they scan the shelves picking out items they will grab on the rebound. A bag chips, beef jerky, perhaps some candy, a bottle of water or a sports drink; maybe an energy drink or pop. They know to avoid the oddities of the gas station. In the cooler are hardboiled eggs, sandwiches, cheese, yogurt, meat slices. The cashier relays the trained monologue: ‘any coffee, pizza, hot dog for you?’ If they want fast food they’ll go to a joint, not the gas station. As for the coffee it’s the same from the early morning. But the answer remains the same: ‘just the gas, and the chips and bottled water.’ Pay and leave. One would think the casher would be delighted by the site of human contact. But they appear indifferent. They are more annoyed that their solitude was abruptly interrupted by the ringing of the door and the chimes of the gas pumps. After the departure the silence resumes its reign in the gas station; while the radio quietly plays music and advertisements for the recently reinvigorated travelers, who have relieved themselves, stretched their legs, and now munch and talk again, before some fall asleep and other rotate driving. So it continues until the next gas station, or the next rest stop, or fast food place. So the radio hums and the road rumbles.

The same is said to more worldly travelers. Airports are second homes to them. They know how to traverse the sprawling expanse. Through the white noise, of flights arriving and departing, they know where they are going. Know which gate to be at. They know when to board their flight, and where their seat is. They are accustomed to the minimal space of aircrafts, and are familiar with the processes and procedures of takeoff.  They are far sighted people. Despite the discomfort of their present physical situation, they imagine and dream ever forward. Those severely lucky and wonderful dreamers exist in some far flung future. Their ability to be absolutely bound by physical laws and their sentenced statutory present predicament, while being mentally transfigured and relocated into the end goal of the entire trip, that glimmer destination. Be it white sandy beaches, with turquois oceans; or the snow caped mountains for a week of skiing and hot springs; or perhaps its returning to one’s family, oh that welcome home with smiles, hugs and kisses, a homemade meal, and of course: your own bed, riddled with the now foreign sounds of familiarity: snoring dog, purring cat, the faint sighs one’s partner, and the anxious sleep of children, barely contained in their beds, as stars and moon sail by. Travel deconstructs the familiar to foreign, and in doing so being appreciation to the otherwise mundane and monotonous. It’s also an attempt at escaping the familiarity; to change the bland for the exotic. Be gone with the flat prairies and the farm land, and set off for a metropolitan adventure through Paris; or explore the spiritual enlightenment and multicultural mysticism of India; to the progressive futuristic and modernly chic and exotic Japan.

To travel though takes bravery. It requires abandonment. One needs to be able to relieve themselves of attachments and by extension obligations. They also fly by the very seat of their pants. They do not concern themselves with the details, but dream up bigger and brighter pictures; seeking grander and more expansive destinations. These traits are not found in my genetic makeup. I am too concerned with the minute details of life: bills, taxes, family. I find myself to insecure and consider myself to naïve to travel with assurance and self-confidence. Traveling already brought to mind the long childhood car rides of my family. My sibling and I packed in the back seat, while my parents drove in the front. Our destinations on these extended journeys were always the same; either my grandparents to the west, or my grandparents to the east. When we went west, we passed through mountains and vales, across bridges and through tunnels, down winding roads where either my sibling or I got sick; then across a lake on a ferry before finally the final destination. After a couple days, we will repeat the journey in reverse. When we traveled east, the landscape became flat, endless, expansive and increasingly sparse and sporadic. Going east, felt like we had entered the edge or the end of the world. We would stop at small towns, villages, and hamlets for gas and a short break. Each one felt ghostly, ethereal, as if human habitation was barely vital, and on the verge of turning to dust and ruin. In the event the settlement had a bar, the locals would be located there. They were farm hands and ranchers; the downtrodden, and the grounded. They sat around old tables, the floor scuffed and greasy with grime; the lighting dim and dark. Everyone was engulfed in their own worlds, telling stories and drinking beer. Others watched the television, despite nothing of interest playing. We’d leave as quickly as we arrived; passing houses looking empty, abandoned, distraught and forgotten. All that lay before us was faraway skies and straightaway roads; while on each side, never ending prairie threatening to consume us with its never-ending nihilism. We’d reach our destination after dipping into a coulee, and beneath the shadow of an exaggerated cross we’d visit. After a couple days we’d reverse our trails and head home; bed weary and appreciative of what we had left. There is something about being in other people’s homes. It’s an alien feeling, leading one to desire to go home, to be in their own bed, amongst their possessions.  

Olga Tokarczuk is one of Poland’s most popular, experimental, and critically acclaimed writers. Her novels “Primeval and Other Times,” and “House of Day, House of Night,” both sit happily on my bookshelf; where they tantalizingly flirt and entice me to re-read them. Yet, every time I pick either one up, and begin to read the first few pages, I worry the enjoyment it will be less magical on a second time around—or at least on a premature second reading; so they are hesitantly placed on the bookshelf, where they are to wait for the perfect and appropriate time to be re-read, enjoyed, and appreciated all over again. I’ve known about an impending translation of her well known novel “Flights,” was impending; but soon forgotten about; before haphazardly stumbling upon it, many moons later; and thankfully so. “Flights,” is a lot like the travelers meal: trail mix; it has its nuts, its fruits, its chocolates, and its granolas. Every handful produces some unique combination of the core ingredients. While Olga Tokarczuk’s novel provides a unique episodic and fragmented novel riddled with anecdotes, stories, fragments, essays, and thoughts on a variety of subjects, but always relatable in some regard or another.

One of the greatest enjoyments of Olga Tokarczuk’s writing is her ‘episodic consciousness.’ She has described the short story as her more natural form of writing, and has taken the short stories snapshot capabilities and vignette qualities, and applied them to the novel; in which one is given varying glances at the world and lives of the characters. In “Primeval and Other Times,” it was the ability to see and move through the eclectic characters of Primeval, from the mad woman and her dogs, who curses the moon, to the priest who fights the spring floods, to the mayor enchanted and enveloped in a world contained in a board game. “Primeval and Other Times,” was a honeycomb hive mind, where the combined consciousness of all the characters, created the most beautifully baroque yet tragic novel. “Flights,” plays a similar game of fragmentation; but rather than focusing itself on a continual fictional narrative, threaded and connected by the interconnected walls, thoughts, and experiences of the characters; is further disconnected from itself in physical or fictional format, and instead is connected by thematic concerns and concepts. In this case, “Flights,” is concerned with the idea of travel—or to get more abstract: the conceptual idea and experience of being perpetually in motion, or in a continual state of transit. What this motion maybe varies; and the enclosed stories, anecdotes, fragments, narratives, and essays often treat the subject with a lightness of touch, varying from the strict adherence to the physical format, to the abstract, philosophical, psychological and metaphysical.

One of my favorite stories collected is: “Harem (Menchu’s Tale),” a story about a inexperienced and young ruler, who soon finds himself in a precarious situation. As the crusades are about the wreak havoc on his kingdom, his advisors, viziers, and sages, plot against him. Beneath their wrinkles and white and grey beards, they contemplate how to usurp the throne gain power and control, before the crusading forces come to destroy the land. All of this is well beyond and above the poor young ruler’s comprehension; but his mother sees the reality and the sad cruelty of the situation, and seeks to warn him and flee with him. Yet in the end of course innocence, naivety and even compassion, are at times points of selfishness, which only ends in betrayal on both ends. I remember reading this story, in the soft orange haze of a street lamp, in a co-workers car, while they ran inside their house briefly. The irony was not lost on me at the time: reading a novel about travel in its many faceted forms; while at the time being in a stationery state, with the expectation of transit and travel to continue momentarily. Though it would be local, the process of driving around and the eclectic and eccentric topics brought up in conversation always comes at ease as street signs whiz by and lights zip past. The rhythmic motion punctuates the dialogue.

Anatomy also plays a part in the conceptual idea of travel. We observe a narrator describe the artistic display of the dissected and deconstructed cadavers of people. Their entire bodies and organs, naked and flayed, exposing their internal wonders to the world. How the blood vessels transport blood; how a smoker’s lungs have deteriorated from the non-smokers. How muscles and bones support and flex the body’s desire for movement. We accompany a anatomist on a trip to visit the wife of a late professor, in order to procure the work and specimen of the husbands work on preservation. We listen to the lament of Ruysch’s daughter, as she watches the Russian Tsar Peter (the great), purchase and transport numerous specimens back to his northern kingdom. We observe the disappearance of a man’s missing wife and child; and their mysterious discovery, but what happened in their three day absence perplexes and infuriates the one damaged the most by the event. We encounter the ironic; such as a man who believes the bible in hotels should be exchanged for the work of the Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran, who was capable of describing and understanding the sad and sorry state of existence. We also shadow a Russian woman who is desperately attempting to escape her mundane existence, and follows a ‘shrouded,’ old woman into a Kafkaesque journey of trains and surreal hell; only to find there is no escaping life—be it her own or the existential concept itself. The insane old woman passes on only one monologue of teaching, and her only philosophy and anti-authority resistance through travel:

“Whoever pauses will be petrified, whoever stops, pinned like an insect, his heart pierced by a wooden needle, his hands and feet drilled through and pinned into the threshold and the ceiling […] This is why tyrants of all stripes, infernal servants, have such deep-seated hatred for the nomads – this is why they persecute the Gypsies and the Jews, and why they force all free people to settle, assigning the addresses that serve as our sentences.”

“Flights,” is a wonderful novel. It’s filled with meditations, digressions, narratives, essays, stories, anecdotes, fragments, and ponderings. There is always something to be found in the novel to be savored and enjoyed. At times both terrifying and wondrous, “Flgihts,” contemplates the notions of motion and movement; the thought of travel, the concepts of time and space. Every sit down leads to a new adventure. With its episodic and vignette style, “Flights,” often appears to be disconnected, but this is part of its charm. It’s unified by theme and thought, rather than a continual narrative arch; though some of the stories collected continue they are merely a single drop or a story contained in the entire book, which is riddled with numerous digressions thoughts and meditations. It’s thought provoking, wry, entertaining and fresh. Every time I sat down to read “Flights,” there was something new and engaging to be brought up. The format itself could not fit better into a world continually vying for attention, a demand for multitasking, along with a bombardment of questions, followed by a demand for answers. “Flights,” is a wonderful mediation on the continual state of motion, the desire to escape, the restlessness of life, and the unique perspective of the individual in a world now continually awake, interconnected and aware. In the end it’s a unique deconstruction of the travel writing genre, which prides itself on a linear and precise process from point a to destination b. Olga Tokarczuk has eschewed linearity and precision, for the eccentric and the eclectic in order to depict a pixelated world, populated by the profound, mundane, surreal, and ever perplexing human experience.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

Thursday 9 November 2017

The Neustadt Award Winner for 2018

Hello Gentle Reader

Neustadt International Prize for Literature hosts a shortlist of nine authors, with a designated novel to testify and bear witness to their oeuvre of work. The shortlisted writers were:

Emmanuel Carre – France
Aracelis Girmay – United States
Mohsin Hamid – Pakistan
Jamaica Kincaid – Antigua and Barbuda/United States
Lyudmila Ulitskaya – Russia
Patricia Smith – United States
Edwidge Danticat – Haiti/United States
Yusef Komunyakaa – American
Amitav Ghosh – India

Of these nine writers, today the Neustadt International Prize for Literature Judges announced their decision, as to who would be the Laureate for two-thousand and eighteen is: the Haitian/American writer, Edwidge Danticat.

Edwidge Danticat is an author of novels, short stories, young adult fiction/children’s literature, travel commentary, essays and film scripts. Her work experiments with structure and format; while also detailing the history of her Caribbean homeland, with its turbulent political situations, environmental disasters, and human rights issues; to the difficulties of living as an immigrant in a new country and subsequent new world. In a time when more people are calling for borders to be closed, and refugees and immigrants to be shut out, Edwidge Danticat is a voice in a chorus who expresses the unique cultural relationship immigrants and refugees have when dealing with the complicated issues of cultural identity and melting into the new society. In a time when ideals like fraternity are being questioned, and humanity is leaving each other out in the cold, Edwidge Danticat, reassures and implores people to reconsider their perspective and open their borders, open their doors, and practice humanistic though and approach towards their fellow man.

Congratulations Edwidge Danticat!

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always

Stay Well Read

M. Mary

Wednesday 1 November 2017

The Future Library Project, 2017 chosen writer

Hello Gentle Reader

The future Library Project has been gaining traction since its inception and debut in two-thousand and fourteen. This progressive and transcending art project by the Scottish artist Katie Paterson has become the most unique time capsule project of recent memory. The project, tasks a selected writer to compose and deposit a piece of literature be it: poem/poetry, prose, fiction, non-fiction, or essay—into the time capsule, where in a hundred years’ time, it will be released and published for future generations to read. Though the project is quite new, it’s been acclaimed as quite an achievement for a writer to be selected to deposit a manuscript to add to the library. The debut writer for the project was the Canadian writer: Margaret Atwood, along with her manuscript: “Scribbler Moon.” Since then two other writers have been inducted into the library: the English author, David Mitchell, with his work: “From Me Flows What You Call Time,” and the Icelandic author, Sjón, with his recent manuscript: “VII: As My Brow Brushes On The Tunics Of Angels; or The Drop Tower, the Roller Coaster, the Whirling Cups and other Instruments of Worship from the Post-Industrial Age.”

Now the next writer chosen to add a manuscript to the project is the Turkish writer: Elif Shafak. Elif Shafak, is considered one of Turkey’s most important and popular younger writers current at work on the Turkish literary scene. She’s the author of numerous acclaimed works, including but not limited to: “The Bastard of Istanbul,” “The Forty Rules of Love,” and “Three Daughters of Eve.” Elif Shafak has become the youngest writer, currently at work inducted into the project; as well as occupying a unique position within the project, due to her occupying a unique position in a globalized literary scene. Shafak is known for her literary works which dissolve borders and boundaries, be it geographical, cultural, ideological, political and literary; as well as spiritual and theological. Her literary voice is noted for its plurality, and desire to retain connections in a divisive and fragmented time.

The recent inducements of Sjón and Elif Shafak, are beginning to show the projects global reach, as more international authors are included in the project. These writers will bring unique cultural narratives and experiences, as they add their voice to the project, in which they have recorded the unique perspective of the time.

Congratulations to Elif Shafak for being invited to join the project and offer her own voice to the chorus, of the past sailing through time, to be reawakened a century later, to be read, analyzed, and pondered on.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary