A razor-sharp memoir that reveals the woman behind the wine glass.
Addiction’s death grip and the addict’s struggle to escape it is an old story, but in Salon personal essays editor Hepola’s hands, it’s modern, raw, and painfully real—and even hilarious. As much as readers will cry over the author’s boozy misadventures—bruising falls down marble staircases, grim encounters with strangers in hotel rooms, entire evenings’ escapades missing from memory—they will laugh as Hepola laughs at herself, at the wrongheaded logic of the active alcoholic who rationalizes it all as an excuse for one more drink. This is a drinking memoir, yes, and fans of Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story (1996) will recognize similar themes, but Hepola moves beyond the analysis of her addiction, making this the story of every woman’s fight to be seen for who she really is. Generation X women, in particular, will recognize an adolescence spent puzzling over the rash of parental divorces and counting calories as a way to stay in control of a changing world. Hepola strews pop-culture guideposts throughout, so any woman who remembers both Tiger Beat magazine and the beginning of the war on drugs will find herself right at home. It was an age when girls understood that they weren’t destined to be housewives but were not so clear on the alternatives, and it’s no wonder the pressure led many to seek the distance that drinking promised. Promises, of course, can lead to all sorts of trouble, and Hepola tells the naked truth of just how much trouble she got into and how difficult it was to pull herself out. Her honesty, and her ultimate success, will inspire anyone who knows a change is needed but thinks it may be impossible.
A treasure trove of hard truths mined from a life soaked in booze.
Sixteen-year-old Dionne Braithwaite and her 10-year-old sister, Phaedra, are sent to the tiny town of St. John, Barbados, to stay with their grandmother while their mother, Avril, recovers from a long depression.
Avril, a nurse, has been overwhelmed with sadness after witnessing the deaths of her patients to AIDS following the sudden disappearance of her abusive husband, Errol. With Avril unable to take care of her family, it was Dionne who took on the responsibility of caring for her mother and her little sister. But in her grandmother’s house in Barbados, Dionne doesn't need to take care of anyone but herself—and she finds it unnerving. Phaedra, however, fits right in—to her, Barbados feels like the home Brooklyn never was—and she gleefully absorbs the stories of her mother’s people. The mystery of what happened to Avril to weight her life with such sadness fuels the book, becoming the driving force behind Dionne’s desire to discover the pieces of Avril left behind in her old Barbados bedroom. But as Avril delays returning to take the girls back to Brooklyn, Dionne begins to act out and make unwise relationship decisions, leading her grandmother to believe she's on her way to becoming the kind of "easy" girl who lets herself be used by men. What Dionne’s grandmother doesn’t realize is that the one thing Dionne had learned from watching Avril was “that if you wanted to keep a man, he should love you at least a little bit more than you loved him”—one of many moments of awareness that permeate this delightful debut novel.
An engrossing and poignant coming-of-age story populated with engaging, well-drawn characters.
How did Deadwood Dick get his name? Readers can learn this, and a whole lot more, in this picaresque Western from a master of the form (The Thicket, 2013, etc.).
Willie Jackson’s origins didn’t prophesy a future any brighter than that of most black Americans born in East Texas so soon after the War Between the States that he can still remember his years as an infant slave. What seals his fate, however, is looking the wrong way at the rear end of Sam Ruggert’s hatchet-faced third wife. Ruggert, not one to take this slur on his manhood lying down, organizes a lynching party. Although Willie escapes, his father doesn’t, nor does the family farm. Taking to his heels, Willie lucks into kind neighbor Tate Loving, who shelters him for several years. But when he’s recognized one day by a chance visitor, his real adventures begin. In short order he lights out again, changes his name to Nat Love, enlists in the U.S. Cavalry, deserts his post, crosses paths with four Chinese women, loses his heart to a ratter named Win Finn, lands in Deadwood, where he’s befriended by James Butler Hickok—Wild Bill to you—and wins the shooting competition that earns him his enduring sobriquet. Soon thereafter, Ruggert and two hirelings catch up with Ruggert’s long-sought quarry and exact a terrible vengeance. The tables now turned, Willie, or Nat, or Dick, plots his own revenge on the man who stole his happiness.
Noting that he’s starred in many a dime novel penned by his old friend Bronco Bob Brennen, the narrator maintains in closing: “Here is the straight record.” That assurance is a lot harder to swallow than the rest of this tall tale, which goes down smooth and easy as a vintage sarsaparilla.
In a Bronx neighborhood of the near future, it’s no secret that at least one person has taken advantage of the Leteo Institute’s new medical procedure that promises “cutting-edge memory-relief.”
Reeling from his discovery of his father in a blood-filled bathtub, there are lots of things that Aaron Soto would like to forget—the smile-shaped scar on his own wrist attests to that. Puerto Rican Aaron meets a boy named Thomas from a neighboring (and sometimes rival) project who shares his love of comic books and fantasy fiction. The two develop a friendship that makes Aaron wonder if he’s a “dude-liker,” leading to a breakup with his girlfriend. When Thomas doesn’t reciprocate, Aaron considers the Leteo procedure for himself. This novel places a straightforward concept—what if you could erase unwanted memories?—squarely within an honest depiction of the pains of navigating the teen years and upends all expectations for a plot resolution. Debut author Silvera has an ear for dialogue and authentic voices. He scatters references to his characters’ various ethnicities in an unforced manner—of a midnight showing of a movie based on their favorite fantasy series, Thomas says “I was the only brown Scorpius Hawthorne.” Thomas is the foil to Aaron’s conviction that there’s an easy way out in a multifaceted look at some of the more unsettling aspects of human relationships.
A brilliantly conceived page-turner.
(Speculative fiction. 13-17)
A spellbinding story of world-altering power and revenge from debut novelist Hawkins.
Carolyn’s life changed forever when she was 8. That was the year her ordinary suburban subdivision was destroyed and the man she now calls Father took her and 11 other children to study in his very unusual Library. Carolyn studied languages—and not only human ones. The other children studied the ways of beasts, learned healing and resurrection, and wandered in the lands of the dead or in possible futures. Now they’re all in their 30s, and Father is missing. Carolyn and the others are trying to find him—but Carolyn has her own agenda and her own feelings about the most dangerous of her adopted siblings, David, who has spent years perfecting the arts of murder and war. Carolyn is an engaging heroine with a wry sense of humor, and Steve, the ordinary American ally she recruits, helps keep the book grounded in reality despite the ever growing strangeness that swirls around them. Like the Library itself, the book is bigger, darker, and more dangerous than it seems. The plot never flags, and it’s never predictable. Hawkins has created a fascinating, unusual world in which ordinary people can learn to wield breathtaking power—and he’s also written a compelling story about love and revenge that never loses sight of the human emotions at its heart.
A wholly original, engrossing, disturbing, and beautiful book. You’ve never read anything quite like this, and you won’t soon forget it.
In this debut collection, Filipino students, teachers, activists, maids, and chauffeurs negotiate their lives under martial law at home and seek fortune abroad in the Middle East and New York.
Each of these nine revelatory stories delivers characters who are equal parts endearing and disturbing. In the stunning “Esmeralda,” a cleaning woman ponders her station in life as she dusts offices in the twin towers in the months preceding 9/11. “You lay there—Esmeralda, daughter of the dirt, born to toil in God’s name till your hands or heart gave out—reclining like an infant or a queen, a hundred levels aboveground.” In “A Contract Overseas,” a budding fiction writer in the Philippines reveres her older brother despite his immoral, often dangerous behavior in Saudi Arabia. “I could picture him, reading my words somewhere, chuckling at my attempts to save some version of his life. Who could say, then, that I had an altogether lousy or inadequate imagination?” In the chilling “The Miracle Worker,” a special education teacher befriends her student’s family’s maid—who, it turns out, has a dark side. “I had underestimated her: what looked like a lifetime of toil and taking orders had contained subversions that no one, until now, had seen.” Alvar deftly flips the master-servant dynamic on its head. Her electric prose probes the tension between social classes, particularly in “Shadow Families,” in which wealthy Filipina housewives in Bahrain throw parties for working-class Filipinos. “These katulong—‘helpers,’ as we called them—were often younger but always aging faster than we were, over brooms and basins, their lungs fried with bleach and petroleum vapors….Helping these helpers, who’d traveled even farther, felt like home.”
A triumphant, singular collection deserving of every accolade it will likely receive.
Intellectually complex life of Otis Redding (1941-1967), the doomed King of Soul.
It’s a supreme irony, at least of a kind, that Redding never lived to see his “Dock of the Bay” hit the mainstream pop charts, as it did just after he died in an icy plane crash. “Redding seemed primed to carry some sort of soul mantle,” writes Ribowsky (The Last Cowboy: The Life of Tom Landry, 2013, etc.) of the period when Redding’s star was just rising. Though it lasted just a couple of years, that period irrevocably changed the face of American pop, when AM radio played black and white music side by side, Creedence next to James Brown next to the Beatles. Redding was a slightly more countrified progeny of Brown’s who, like so many other soul singers, defied expectations and sometimes confounded fans. As Ribowsky remembers, Redding was friendly with a white supremacist sheriff who would later issue shoot-to-kill orders on blacks suspected of looting. Was that Uncle Tom–ism? Redding was so smart that there must have been a method to that particular madness, something that went along with his pointed habit of counting box office receipts after a show, pistol in waistband. Ribowsky serves up some tantalizing what-if scenarios: if Redding had not been in that plane crash, would he have drifted into jazz or soft pop—or even country? Might he have found common cause with Jimi Hendrix, who seemed so much his opposite at Monterey Pop, Redding sweaty and masterful, Hendrix “soldering generational nihilism with undefined sexual rage,” both blowing the collective minds of the audience. Ribowsky considers Redding in the context of racial justice and injustice, the civil rights movement, and, most important, popular music as it spread through a nation hungry for the message brought by the preacher’s son who “had precious little time to enjoy the air up there.”
Excellent from start to finish, demanding a soundtrack of Stax hits as background listening.
Mitchell (The Last Summer of the World, 2007) offers readers 12 distinct stories that combine the mundane and the very strange to turn ordinary life inside out, examining familiar feelings through a lens of bizarre and sometimes-magical details.
Mitchell’s stories range pleasantly across a spectrum of genres, from realism to surrealism to gentle, absurdist science fiction. A guidebook advises tourists on the sights of a fantastical America in “States: An Itinerary,” describing a country where New York homes have haunted mirrors, Louisiana is a myth, and visitors to California are often afflicted with a virulent form of dreaminess called Golden Fever. In “My Daughter and Her Spider,” a mother struggles against the distance that appears between her and her daughter when they acquire a giant robotic spider as a pet. Quieter stories dive into friendships, marriages, and a fleeting episode of adolescent violence, laying out events and images with a restrained, precise voice that sometimes flares into graceful fancies and comedic punctiliousness. Mitchell explores the marriage of Louis and Lucille Armstrong and the crushed defiance of a Japanese man faced with the loyalty questionnaire in a World War II internment camp. “Biographies” indulges the conceit of presenting various fanciful backgrounds for the author ("Emily Mitchell was born in London in the middle of a garbage collectors' strike"); the story is made endearing by the way even the most unlikely details pile up to an emotional truth. While the tales have varying relationships to normal reality, they each pull the reader into a vivid, focused contemplation of their characters’ longings and despairs. A few stories drift toward claustrophobic meandering, but as a whole, the collection is exceptionally readable, surprisingly varied, and held together by a striking authorial point of view.
A rich collection that takes the familiar obsessions of love and loneliness and views them from uncanny angles in ways that are magical, cutting, and intensely recognizable.
A powerful memoir of the civil rights movement, specifically the dramatic struggle to integrate the schools in Prince Edward County, Virginia.
Little-remembered today is the story of the late-1950s closure of the Prince Edward public schools and the fate of its black children, who were either deprived of education or separated from their families and dispersed into other states. At a commemoration 50 years later, journalist Green and other participants were told how “the Prince Edward story is one of the most exciting pieces of American history, in part because the struggle of young people against discrimination resulted in a Supreme Court ruling.” That ruling was Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (1964), which ordered the schools to integrate. Despite the ruling, however, another 22 years would pass before the county’s all-white academy was integrated. While local black students had contributed to Brown with their 1951 school strike, which they named their “Manhattan Project,” Green reminds us that their segregationist neighbors believed the integration would contribute to making “the people of America a mongrel nation.” Well before integration became an order, they were ready to padlock the schools and divert resources to their race-based replacement. In 2008, Green, a graduate of the whites-only academy, discovered that her grandfather had taken a lead role in the project from the beginning, in order “to maintain the purity of the white race” and avoid the raising of “half-black, half-white babies…nobody wants.” The author movingly chronicles her discovery of the truth about her background and her efforts to promote reconciliation and atonement. Her own experience in a racially mixed marriage provides a counterpoint.
A potent introduction to a nearly forgotten part of the civil rights movement and a personalized reminder of what it was truly about.