Miller, a Mexico-based American journalist, celebrates Africa in this compelling travel memoir.
While awaiting her flight to Nairobi, Miller found herself in close proximity to an explosion at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Shaken but remaining levelheaded, she later boarded a plane to begin her African adventure. The tempo of the memoir is thereby set: fast-paced, occasionally bordering on the urgent, yet always coolly informative. Miller writes that during her time spent away from Africa, she missed it as she might “a close friend or beloved relative”—a sentiment palpable throughout the memoir, as the continent and its diverse array of people are described in tender detail. The author’s journey takes her to Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Nairobi men are “lean and long, with chiseled features,” whereas the Masai men, have “[d]eep-set eyes, [and a] penetrating gaze, yet soft and soulful.” This form of earnest portraiture captures the manner in which, as with the landscape, human physical characteristics change as the miles pass. The political landscape is also carefully considered, with a specific focus on the impact of colonialism and subsequent waves of tourism. The book’s true power lies in its ability to communicate the freedom and wonder of traversing through Africa’s wide-open spaces. Readers share in the amazement of seeing wild animals in their natural habitats and traveling under a “canopy of moon and stars.” The author describes spiritual aspects of the continent—for example, the legend of Nyami-Nymai, the river god of the Zambezi—yet this travelogue is also an intimate account of a deeply moving inner journey. Although Africa’s dangers are present, not central, the memoir has its thrills and spills, most notably a shipwreck in Zimbabwe. Focus is placed upon the positive impact the continent can have on the individual, which is helpful in debunking Western perceptions of Africa as merely perilous and politically unstable. Carefully researched and written with passion, the narrative buzzes with an energy drawn from the land itself.
Life undermines the pursuit of success and status in these rich, bewildering stories.
True to the title, the heroes of Morris’ first volume of fiction try to figure out the conundrums of love, career and family at every stage of the white male life cycle: A wiseass teenager stages a gross prank to catch the eye of a pretty cheerleader; a newly minted lawyer discovers that laziness and disaffection are no bar to advancement at his firm; an old man tries to forge a new connection to his dementia-stricken wife with the help of a pint-sized pianist. Most of the protagonists are professionals living in New York or LA who have their comfortable-to-affluent middle-aged lives shaken up by subtle instabilities. A rich producer shares a secret tragedy with a Mexican repairman; an investment banker is baffled by the technological universe he is supposed to have mastered; a funeral takes an Ivy League grad back to his working-class Irish Catholic roots; a hack attorney relaxes by posing as a crazy homeless man; and in the bleakly comic title story, a man reluctantly chaperoning his son’s fifth-grade class on a Virginia field trip has his own callowness contrasted with the august figures of American history. Morris, an entertainment lawyer, producer and journalist, knows his characters and their worlds like the back of his hand. He endows them with both a sharply etched particularity and an iconic heft: “Jim Mulligan stood in boxers and a T-shirt in the refrigerator light, beer bottle in hand, in the same spot as countless American men before and since, at once living the whiteness and watching it, a picture within a picture, hoping for a miracle snack.” His wonderfully evocative prose finds a world in tiny details of gesture and setting, in the casually arrogant stirring of coffee or the drab décor of a hotel room “conceived in mediocrity.” The result is a cleareyed, finely wrought and mordantly funny take on a modern predicament by a new writer with loads of talent.
A superb literary gallery of men who can’t understand why life has given them what they want.
In this collection of literary fiction, winner of the 2012 Hudson Prize, seven short stories explore secrets, lies and trust.
Appel (Phoning Home: Essays, 2014, etc.) populates his stories with mostly ordinary people. But his characters, whether a truck driver or a professional folklorist, teenage or elderly, male or female, all tend to come up against a longing for trustworthiness. The title story begins with the knockout line: “Nothing sells tombstones like a Girl Scout in uniform”—a mild piece of deception (Natalie, the narrator, is 13 and was never a Girl Scout) that hints at more complicated ones to follow. Over several visits, Natalie’s father flirts with an old love, Delia Braithwaite, who’s dying, while ostensibly selling her a headstone. When she finally says, “I trust you, Gordon,” he trembles, as if suppressing a scream: “My father’s tone shifted slowly from intimate to false intimate—the voice he used to clinch the bargain with his other customers.” In these stories, trust can create distance as well as closeness, as can the truth. In “Choose Your Own Genetics,” a lesson on blood typingdiscloses some unsettling news; even more unsettling is how the narrator’s respected father, a geneticist, uses his superior knowledge to bully the teacher. Greta, the lonely, widowed central character in “Ad Valorem,” decides to ignore what she knows to be true since she longs to trust. Part of trusting yourself is knowing your limits, or as the truck-driver narrator of “Hazardous Cargoes” puts it: “You’ve got to know your load. And you’ve got to know how far to carry it.” Appel approaches his characters with compassion and an understanding of human frailty. In “The Extinction of Fairy Tales,” another lonely character realizes when her lawn-care man stops showing up that she doesn’t even know his last name, and she owes him a debt of gratitude: “She wanted to tell people that he was the man who’d buried her dog, but that sounded absolutely nutty out-of-context. There was the problem with human relationships—you could never really explain them.” Luckily for readers, Appel can.
In her first YA fantasy novel, Kane (Creative Writing, 2002, etc.) deftly weaves the absorbing tale of a shape-shifting Irish wizard, a lethal ghost, a cursed island and a modern-day young girl who may be able to put everything right.
Kane pulls out all the stops in her lively debut fantasy for teens and older tweens. Twelve-year-old Kaitlin, her little brother, poet father and artist mother have moved to Merlin’s Island off the coast of Maine to run an inn. The venture is failing, though, and the island is reputed to be cursed and haunted by the bloody ghost of a “fire-born changeling.” With the appearance of mysterious stranger Michael McClure, the family’s luck turns around; in no time, the inn is a bustling success. Is it merely a coincidence, or is Michael the mythical Irish sea-wizard Manannan Mac Lir, summoned by Kaitlin’s secret prayer? If so, has he been drawn by the island’s curse as well? Is a little girl’s ghost killing people with a bloody touch? And is Kaitlin actually a “true witch,” with the power to help heal the island and dispel its ghost? In this colorful, well-crafted fantasy, Kane easily keeps all of these plates spinning and more: Why does Kaitlin’s mom paint a disturbing and perhaps prescient piece of art? Is the sudden alliance between town busybody Mrs. Roseberry and antiques dealer Sheridan Lockwood more nefarious than simple rumormongering? The singing voices of both Kaitlin and Mac Lir prove crucial to the plot, as do the ancient Chain of Mongan that Kaitlin wears as Michael’s protective gift and a “witch’s scope” sent to Kaitlin by eccentric Dr. Castlemaine for use only in a dire supernatural emergency. Kane brings the diverse plotlines together in a satisfying, fiery crescendo of magical events that feature the redemptive act of a golden-eyed stag and a vivid depiction of Kaitlin’s courageous struggle to tap into a mystical song of healing. In a teasing question-mark twist as the novel draws to a close, the islanders try rationalize the inexplicable: Did any of it really happen? Either way, in Kane’s capable hands, the magic lingers for Kaitlin and for readers.
A multilayered blend of suspense, mythology and the supernatural, anchored by a thoughtful, young heroine.