All the Living

April 6, 2012

If it was abandoned, it was not empty. Curtains hung bleached to gray and tattered rugs scattered across the floor. Against one wall, nestled under the rise of a staircase and a high landing, stood an old upright piano. One sulling eyebrow rose. Orren had told her of a piano on the property, one she could practice on, but it could not be this. Aloma edged past its sunken frame, leaving it untouched, and walked back through a dining room washed in south light past a table papered with bills and letters, into the kitchen. The ceiling here was high and white. It seemed clean mostly because it was empty—spacious and empty as a church. She circled the room, tugged open drawers and cabinets, but her eyes stared at their contents unseeing, her mind wheeling backward. She turned on her heel and stalked to the first room. She tossed back the fallboard and reached her fingers to the ivory. The keys stuttered to the bed, fractionally apart beneath her fingers, and it was no more, no less than she had expected. The sound was spoiled like a meat. She slapped the fallboard down, wood on wood clapped out into the echoing house in cracking waves, and then it was gone. She turned away with the air of someone halfheartedly resigned to endure, but as she turned, she started and stopped. A wall of faces stood before her, photographs in frames armied around a blackened mantel, eyes from floor to ceiling. She studied them without stepping closer. They gazed back.

All the Living, page 4

And so begins the story of Orren and Aloma, vividly drawn in Kentucky farmland. As I read, one word kept coming to mind: quiet. This is a quiet book. And yet the depth of feeling, the aching of devotion, the land itself — all becomes a part of you with each page turned. You stand beside Aloma, looking out over the stricken tobacco fields, rehearsing musical scores in her mind, praying for rain. C.E. Moran’s debut novel from 2010 points to great things to come.

Contiguous

February 23, 2012

contiguous, adj.

I felt silly for even mentioning it, but once I did, I knew I had to explain.

“When I was a kid,” I said, “I had this puzzle with all fifty states on it — you know, the kind where you have to fit them all together. And one day I got it in my head that California and Nevada were in love. I told my mom, and she had no idea what I was talking about. I ran and got those two pieces and showed it to her — California and Nevada, completely in love. So a lot of the time when we’re like this” — my ankles against the backs of your ankles, my knees fitting into the backs of your knees, my thighs on the back of your legs, my stomach against your back, my chin folding into your neck — “I can’t help but think about California and Nevada, and how we’re a lot like them. If someone were drawing us from above as a map, that’s what we’d look like; that’s how we are.”

For a moment, you were quiet. And then you nestled in and whispered,

“Contiguous.”

And I knew you understood.

The Lover’s Dictionary, page 63

I started seeing buzz about David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary several months ago in the Powell’s newsletter, and then it showed up on the staff top 5s for 2011. I hesitatingly added it to my to-read list; the concept sounded interesting, but the description wasn’t grabbing me.

At the end of last month, my mom and I were wandering around in Barnes & Noble, and I saw it on the staff recommendations table. After a handful of pages, I knew I had to have it, and once I started it, I couldn’t put it down. One of the reviewers on the back of the book calls it “charming [and] compulsively readable.” I have to agree.

When I open or close a book

February 9, 2012

Isabel finds the postcard of Amsterdam on Thursday evening, at her favorite junk store. It is a photograph of tall houses on a canal pressed together and tilted slightly, like a line of people, arm in arm, peering tentatively into the water.

She turns the postcard over, expecting nothing like others on the rack, bought decades ago on long-forgotten vacations, and never mailed. But Amsterdam had been posted. The postmark is dated 14 Sept 1965 and there is a message, carefully inscribed:

Dear L—

Fell asleep in a park. Started to rain. Woke up with my hat full of leaves. You are all I see when I open or close a book.

Yours,
M

Glaciers, page unknown

Truth be told, I’ve been having a ho-hum fiction reading year thus far. Three books, three three-star ratings — my rating for “glad I read it, but wouldn’t read it again and most likely found it to be fundamentally flawed or lacking in some way.” All three books have also happened to be about (when described positively) the triumph of the human spirit — or, in other words (when described more negatively), about all manners of suffering.

The Invisible Bridge is about Hungarian Jews during the holocaust; Silver Sparrow is about two black families living in the south between the ’50s and ’90s; and Room is about a young boy who has spent the first five years of his life trapped in a room with his young mother. All of these books tell amazing stories that I am better for knowing, but needing to renew my faith in humanity, I decided to read a classic (Jane Austen’s wonderful Emma) and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, which I expect to be rather frivolous and slightly trashy but just literary enough to be respectable.

But my plans may have to change. My Powell’s Indiespensable subscription arrived in the mail last week, and with it were a few goodies — including this excerpt from Glaciers by Alexis Smith. Thanks to a review in the Tattered Cover newsletter last month, this little gem was already on my to-read list — but it may be time to move it to the top.