Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Ready for The Dubliners?

I posted this on our group's Finnegans Wake blog, but thought it might have a broader appeal...

This isn't strictly about the Wake, but if you are looking to deepen your context a little, I just learned that a book discussion of The Dubliners is starting tomorrow, July 1st, as a free online course from Berkeley. You can also spend a little money and get a certificate of completion if you're into that kind of thing. I've taken a few of these classes and it can be a little overwhelming, just because of the sheer number of participants, but on the other hand, invaluable. I haven't signed up yet, since it just came up, but from past experience, enrolling is quite simple.

Here's the link to the course. Maybe I'll see you there...

Friday, June 26, 2015

M.O. "Wishful Thinking" results and Flash Flood Fiction Day

(Reposted from Confessions of Ignorance)

Sorry to be straying so far off track here these days, but I thought I'd mention a couple of things that I actually know something about. The first is that the results of the M.O. Wishful Thinking contest have come in, and though I didn't win I still enjoyed the process and am glad I took part. I'll post a link to the winning story here I think on the 10th, but if I get sidetracked you can always check in over there.

Meanwhile, though, a friend happened to mention the Flash Flood Fiction Day coming up on Saturday (tomorrow) at Flash Flood Journal, and I somehow managed to write something up quick and get it in in time to be published there. They tell me it ought to be up at about 2 PM British Summer Time (BST) or 6AM California time, as near as I can reckon. So look for "The Rival", or just check out the website and see what everyone's come up with. I know that's what I'll be doing. The maximum word count is 500 words, so these will be short pieces for your delectation.

Kids, don't try this at home.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Riccarton Junction by Scott Beaven

Riccarton JunctionRiccarton Junction by Scott Beaven
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A strange and mesmerizing tale. Told from the point of view of a teenager on the verge of adulthood, it covers a lot of ground. Our narrator, Kikarin, is the daughter of a Japanese mother and a British father, and thinks of herself as British but knows that her exotic appearance sets her apart. Even in the London district of Putney her friends tend to be outsiders, but now she's spending her last year before university in the remote Scottish Borders area, where she finds that she's basically incomprehensible to many of her classmates. This doesn't stop seemingly every male in the area from being attracted to her, and not always in the most gentlemanly ways. Though it comes in conflict with taking her all important placement finals, she's called upon by her mother to accompany her as she gets Kikarin's brother out of a youth detention center for a weekend parole.

I liked Kikarin's voice a lot. Although a lot of the events in the book happen to her, there is an observational tone to her telling, as she tries to sort out her various relationships. I thought her parents flashed a bit hot and cold on her, and when she suggests at one point that they are buying a dog to replace her as she goes off to college, it doesn't seem so far-fetched. For much of the story, they seem to be preoccupied elsewhere, sometimes with good reason, sometimes not.

Despite the loutishness of many of the locals, the setting itself is one of the strengths of this book. Kikarin has an archeological interest which takes her to places like an abandoned railway station and an historic castle, and the site of some prehistoric cup and ring marks.The almost haunted feeling in this often empty landscape will stay with me for a long time to come.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Concrete Angel by Patricia Abbott

Although Concrete Angel is Patricia Abbott's debut novel, the term debut may be a little misleading. She has scores of short stories published both on line and in print, some of which appear in group anthologies, and some in anthologies of her own. She has won the Derringer Award, which honors excellence in short mystery fiction. And if you're wondering if there is any connection between her and the Edgar award-winning author Megan Abbott, there is. Megan is her daughter.

It's an interesting coincidence, then, though presumably not in any sense autobiographical, that Concrete Angel proves to be a mother daughter tale to the nth enmeshed degree. Although there are crimes galore in this book, the most significant one happens in the opening pages, when Eve Moran shoots a man in her apartment whom she has only known for a few hours while her daughter lies sleeping in a room next door. Guess who winds up taking the fall for it?

Although certainly qualifying as crime fiction, this novel is really a sustained study of the larger than life personality of Eve, born  Evelyn, by a witness with unrelenting focus--her daughter Christine. In this it reminded me of the short story collection by Natalie Serber, Shout Her Lovely Name, which describes a similar (though not criminal) mother daughter relationship in a series of linked tales. As in that book, there is an episodic, picaresque quality to this tale, as many other characters float through their lives--mostly men. But Eve and Christine are the earth and moon of this story, although Christine's father and grandmother exert their own gravitational influences. Mostly, though, they just manage to keep the pair afloat. This is a dyad that needs a lot of buoying up--cash infusions, temporary and not so temporary lodging, babysitting arrangements.

One of the narrative techniques I was impressed by in this story was Abbott's ability to switch point of view seamlessly when she needs to tell a part of the story Christine would not have been present for. Although I may be wrong, it seems to me that the way she achieves this is to have Christine switch in these sections from the first person to a third person perspective, which signals that she is telling the story from things she's put together later. It's quite effective, because it allows Abbott to tell the story from a child's point of view as well as an adult's.

The story is set in the region around Philadelphia in the seventies, though moves back in time to earlier eras in Eve's life. It's a time period that I'm familiar with and Abbott gets the details of this era right--more so, I think than, say, Mad Men, which tends to glamorize and romanticize its slightly earlier  period without quite nailing it. The blood red Ericafon with its dial underneath its base, is not only iconic of the period but plays a crucial part in the downfall of Eve's victim, the unlamented Jerry Santini. And the background television of shows like the Mary Tyler Moore Show and Bob Newhart were indeed what most families were tuned into on predictable nights at predictable times, even, it seems, highly dysfunctional families like this one.

An interesting interview as well as more about the book can be found in J. Kingston Pierce's piece for the Kirkus Review.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

I've got a story on the short list at Criminal Element's The M.O.

(Reposted from my blog Confessions of Ignorance. Apologies to anyone long-suffering enough to read both.)

I learned a couple of days ago that a short story I wrote made it to the final four at The M.O. over at Criminal Element and yesterday they put the beginning of these four stories up on their website. I like a couple of things about this contest. First of all, they come up with good themes to work with--the last one was "Long Gone" and this time it was "Wishful Thinking". They are broad enough yet specific enough to get your imagination working. I wanted to write something for this latest one, but I had a really hard time coming up with an idea. I had to think a lot about what wishful thinking actually is.

The second thing I like about the contest is that they post the beginnings of the stories and then people get to vote on which one they'd like to read all the way through. There are a couple of possible problems with this idea, of course. First, the story with the best start might not be the one with the best ending, but they are pretty short, so I guess if you haven't whetted a reader's appetite out of the gate, you probably haven't quite succeeded anyway. The other thing, though, is that it's possible the winner will just be the person with the best social media platform. I did like the story that came out of the last batch very much, though, however it was chosen. That was S.W. Lauden's Fix Me.

So head on over to read the Wishful Thinking candidates. Please just vote for the title you're most intrigued by, it doesn't have to be mine. I got a story out of this, after all, and I can always send it on to other likely places. And do check out the Rogues' Gallery, where you will find a very misleading photograph implying that I actually ride a bicycle. Wishful thinking indeed.

They'll be announcing another theme soon, so why not sign up over there and give it a go?

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Game of Hide and Seek at Escape Into Life

I've put my review of Elizabeth Taylor's A Game of Hide and Seek, which I read for the GoodReads New York Review Books book club, up at Escape Into Life today. The book club has its ups and downs as far as participation goes, but this book got a good response. You can find out more about that group HERE--anyone on GoodReads can join it.  We're on to our next book, A Season of Migration to the North by Taleb Salih, a book from the Arab world that probably couldn't be a lot more different from the very British Taylor's.

You can find my review of Taylor's book at Escape Into Life.