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Category Archive for 'United States'

Micah Mortimer, the main character of Anne Tyler’s latest novel, her twenty-third, could not be more ordinary, at least on the surface, yet Anne Tyler makes his story one that will keep even jaded readers intrigued and involved in his unexciting life. Already forty-three, he has had his share of girlfriends, and now, “women friends,” since he refuses to refer to women over thirty as “girls.” None of his relationships have evolved into anything permanent, however, nor has he expected them to. “He lives alone; he keeps to himself; his routine is etched in stone.” Finding Brink Bartell Adams, a first semester freshman in college, sitting on his doorstep one morning after Micah finishes his run, comes as a total surprise. Brink, the son of Lorna Bartell, a girlfriend from his distant past, is a freshman in college. He has found Micah’s photo in a shoebox in his family’s house, and is totally convinced that Micah must be his father. At the same time, Micah’s relationship with Cass, his woman friend of the past three years, begins to have trouble. As she has said, “I’m just saying that the you that you are might not be the right you for me.” Anne Tyler’s develops the story of a boring, unimaginative stick-in-the-mud and turned it into a charming and enlightening story of a man who just may have a chance at real life after all. If it is not too late.

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In this magnificent collection of short stories, Edwidge Danticat always goes straight to the point, but she does so with grace and an honesty that leads each reader to come to new recognitions about life and death, hope and despair, and love and marriage. As individuals and families face their lives both separately and together, Danticat’s stories cast an almost hypnotic power over her readers as the characters share their lives while they make decisions about who they are, how much responsibility they have for their own difficulties, and what kind of future they may be creating for themselves and others. There is no easy sentimentality here: Danticat’s tough characters have learned from their experiences that life is hard, and that any sweet memories they have must be treasured for what they are – partly the result of their own behavior and commitments, and partly the result of fate – inescapable, changeable, and often cruel. Set in New York, Miami’s Little Haiti, and the island of Haiti, the author creates a vibrant picture of the issues faced by first and second generation immigrants and their long-lasting connections to their heritage.

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In this a minimalist adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, contemporary author Lily Tuck modernizes Bronte’s characters and relocates them to the horse country of Albemarle County, Virginia. Here Bronte’s anti-hero Heathcliff becomes, instead, “Cliff,” no longer the wild and passionate man so driven by emotions that he is often described as “demonic,” or an evil spirit. In the novella Heathcliff Redux, Tuck’s anti-hero is a far more realistically portrayed young man of limited education and even more limited self-awareness, a bit tamer than Heathcliff, but just as conniving. Like his Heathcliff predecessor, Cliff is still trying to “find himself” and begin the life and career he believes he is destined for, and also like his predecessor, he falls in love with the wife of someone with whom he has much contact, a woman who is also passionately drawn to him through their shared connections and their love of horses. Set in the early 1960s, Heathcliff Redux reflects the comfortable and self-involved lives of upper middle-class Americans who have little understanding of how privileged they really are – people who obey their impulses because they can. Four short stories, “Labyrinth Two,” “The Dead Swan,” “Carl Schurtz Park,” and “A Natural State” follow the novella.

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A young couple and their children, a ten-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl, take a road trip from New York City to the Southwest where the father plans to do research on the Apache culture and where the mother continues her study of the “lost children” of the immigration system. Themes of home, family, culture, and values are broad and sensitively rendered here, but for many readers author Valeria Luiselli’s ability to create real people, including children, as they have fun but also face problems, will be the primary excitement of the novel. The children are intelligent and curious, and they are traveling without any “devices,” fascinated instead by the places they see and stories they hear from their parents and on tapes. I have rarely cared about characters as much as I did for these characters, and their stories will linger a long time. A big favorite!

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A novel written by James Sallis is always a cause for celebration, if you enjoy high-powered surprises and compressed and insightful writing representing several different genres of crime writing. In all his novels, Sallis’s characters must come to terms with a troubled past and grow beyond the difficulties and sometimes horrors which have dominated their inner lives to date. His people face life’s big questions on their own as they explore ideas of innocence and guilt, strength and weakness, and the past and its effects on the present and future within their own lives. Sarah Jane continues these same themes, but here Sallis becomes almost invisible. The novel is the journal of Sarah Jane Pullman from her childhood until she is well into middle age, and though the reader quickly gets to share her life, Sarah Jane steadfastly avoids dealing with problems which often feel much bigger to the reader than they do to her. She hints at events from the past but often prevents the reader from knowing more about the mysteries they create, which soon dominate most of the action – and, in fact, most of Sarah Jane’s life. Though it is presented as the journal of Sarah Jane – and it works as a disorganized journal filled with memories from changing time periods – author Sallis’s own presentation and organization of Sarah Jane’s issues are so effective, and the conclusion so filled with ironies, that many readers will gasp when they reach the ending.

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