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Category Archive for 'Literary'

When her husband Sam dies alone of a heart attack in the minutes that she has been waiting to join him at a favorite restaurant in Vermont, devoted wife Antonia makes it her primary focus to create an afterlife for him. She needs something that will enable her to relive memories and past events with him while she lives her everyday life. When Mario, a young, undocumented worker from Mexico who works on the nearest farm, comes to clean her gutters, he eventually asks for a favor – Will she please help him call his girlfriend who is now in the US but far away from him in Vermont? Developing her themes of love and loss in life and death as they affect Antonia, Julia Alvarez creates several subplots involving other characters, all reflecting powerful emotions without descending into sentimentality or maudlin self-analysis. Mario, his girlfriend Estela, and José, his fellow worker on the farm, are one plot, dealing with the problems of illegal immigrants desperate to create new lives in the US. The second plot line revolves around a get-together of Antonia and her three sisters in Massachusetts to celebrate her birthday. The failure of sister Izzy to appear for the celebration, as promised, becomes the all-consuming issue for the other sisters for many days, and the need for Antonia to be present as they and the police all search for Izzy force her to be out of state when some of the issues involving Mario and his undocumented girlfriend are becoming critical. Abandonment, betrayal, the sadness of loss, and anger lead to personal growth, further develop the original themes, and flesh out this dramatic and sensitive novel.

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In this novel, the sixteenth of his long career, author William Boyd is at the peak of his game, creating a trio of stories within stories involving overlapping characters and all the tumult involved in the ongoing production of a film. Set in Brighton, England, in 1968, the novel is both a comedy and a serious contemplation by individual characters, of who they are, where they are going, and whether it matters. Three separate, individualized narratives feature the three main characters and their friends – Elfrida, an author who has had writer’s block for ten years; Talbot Kydd, the producer of a film in progress; and Anny Viklund, the film’s female star with her series of lovers. An overall narrative connects the making of a film with these characters. Though the film’s action and its script are in a state of constant flux, author William Boyd, who has been a screenwriter for over a dozen films, is firmly in charge. Every detail, every absurd action, and every surprise contributes to the overall mood and direction of the novel, and at the conclusion, which has surprises of its own, every question will be answered, and satisfying resolutions will have taken place in the lives of all the characters – and within the reader.

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In the alternative universe of Christine Coulson’s collection of stories from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, inanimate paintings and sculptures can think, feel, and speak. These “speakers,” their conflicts, and their points of view vary widely – and surprisingly – from a robust man who speaks as the invisible charcoal underdrawing on a 1545 canvas by Venetian painter Tintoretto, to an insightful chair which describes its memories of a sobbing of little eight-year-old in the Ducal Palace of Parma in 1749. Paintings and sculptures from all time periods reveal their own thoughts as they vie to be chosen the Perfect Muse, the lucky winner of which will accompany Michel Larousse, the Director of the Museum, to an important meeting. A variety of human characters reveal their jobs and their special commitments to the Met and their favorite artworks. The scale and scope are limited only by the museum’s artwork itself, and its settings include all the galleries, many of which are created to resemble the original settings of the work displayed in them.

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With a first chapter set at the Stork Club, where Oona O’Neill, then a sixteen-year-old “voluptuous child,” sits at Walter Winchell’s Table 50, author Jerome Charyn creates a mood of wild nights and war-fueled abandon in New York shortly after the recent Pearl Harbor attack. Oona, young daughter of Nobel-Prize-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill, is waiting for her beau, J. D. Salinger (Sonny) and an evening of fun and dance. That night Salinger receives his draft notice to appear immediately at Fort Dix for counterintelligence work for the US. He spends the next three years at war in Europe, and everything changes. Those whose familiarity with the life of J. D. Salinger focuses primarily on his hermit-like existence later in life, will find his early activities from 1942 – 1946, detailed in the opening chapters at the Stork and in the crises he faces throughout the war, particularly insightful of his life and personality. Author Jerome Charyn is particularly careful to connect the events in ways which allow the reader to feel the traumas and horrors and to gain some understanding of the dramatic changes in his personality after the war.

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Few authors convey the inner thoughts of characters with the insight and sensitivity of Hungarian author Magda Szabo, and this novel may be one of her most insightful. Setting the novel in Hungary in the 1960s, the novel is surprisingly non-political, though the failed revolution of 1956 against their Soviet occupiers is a recent memory for her characters. The novel, dealing with the subject of love and how one expresses it, focuses not on one main character, but on four main characters, two men and two women of different generations and commitments. Creating a novel which is almost totally character-based, Szabo uses the plot primarily to provide incidents which reveal character. When Vince, husband of elderly Ettie, dies in a hospital, Ettie might have come into her own as a personality, but daughter Iza soon decides to become heavily involved in “helping” her mother in her day-to-day life. Each tries to do what is “right,” but so many gaps exists in their understanding of each other, based, in large part on their very real differences in background, history, personality, and generation, that their connection becomes frayed. Other connections involving other characters face additional problems. Presented honestly and personally, author Magda Szabo creates her characters and their stories, giving them additional depth and universality by organizing them into four parts – Earth, Fire, Water, and Air, as she tells their stories of elemental love.

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