These are the books I read in January:
"The World We Found" by Thrity Umvigar
Beautifully written story of the strength of women's friendships.
"Running the Rift" by Naomi Benaron
*Review to come
"The Good American" by Alex George
Deftly written story of a family's journey to becoming American. The author, a recent English immigrant, has written a Great American Novel.
"The Flight of Gemma Hardy" by Margot Livesey
A hybrid of the retelling of Jane Eyre and a tale drawn from Livesey's own childhood and young adulthood. Atmospheric and highly readable. Even if you haven't read Jane Eyre, you'll enjoy the story, the characters and the language.
"The Artist of Disappearance" by Anita Desai
Three beautiful novellas. I'm a huge fan of Desai's elegant writing and sensibilities.
"Still Alice" by Lisa Genova
Gripping story of a professor slowly losing her life as she knew it to Alzheimer's.
"American Dervish" by Ayad Akhtar
This is one to read. It's the story of a young man raised in the Midwest by parents of non-praticing Muslim parents. When his "Aunt" Mina arrives from Pakistan, her devout faith shakes everyone up. Funny, tragic, insightful, refreshingly daring, this is a great read.
"Stay Awake" by Dan Chaon
The stories within this collection are grim and frightening in the best way. One of my favorite short story collections. A real stand out.
"The Odds" by Stewart O'Nan
O'Nan is one of my favorite writers. This story of a couple on their second honeymoon in Niagra Falls trying to save their finances and consequently their marriage is amazingly tight and so well done. Loved everything about it.
"The Invisible Ones" by Stef Penney
I enjoyed this mystery involving a group of elusive gypsies.
"Other People We Married" by Emma Straub
Loved these stories! Superb wrting, fresh imagery, and intriguing characters.
* These are not reviews but rather quick notes I made about each after I finished with it.
- Originally from Vermont, I now live in North Carolina. My work can be found in recent issues of REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters, The Jabberwock Review, The Emerson Review, Storyglossia, The MacGuffin, Confrontation, Passages North, SmokeLong Quarterly, elimae, wigleaf, and Pank, among others, and forthcoming from Gargoyle #57 and REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters. One of my stories has been translated into Farsi by Asadollah Amraee, and many others by Jalil Jafari, two of which have been published in the Iranian journal, Golestaneh Magazine. For two years I worked as an assistant editor for Narrative Magazine. Currently, I serve as a mentor for Dzanc's Creative Writing Sessions. I'm working on two novels and a short story collection. In May, I was awarded the Carol Houck Smith Contributor Scholarship for the 2011 Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.
Sunday, January 08, 2012
The Torres-Thompsons live in an affluent neighborhood on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Scott Torres’ software executive job has enabled him to provide his wife with a view of the Pacific and his boys with the kind of toys that inspire the maid to name their bedroom The Room of a Thousand Wonders. With the help of a gardener, a nanny and a maid, Maureen is able to teach art as a volunteer at their sons’ private school and stay home the rest of the time with her three children. When Scott loses money in the stock market, however, he’s forced to let go of the gardener and the nanny, leaving the cooking, cleaning, and baby-sitting to Araceli, the tall, dour-faced Mexican maid who was “more likely to ignore you when you said hello in the morning or to turn down her eyes in disapproval if you made a suggestion.”
Disagreements over money ensue and when the last argument wreaks havoc on the marriage, the two go their separate ways to lick their wounds: Scott to a coworker’s and Maureen to a spa with only her young daughter in tow. Both parents neglect to inform Araceli of their plans or their whereabouts and soon she feels compelled to take the boys into LA to search for the boys’ paternal grandfather, a decision which will impact her standing not only in the household, but also in the country.
“The Barbarian Nurseries” offers a hilarious look at our solipsistic culture and a poignant reminder of the Mexican immigrants who live among us, often invisible, taken for granted, and ultimately powerless. Tobar uses the omniscient point of view effortlessly, allowing the reader to see Araceli, a surprising, larger than life character, through the eyes of a multitude of people, people who perceive Araceli either as a victim or a criminal depending on their particular biases and agendas.
This novel is a comment on immigration in today’s volatile socioeconomic environment, a comment on our relentless desire as a nation to accumulate and consume more and more, and a comment on the pliable circus our media has become. Tobar’s love for his characters is obvious and none is without culpability of some degree. Intelligent, provocative, this book is loads of fun to read, and though the reader will be confronted with some unflattering truths, he can still come away from the experience entirely hopeful about humanity.
*Review first appeared in the December 18th edition of The Pilot