Tag Archives: Rowing to Eden

Books to Look Out for in May 2018: Part One

Cover imageThere are several juicy looking short story collections on offer in May, three of which I’m including in the first part of this preview kicking off with the excellent Curtis Sittenfeld’s You Think It, I’ll Say It which explores both the ineptitude some people display in reading others and our ability to deceive ourselves, apparently. ‘Sharp and tender, funny and wise, this collection shows Sittenfeld’s knack for creating real, believable characters that spring off the page, while also skewering contemporary mores with brilliant dry wit’ say the publishers whetting my appetite further.

Sittenfeld fans will remember her brilliant depiction of a First Lady, based on Laura Bush, in American Wife which leads me neatly to Amy Bloom’s White Houses, set in 1933 when President Franklin Roosevelt and his wife move into the presidential residence. Bloom’s novel explores the relationship between Lorena Hickock, the celebrated journalist who accompanied them, and Eleanor Roosevelt. ‘Filled with fascinating back-room politics, the secrets and scandals of the era, and exploring the potency of enduring love, it is an imaginative tour-de-force from a writer of extraordinary and exuberant talent’ say the publishers. That alone would pique my interest but I’m a huge fan of Bloom’s writing, from her short stories to novels like Lucky Us, so I have high hopes for this one.

Geir Gulliksen’s Story of a Marriage also puts a relationship under the microscope as a husband whose wife has fallen in love with another man after twenty years together tries to understand the disintegration of their marriage from her point-of-view. ‘Intense, erotic, dramatic, raw – Story of a Marriage examines two people’s inner lives with devastating and fearless honesty. It is a gripping but slippery narrative of obsession and deceit, of a couple striving for happiness and freedom and intimacy, but ultimately falling apart’ according to the publishers which sounds very ambitious to me but definitely worth a look.

Back to short stories for Christine Schutt’s Pure Hollywood. ‘Schutt’s sharply suspenseful and masterfully dark interior portraits of ordinary lives are shot through with surprise and, as Ottessa Moshfegh has it, “exquisitely weird writing”’ say AndOtherStories who are publishing this collection as part of their response to Kamila Shamsie’s provocation exhorting publishers to release only books by women. ‘Exquisitely weird’ could go either way for me.Cover image

I’m bookending this post with the third short story collection of the month from the late master of the craft. William Trevor’s Last Stories comprises ten pieces described by the publishers as ‘exquisite, perceptive and profound’ and for once I won’t be arguing with their superlatives. This will undoubtedly be a treat to savour for all who treasure quietly understated, elegantly lyrical prose.

That’s it for the first instalment of May’s new novels. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you wish to know more. Part two to follow at the end of the week with not a short story collection in sight.

Rowing to Eden by Amy Bloom: Short stories for novel readers

Cover imgeMuch to my surprise it seems to have turned into short story week here. Unusually for me, I came to Amy Bloom’s writing through her short fiction. It was back in the ’90s and I was a bookseller at the time. When I was shown her first volume a great deal was made of her work as a psychotherapist which intrigued me. I read all three collections when they were published and was delighted by her writing, even more so when her novels appeared, one of which – Lucky Us – I’ve reviewed on this blog. Rowing to Eden is a complete collection of her short stories and when I opened it I realised I’d read the lot but with writing as good as Bloom’s, who cares? It’s more than worth a second visit.

For readers who already know her work this collection comprises stories first published in Come to Me, A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You and Where the God of Love Hangs Out. There are twenty-nine in all, some subject to a little editorial re-ordering from the sequence in which they first appeared. A small selection will give readers unfamiliar with these beautifully crafted little gems a flavour of what to expect. In ‘Love is Not a Pie’ a woman decides to break off her impending marriage when listening to her mother’s eulogy, realising that her fiancé could never live up to her mother’s generous interpretation of love. ‘Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines’ sees a young voluptuous girl, subject to neglect and criticism from her mother, model furs while naked for an elderly man. In ‘Semper Fidelis’ a young woman waits for her sick, elderly, still beloved husband to die, sharing her sexual fantasies with him. ‘Psychoanalysis Changed My Life’ has an ageing analyst give her patient advice about her appearance rather than listening to yet another recitation of dreams, perhaps with an ulterior motive in mind. Grief changes the relationship between a mother and her stepson irrevocably in the linked ‘Lionel and Julia’ sequence. Bloom’s stories are about the things that make us human – love, desire, family, ageing, grief and identity – all explored throughout this collection with admirable acuity.

Bloom’s supreme skill lies in her ability to portray human foibles and traits with a clear-eyed empathy. The many grey areas of desire are laid bare. Love and its sometimes unorthodox forms is a frequent theme. Bloom cleverly confounds expectations, in one instance turning what could have become a tale of obsession into the start of something that might become love. Her writing is beautifully nuanced, the unsaid often conveying as much as what appears on the page, sometimes more. All this – subtlety, insight and an occasionally acerbic humour – is wrapped up in polished prose which slips seamlessly from one point of view to another. Three sets of these stories are closely interlinked, offering more for those of us who like our fiction longer to get our teeth into but perhaps that is to underrate Bloom’s standalone work: these are short stories for novel readers – each one complete unto itself.