Teaser Tuesdays: Uncontrolled Spin by Jerry Summers

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

I am meeting new characters today in the start of a new series, Uncontrolled Spin: The Power and Danger of Spin.

uncontrolled spin
My teaser comes off the first couple of pages:

He hears the door close, and when he turns around, he sees a stunning, jaw-dropping, gorgeous long-legged redhead. Her athletic frame is accentuated, yet only modestly revealed, by her simple black dress and high heels. She is adorned classically with fine but understated gold jewelry; her earrings are half-carat diamond posts.

I fear perfect people: they make less interesting characters than ambiguous, troubled ones. But it’s early yet. Stay tuned…

musings on “A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean, from Tassava

In reading and rereading some pieces by and about Maclean recently, I was struck by the certainty that my buddy Tassava would love him. He told me he’d read none, so I set out to remedy that. Unsurprisingly, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories was a big hit.

Rivers Run through It

At my friend Julia’s recommendation, I read Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs through It” today – a gorgeously warm fall day that seemed perfectly suited to the action of that incredible, indelible, devastating story.

He follows with some photos that reflect his personal connection to Maclean’s writing.

Henry's Fork in Island Park, ID (March 2014), photo by Tassava

Henry’s Fork in Island Park, ID (March 2014), photo by Tassava

Read the rest here.

Thanks, Tassava. I hope you love Young Men and Fire as much as I did, too!

One Out of Two by Daniel Sada

This delightful novella translated from the Spanish, about identical twins and the tricks they play, asks questions about identity and loyalty and answers them with glee.

one out of two

Daniel Sada (Almost Never) died in 2011, but the prolific Mexican writer left behind many short stories, novels and poems. Katherine Silver has translated his humorous novella One Out of Two into English for the first time.

“Now, how to say it? One out of two, or two in one, or what?” Constitución and Gloria Gamal are identical twin sisters, and this is their shared identity and life’s work. At 13, they were orphaned by a car wreck, but they did not notice for weeks, not until they ran out of food, so consumed were they with one another. Now in their 40s, they dress alike, wear the same makeup and hairstyle; whoever gets up first in the morning gets to choose that day’s attire for both. They have practiced the same gestures and mannerisms until they are indistinguishable. They even switch names from day to day. (“Why shouldn’t they!”) Established as seamstresses in a small Mexican town where everyone knows them–but can’t tell them apart–they take pleasure in their indistinguishability, the singular quality in their mundane existence.

This strange, even surreal description of twinned lives begins Sada’s magnetic tale. Then a problem challenges the Gamal sisters’ contented tricks of identity: one of them meets a man. They brought this startling element of difference into their lives somewhat on purpose, when they decided to send only one twin to a wedding, expressly because they believed she would have a better chance of catching a male eye if she were not half of a whole. After all, “this business of having a double can be vexatious, almost almost leech-like.” So Constitución comes home to announce: “I danced all night with a slender man of interesting age.” The novel calls this “her best sentence ever,” and it may well be, but it is not Sada’s; his winding, lyrical, frequently abstract language is one of the great joys of this comical, silly and touching story.

Of course, the introduction of a suitor raises questions for the twins. Separate or share? He has no idea that there are two, and so they take turns in romance. But two women who have split everything up to this point find a man harder to enjoy as equals. The tension of One Out of Two is related to illusion, deceit and identity, as Constitución and Gloria discover envy and competition for the first time. In a mere 100 pages, Sada dances his reader through these conflicts and on to a joyfully droll and loving conclusion. His playfulness with language, plot and character make One Out of Two a true pleasure; his readers’ only regret is that it is over so soon.

This review originally ran in the October 22, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here.

Rating: 7 grape sodas.

Teaser Tuesdays: Norman Maclean, edited by Ron McFarland and Hugh Nichols

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

Returning to Norman Maclean has been an epiphany, all over again: his writing may well be perfect. I’m not sure I’ve read anyone better.

norman maclean

This edition in the “American Author Series” includes essays by Maclean (some developed from talks he gave), two interviews with him, and essays in appreciation and criticism of his work. There are no sizable excerpts from A River Runs Through It or its accompanying stories, because as the editors rightfully point out, we already have access to those; their goal here (among others) is to bring us Maclean works that are less accessible.

Nevertheless, I had read some of these pieces before – I could not say where – but nevertheless they are so good I am boggled every time I read them.

Today’s teaser comes from “Retrievers Good and Bad”, which is among other things a catalog of duck dogs in Maclean’s family.

The Missouri is one of the main flyways for ducks in America, and when the autumn storms begin in the north, the ducks come whistling out of Canada, hit the Missouri River, follow it to the Mississippi and coast the rest of the way to Louisiana. When they go around those big bends on the upper Missouri, the air is left hurt and shaking, and if you are a duck hunter, the place to be is behind a rock on the cliffside of the bends, because the ducks’ speed on the turns almost drives them into the cliffs and into your bun barrel. That is just where my father and I were.

Of course “the air left hurt and shaking” is an extraordinary phrase, but there is a rhythm to the whole, and an awareness of scope and scale; and then it finishes with family and immediacy. To me, this simple couple of sentences is a fine example of what Maclean can do with words.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

BreakfastatTiffanysWhere to begin? Breakfast at Tiffany’s is so classic as to seem larger-than-life. As is often the case, though, I’d never seen the movie either (that’s up next), so at least I didn’t have any of those preconceptions working against me.

I love this beginning, because it speaks to me:

I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods.

The narrator is awfully like Truman Capote himself, and looks back upon a time when he was living in a brownstone apartment building in New York City. The bartender from around the corner, who was a friend or at least a regular acquaintance at that time, has asked him to visit. It’s about Holly Golightly, who was the narrator’s neighbor and another bar regular. Joe Bell, the bartender, reports that she has ostensibly been spotted in Africa, of all places. There she is reputed to have slept with a woodcarver:

“I don’t credit that part,” Joe Bell said squeamishly. “I know she had her ways, but I don’t think she’d be up to anything as much as that.”

Which is a rather excellent characterization of Joe Bell, I think.

We then flashback, as the narrator recalls his coming to know Holly, her outrageous comings and goings and relationships, and her departure – fleeing the city while out on bail, headed for Rio. He got a postcard:

Brazil was beastly but Buenos Aires the best. Not Tiffany’s, but almost.

The narrator concludes that he hopes Holly eventually found somewhere she belonged, “African hut or whatever.”

Of course that summary leaves out everything in between, which is the good stuff. I think I’ll leave that be, and if you’re like me and had never read the story, I hope you will.

Holly is a mysterious character. Her erstwhile Hollywood agent says, “She isn’t a phony because she’s a real phony. She believes all this crap she believes.” She is said to have given different versions of her past, although I think we never see her do so on-screen: she may give no version at all, but I’m not sure we ever hear her own voice offer contradictory stories. That may be one of the layers of artifice to this tale, which is obsessed with artifice. Damn; I already need to go back for a reread.

Holly is almost too fabulously odd and wild, somehow sweet and conniving at once, too fantastical, for my tastes. The narrator, now, he’s somebody I’d like to study. I love that he is off-screen (because we look through his eyes, we never see him) but also the center of everything: we see through his eyes, see what he sees. He is both undescribed and reveals himself everywhere, like Gatsby‘s Nick Carraway. Is he honest? Is he real? In what artifices is he engaged? And, of course I wonder, to what extent is he Truman Capote? (I read recently that Holly is based “by Truman’s admission” on a few women he knew – stay tuned for my review to come of Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir. It will be worth your wait.)

There’s a lot going on here; I think it’s a good candidate for a close reading. And I’m especially curious now about the movie, because the novella I just read doesn’t lend itself easily to the screen. For one thing there’s that narration question; and I think there’s actually less action, less ramping-conflict-to-denouement than movies like. I read this as a mystery story, in part: which is the real Holly? And I fear a movie would be apt to go ahead and answer that question, where Capote hasn’t. But this is all guesswork. I’ll be looking for the movie next.

Holly and our unnamed narrator are both compelling and memorable characters. I expect I’ll be wondering about them for some time now. Her story is sensational and salacious, and interesting in that regard; but I find the mystery of Holly’s inner truth (if you will) the central gem of this book. It is, of course, decorated by Capote’s language and eye for detail, as in characterization via dialog; for example, Holly goes on amusing and surreal several-page-long monologues which bring her into focus for me. But my favorite line of the book was this one:

Aprils have never meant much to me, autumns seem that season of beginning, spring; which is how I felt sitting with Holly on the railings of the boathouse porch.

And I think we’ll leave it at that.

Rating: 7 pieces of memorable speech.

Paulina & Fran by Rachel B. Glaser

A novel about two young art students, the thrills they enjoy and the wounds they inflict on themselves and each other.

paulina and fran

Rachel B. Glaser (Pee on Water; MOODS) focuses on two memorable, magnetic characters in Paulina & Fran, a novel of the challenges in friendship and love, beginning in a New England art school.

Paulina is flamboyant, wildly sexual and capable of great cruelty toward her friends. She attacks the world with a confident demeanor but is secretly plagued by an inability to get what she wants, because she doesn’t know what that is. Fran is more self-contained, a talented painter but lacking commitment, easily swayed by the love and approval of others. On a school trip, the two are drawn together, owing in part to their lack of other social options, but the bond they form is remarkably powerful, even hypnotic, on both sides. The mesmerizing spell is broken when Fran ends up dating Paulina’s ex-boyfriend, setting into motion a series of mutually destructive events that follow the two women–and collaterally the helpless boyfriend–well past graduation.

Paulina can be repellently vicious, while Fran is merely lost; both will occasionally try the reader’s patience, but both are finally sympathetic. These are finely detailed, compelling, complex young adults facing archetypical trials: work and art; sex, devotion, obsession and betrayal; the cavernous future; and how to be oneself and be a friend. Their journey is often funny and sometimes horrifying, filled with pretentious art “crits” (critiques), thrift store fashion and homemade hair products. Paulina & Fran is both a glittering, raucous ride and a thoughtful depiction of life: painful and ecstatic.

This review originally ran as a *starred review* in the September 8, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 7 crits.

book beginnings on Friday: One Out of Two by Daniel Sada

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

one out of two

This is a very slim (100-page) novel in translation from the Spanish, and I am excited and charmed by its first lines.

Now, how to say it? One out of two, or two in one, or what? The Gamal sisters were identical. To say, as people do, “They were like two peas in a pod,” the same age, the same height, and wearing, by choice, the same hairdo.

My ARC offers a blurb on the front cover from Robert Bolaño: “Of my generation I most admire Daniel Sada, whose writing project seems to me the most daring.” Sada died in 2011.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.


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