Spark, by Courtney Elizabeth Mauk

Leave a comment

I picked up Courtney Elizabeth Mauk’s debut novel SPARK in the early evening, expecting to read a few pages and did not put it down again until I had finished it three+ hours later. It’s a glorious, fast-paced read, filled with beautiful language, tightly-written scenes, and unforgettable characters.

For all of her life, Andrea has known one thing for sure: she was born to save her brother’s life. As such, she is the ultimate codependent, who only really comes to life when her brother is nearby so that she might save him. In fact, it seems as though she has been in a chrysalis all the years he has been away from her and it is not until he comes back into her life that her carefully wound, seemingly happy life, begins to unfurl. And then it begins to unwind and unwind it does.

At first, Andrea seems tentative about having her recovering pyromaniac brother to come and live with her and her boyfriend, and yet she prepares the apartment as one would do for a new infant; nesting and getting rid of anything that might cause him harm. Once he moves in, she takes things even farther, pushing away her boyfriend so that he might not do the harm she perceives him and his work capable of.

Essentially, she becomes her brother’s mother and following in her own mother’s footsteps–codependent, a helicopter parent. She does not and cannot exist without her brother and his disease.

She also cannot live without his fire. Even though he has spent the past 20 years reforming himself, she doesn’t believe that he is truly healed and when the papers start reporting suspicious fires around the city, she convinces herself it is him. Even when she can find no proof in his room or on his person, she believes he is guilty. She even goes so far to bring matches back into the house, as though to tempt him and have him fail, because like most codependents, she is as addicted to his disease as he is and as much as she wants to save him, she can’t fully live without the threat of him falling back into illness and danger.

Still, Andrea does find an outlet in two other women who people her world. First, there is Rain an aging actress whose dog she walks. Rain is hedonistic, independent, full of love and life. She is everything that Andrea is not. And yet even though Rain is fully developed, Andrea still cannot resist the urge to sometimes take care of Rain. To coddle her. To climb into bed and spoon her, as her sense of boundaries are so horribly skewed.

And then there is Sally, the night person. Andrea’s dark other half. She meets Sally while out walking one night and soon becomes addicted to the dangerous and exciting life Sally offers. Sally may or may not truly exist, but what is clear is that she represents both the unraveling of Andrea’s mind and also her opportunity for escape. She can choose to go on worrying over her brother and her mother, or she can embrace this darker, more carefree side of herself and let go.

You, my friend, will have to read the book to see what she decides.

Read it.

I’m Reading at Newtonville Books tonight at 7PM!

Leave a comment

The first of my readings for Echolocation is tonight at Newtonville Books, an awesome bookstore which is supportive of independent presses. Go, Newtonville!

Here are my responses to the Newtonville Books Questionnaire.

Hope to see you there!

Joy to the World

2 Comments

Has been an up and down sort of time for my family. As already noted, we lost our beloved pet recently and on top of that we’ve all been sick. And yet, there is so much to celebrate. That we are together. That we are whole. That we love one another.

And yesterday, all of the blurbs for my book came in; joy to the world, indeed! I’m truly grateful to these writers who have lent their names to my book. Thank you!

“Myfanwy Collins tells a deep and resonant story about people she loves, and along the way shows us how to love them as well.” —Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina and Cavedweller

“Fearless, elegant, and accessible, Echolocation is literary fiction at its best. With heartbreakingly beautiful prose, Myfanwy Collins tells a gripping and tender tale of broken souls yearning for wholeness. These are characters who will stay with you long after you turn the last page. It’s a dazzling debut!”
Ellen Meister, author of The Other Life

“Myfanwy Collins has the goods. It’s that simple. Echolocation is about love in all its magnificent slipperiness; it’s about how secrets bind us rather than rend us; it’s about the endless series of personal reinventions we call a lifetime. And these are things we had all better be thinking–and reading–about, if we plan to try and get out of this alive.” —Ron Currie Jr., author of God is Dead and Everything Matters!

“Myfanwy Collins’ debut novel calls to mind the grim and radiant work of Daniel Woodrell. From page one, I was chilled by the landscape, caught up in the trouble, and riveted by these women of northernmost New York who slam back together and figure out how live with what’s missing.” —Pia Z. Ehrhardt, author of Famous Father and Other Stories

“A moving and delicate novel, tracing the poignant destinies of women who long for a home they never had.” —Laila Lalami, author of Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits and Secret Son

“Get ready to fall madly, sadly in love with the fiction of Myfanwy Collins.” —Benjamin Percy, author of The Wilding and Refresh, Refresh

And then there is this beauty–give it a listen:

Joy to the World

Other Heartbreaks, by Patricia Henley

2 Comments

It seems an oversimplification to say that Patricia Henley’s gorgeous new short story collection, Other Heartbreaks, will break your heart. But it will. It will break your heart again and again but you will come back to it, begging for more.

You will come back because this is what love it about. The thrill of attraction, the comfort of togetherness, the razor’s edge of disintegration. Love is, in fact, a heartbreak the second it begins because within that second what you know, but do not dare voice or even allow yourself to think, is that someday love will end. Either you will stop loving or the other person will stop loving or, worst of all, one (or both) of you will die.

Patricia Henley knows all of these things about love and these are the gifts that she generously offers us with her stories. And she gives us these gifts with great skill, with great humor, and with a great deal of empathy. She is, in short, a master.

Usually there are one (or sometimes two) stories within a collection that I feel I must push myself through; not so here. Each story was as skillfully wrought and humane as the next. The book is perfectly bookended with two examinations of family’s dealing with loss and.

The first story of the book, “Rocky Gap,” totally knocked me out. The setting is a family reunion at a campground. Innocuous enough, or is it? What we all know about family is that usually when we come together as adults there are many past wounds lingering in the shadows. Same here for this family which is coming together for the first time since the death of one of the sisters. At the same time that the the protagonist is mourning for her lost sister, she is also mourning for the loss of her partner as she watches their relationship disintegrate. And yet, through all of this sadness, there is beauty. One sees a way forward. No matter what, June will survive.

The final stories are a tale in triptych of the March family, within which there is an examination of the parents falling in and falling out of love all leading to the heart of the story, the daughter, Sophie, who has lost her young husband to random violence. Indeed, it is within Sophie story that I found the echo from many of the other stories and that is the biggest heartbreak–the one of love lost too soon. I was reminded so keenly of Gabriel and Gretta in the final scene of “The Dead” where he knows that he can never (and could never) replace the love his wife has lost. It is the same for Sophie; while her heart is opening up again, it may never again be as open as it was with Luis. As it is for many of the other characters within “Other Heartbreaks”–they may be heartbroken but they are not broken. They are not dead. They live and as long as they live, there is hope.