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Thrilled to be ending the week on a high note! The always insightful Katrina Denza reviews Echolocation. Thank you, Kat!
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
And then there is this beauty–give it a listen:
Isidore Mirsky, the narrator of Paul Lisicky’s gorgeous novel The Burning House, desperately wants to be a good man. He loves his wife. He loves where he lives. He wants to do good work. He wants a purpose. He wants to be good. The problem is that Isidore doesn’t really know who he is anymore outside of his lusts and fears and indiscretions. Indeed, it seems he has lost the ability to function in the moment.
Even as he feels his wife, Laura, falling away from him into illness, he also pushes her away–out of fear, and, ultimately, lust. The one person who brings Isidore back to life is his sister-in-law, Joan. It is as if the two women are halves of one perfect woman for Isidore–a person who has never existed and can never exist.
Told in gorgeous, hypnotic language, we follow Isidore through his travails and hope that he will come back to living within the moment, which he does. For in the end, after all seems lost, it is Isidore who is found as he listens to his wife sing once more:
So she lets go and gives voice to everything coming at her: the love on the way, the love left behind. And good health. The possibilities. What more could a good man want? And how very nice for the weary traveler, who’s had enough of the same old thing, who could stand a little refreshment every now and then.
It’s a beautiful book. Read it.
I do believe that Hard to Say, a painfully beautiful linked collection of stories by Ethel Rohan, will leave you as speechless as it did me. The book begins with a young woman whose own desire not to speak her family’s many secrets chokes her. It is not until she envisions herself speaking, through a dream of bloodletting, that her stories are set free.
Long kept hidden away in the narrator’s secret spaces, the stories burst onto the page with confessions of wrong doing–both that which is done to the narrator and that which she does out of necessity and survival and desire. Indeed, the book reminded me of the first time I went to confession. I remember being disappointed because the priest was not in a booth as I had anticipated. Instead, we sat in a small room together, nearly facing each other. I could not possibly tell him all of my sins face-to-face. Instead, I told him those I thought he could most easily swallow. Had I been able to speak freely in a dark booth, away from his eyes, I might have told the truth as the narrator does in these stories.
While all of the stories moved me, the one that broke me was the final story, “Mammy,” which is peeled back to the first word and possibly the final word any human being thinks or says and that is a name for mother: Mammy, Maw, Ma, Mummy, Mommy, Mama, etc. The narrator, leaving her ailing mother in Dublin as she flies back to the US, watches a documentary about girls’ circumcision in a Ugandan village. She is on the plane and her thoughts are, obviously, with her mother, as are mine while I read it. I have been on that plane, flying back and forth to and from my sick mother, wishing for relief from the anguish of it all. And then the final lines which pierced me deep in my heart and continue to:
Then, on the plane, from the TV, those girls’ cries from that hut in Uganda, calling their mothers, Mammy, Mammy, Mammy. Cries that stabbed me, that should have cracked the earth.
It’s a gorgeous book. Read it.
Meet us at Gulu Gulu for a phenomenal line-up of readers whose work has appeared in the literary journal Quick Fiction, including Steve Almond, Brian Evenson, Kim Chinquee, Myfanwy Collins, Michael Thurston, and William Walsh. We don’t even know what to expect, other than a whole lot of utter amazement.
Here’s the info on Newtonville Book’s Small Press Saturday, October 2nd:
SMALL PRESS SATURDAY | October 2 | Five authors published by four local and national small presses will show major publishers exactly what they’re missing. Adam Golaski (Rose Metal Press), Joseph McElroy (Small Anchor Press), Sumanth Prabhaker (Madras Press), and William Walsh and Myfanwy Collins (Dzanc), plus others, will read their work. | Newtonville Books, 296 Walnut St, Newtonville | 2 pm | Free | 617.244.6619 or newtonvillebooks.com
This one is for all of the kids who live outside the edge of normal, all of the kids who have secrets behind what their faces show at school each day, all of the kids who have been picked on, and especially for all of the kids who when faced with the worst, offer up their best.
This one is for all of you who are rock stars of hope, just like Amber Appleton the winning heroine of Matthew Quick’s charmingly heartbreaking YA novel Sorta Like a Rock Star.
I’ve been a fan of Quick’s writing for a while now and I expect a lot from his work. I expect honesty and humor and a wacky set of characters doing interesting things: and, boy, does this book deliver all of those things in spades. Most importantly, this book delivers a great big heart, all packaged within the body of Amber Appleton–who is one part Dorothy in Oz, one part Alice in Wonderland, and one part all her own. She’s a girl who has been pushed down into a dark place due to circumstances beyond her control and when life deals her an unfair and devastating hand, even though she wants to give up, she refuses to.
Partly she keeps going because Amber is not alone in her hardships; through her dark times she has her friends (a group of misfit kids, a haiku writing war vet, a Nietzsche quoting nursing home villain, and a Catholic priest among others). In her darkest hour when all she wants to do is be alone, they will not give up on her. They fight for her in the way no one else ever has–not even her parents.
Amber teaches us to never give up yearning for a better future. She teaches us what it means to survive. Most importantly, she gives us hope.
Buy this book for your favorite high school kid. Buy this book for your mother and father. Buy this book for a complete stranger who looks like he is having a crappy day and needs a reason to believe. Buy this book.
The Newburyport Literary Festival is next weekend. It’s a great event and I’m honored to be on a panel in support of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction.
Hope to see you there!
I worried through the entirety of my pregnancy. How, I fretted, could I bring a child into this world? How could I protect him? What did he have to look forward to but melting ice caps, tsunamis, wild fires, genocide, floods, hurricanes, drought, war, war, war, serial killers, crazed gunmen in schools, bullies, etc. Now that I am a parent, I realize I can’t protect him from these things. I can only protect him from what I can control, and even then I am often left powerless.
We will do as we wish, we humans.
Ron Currie’s daring, humorous, poignant, heart-wrenching, and, ultimately, joyful second novel, Everything Matters! also addresses the question of how can one bring a child into a troubled world. Most importantly, though, it follows the life of Junior, who not only knows how he will end, but knows how the world will end as well.
It is from there, his foreknowledge, that we witness the choices he makes in his life–when does he choose to give up and when does he choose to push beyond his limits. When does he choose to live and accept all of the beauty that life has to offer him even though he knows it will one day be taken away.
Yes, on the surface this is a book about mass destruction, but it’s not about hopelessness. Rather, it’s about what we wake up and choose to do each day–put one foot ahead of the other and move forward even though we know that one day we will cease to be. We are all brave to live, to choose to live.
Some books you read to be entertained, others to learn something, and some you read to change your life. Everything Matters! was all of these books for me. I finished it just as my two-year-old was waking up from his nap. I was crying as I picked him up from his crib, not because I was sad, but because I was so happy and grateful that he was alive in this beautiful world where everything matters.