Friday, August 16, 2013

Book Review: Sunflower

It's hard for me to believe this is Cass McMain's first book. It's beautiful in it's simplicity. If you're looking for a fast-paced thriller, this isn't the book for you. If you're looking for meaty characters with regular problems, a quiet drama that will stick with you long after you put the book down, look no further.

In Sunflower, McMain has created characters who feel like real people; Michael and Jess could live next door. The story is made more vivid by the details of the area in New Mexico where they live. The dialogue is so realistic that you don't mind when it seems like what they're discussing is inconsequential. It's enjoyable just to be a fly on the wall. Of course, the brilliance of this book is that there are no inconsequential conversations. Even the most seemingly simple misunderstanding can lead to catastrophe and what isn't said - the hurt feelings, guilt, pride - weighs just as heavily.

In one scene, McMain writes: "If Jess had gone to him then, and put her arms around him, he'd have collapsed into her and told her everything. . . And then maybe everything would have turned out differently." But she doesn't, and the reader watches helplessly as this couple continues to fail each other, no matter how good their intentions.

In a matter of weeks, their contented life unravels in a series of almost mundane problems: a stressful work schedule, the pressure of someone else's expectations, a missed phone call, an argument with a delivery driver, the heart attack of an unfriendly neighbor, the decision to take in a stray cat. Things skid further and further off track and when they're righted, everything has changed.

Sunflower is a book about identity and shows that sometimes it is only when life gets hard that we find out who we are.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Monsoon Season: Interview

I only just found this interview that I gave to Cass McMain at the beginning of the summer. She asked some great questions and I got to talk about many of my favorite writing topics: genre debates, sexism, how to create characters, blogging, etc.

Cass claims to have a hard time coming up with blog ideas, but her response to Cosmo's "How to Drive Your Man Wild" was absolute genius:
"I should email him. At work. With messages about how I just got finished “touching myself” and thinking about how I can’t wait for him to ____ his ____ for me. Blank his blank? Oh, I get it: that’s code for I can’t wait for him to lose his job. (Maybe I can leave group messages for everyone at his office. I want your ___ in my ____. Then his boss can send it back filled in: I want your resignation letter in my in basket right now.)"
I am currently rereading Cass's debut novel, Sunflower, and thoroughly enjoying it. The review will be my next blog post.

A few months ago, I interviewed Cass about publication of her first book.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

This book was enjoyable the second time, but I couldn't help thinking it would never have been published in today's market. The trial isn't even mentioned until about seventy-five pages in. Until then, everything is background helping to create the picture of the innocent childhood the trial interrupts with its sobering reality of a racist community. The first quarter of the book reads like children's literature, full of descriptions of childhood games, punishments for sassing adults, building snowmen, fantastical stories created about the reclusive neighbor.

Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird was one of two books I was assigned in high school with female authors. The other was Pride and Prejudice. What struck me most on this reread was what a heavy burden falls on these two books to represent the entirety of women's experience in the world: a British lady from the 1800s and an eight-year-old American girl in the 1930s. These were the books I was given in the 1990's; these were the same books assigned a generation before.

Is it any wonder why boys grow up unable to associate female authors with universally relevant writing? Girls grow up reading a majority of male authors, required to find and discuss universal themes. Boys are very rarely asked to do this.

And are we to believe that nothing of value has been written since 1960? Are we frozen in a time that was unapologetic in its sexism? Will these be the same books assigned to children in a hundred years?

I'd love to hear what other books people were assigned in school, especially younger readers. Is this changing?