by Sarah Marine
I feel conflicted about labeling a book as a “summer read”. I mean, what is a “summer read”? The only thing that comes to mind is a Meg Cabot or Jennifer Weiner, which does not suit my specific literary palate. Furthermore, to someone such as myself who is moving to Duluth for the long winters and low temperatures, what do I seek in literature to accompany me through these sweltering mid-year hours. What will suffice as I sit hatefully in front of the full blast fan, in my second floor/attic flat craving just the slightest lake breeze. Well, so far, these two titles have made the grade:
Inglorious, by Joanna Kavenna
Rosa Lane is depressed. Her depression has made her static and petulant. She is unproductive. Ms. Lane is stuck. Reading this book was difficult. However, the difficulty remained not in prose or narrative structure but instead it was the important task of not becoming blinded by despair and anger right along with this bereft heroine. I remember being in the middle of the novel, sitting down to dinner with Bayard, and pondering whether I was suffering from a serious case of the blues. We discussed the certain commonplace anxieties which go along with planning a wedding, moving and graduation, but in the end, the revelation came: “Rosa Lane has pulled me into this mess of hers!” and furthermore, “She has romanced me with her calm ineffectiveness into believing that powerlessness is real, that making daily lists of philosophers to explore, of plays to read, of debts to be righted, were the apex of productivity!” I had to break from the text for a spell, I had to take time off for wholesome outdoor reading adventures. To get some clarity. That done, I was able to bear the trauma (and I really mean this) of Joanna Kavenna’s orchestration of Rosa really hitting bottom, that mighty emotional breakdown in which you realize how many times you were a fraction away from cracking along the same pattern, which makes you ever more thankful for those helpful coping mechanisms that a good, small town, Midwestern upbringing has equipped you with. I did not feel sad while reading Inglorious but was instead fascinated. The delusional Rosa Lane and her defiance were what made this book the 2007 Orange Prize winner for New Fiction.
Heavier Than Air, by Nona Caspers
I grew up in an old farmhouse, a dilapidated silo not far from the back door. To the east, the Rock River flowing lazily at the end of the long path winding through wilds of the backyard and to the north, a stand of trees the only thing separating us from St. Malachi’s cemetery. It was an exciting time in my childhood, from which I recall not the bathroom ceiling slowly caving in, the majority of the house with no working heat, but instead exhilarating rides on my Dad’s riding lawn mower, sleeping in winter coats and thinsulate mittens, and a tire swing These are the types of invaluable things that constitute the backbone Nona Casper’s stories. Set predominantly in rural Minnesota they explore the opportunity, danger and security, allowed in such environments. These stories unravel slowly, the female narrators exploring siblinghood, the delicate balances between sisters, the point at which the flowering of the field ruins the hay, sexuality, mostly the awakening and exploration of what it means to be lesbian. The women coexist in murky burgeoning identities and well learned rural vernaculars related to religion, to the land. The men in these stories, a farmer gone mad, the hapless father and jilted husband, are a fascinating subset of personalities, juxtaposed with the heavy desire and effortless metamorphoses of the women around them.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
by Sarah Marine