The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

Aug 15, 2018 by

The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

I recently read The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante and enjoyed the power of this book. I don’t think I’ve read a book yet on my way to 101 works of fiction that is packed with as many powerful lines in so short a work as this one, and there are some great, powerful words in this book. I’ve included a list of the passages I underlined while reading the book for you to soak in.

The Days of Abandonment is an excellent read with incredibly rich language.

I wanted to write stories about women with resources, women of invincible words, not a manual for the abandoned wife with her lost love at the tope of her thoughts. … I didn’t like the impenetrable page, like a lowered blind.  I liked light, air between the slats, I wanted to write stories full of breezes, if filtered rays where dust motes danced. And then I loved the writers who made you look through every line, to gaze downward and feel the vertigo of the depths, the blackness of inferno.  pg 21

The contradictions in the life of a couple are many–I admitted–and I was working on ours in hopes of untangling and resolving them.  pg 31

In this long hours I was the sentinel of grief, keeping watch along with a crowd of dead words. pg 32

…taught as wire digging into the flesh pg 35

Women without love lose the light in their eyes, women without love die while they are still alive. pg 44

Sometimes she gave me the feeling that she didn’t like me, as if she recognized in me something of herself that she hated, a secret evil of her own. pg 52

…You don’t speak to a father who sneaks into the house and leaves no trace of himself, not a hello, not a goodbye, not even a how are you. pg 58

Meanwhile I grabbed Mario, who was turning around with frightened eyes, his nose bleeding, and he looked at me full of terror and astonishment at once. Hold the commas, hold the periods. pg 70

A woman can easily kill on the street, in the middle of a crowd, she can do it more easily than a man. pg 72

A long passage of life together, and you think he’s the only man you can be happy with, you credit him with countless critical virtues, and instead he’s just a reed that emits sounds of falsehood, you don’t know who he really is, he doesn’t know himself. pg 74

We don’t know anything about people, even those with whom we share everything. pg 78

No, I thought, squeezing a rag and struggling to get up: starting at a certain point, the future is only a need to live in the past. pg 92

There was no distance between me and them, wheres the rule say that to tell a story you need first all of a measuring stick, a calendar, you have to calculate how much time has passed, how much space has been interposed between you and the facts, the emotions to be narrated. pg 98

Tricks of words, a swindle, maybe the promised land has no more words to embellish the facts. pg 98

The most innocuous people are capable of doing terrible things. pg 114

We fabricate objects in a semblance of our bodies, one side joined to the other. Or we design them thinking they’re joined as we are joined to the desired body. Creatures born from a banal fantasy. pg 131

Success depends on the capacity to manipulate the obvious with calculated precision. pg 131

What a mistake, above all, it had been to believe that I couldn’t live without him, when for a long time I had not been at all certain that I was alive with him. pg 140

How heavy a body that has been traversed by death is, life is light, there’s no need to let anyone make it heavy for us. pg 146

Not even the TV in one corner, transmitting the latest harsh news on the deeds of men…. pg 157

Translation

This book was written in Italian and translated into English. What I’ve already learned is that there is more packed into the Italian version that does not come across in the English translation. That’s hard to believe given the list of quotes from the book already included above. Elena Ferrante has a command with words and it is beautiful to read.

This is a passionate story. A husband leaves his wife and she is left to pick up the shattered pieces of her life. The book is worth a read. A couple readings, actually. The writing is among the best ever. Truly.

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Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Aug 14, 2018 by

Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation

I read Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation in a 24-hour period though the story encompasses a year’s time. This is the second book of Moshfegh’s I’ve read–Eileen was the first.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation.

Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a good read.

Recently I read in a comment somewhere that “Women who consume lots of alcohol and take lots of pills should be considered a new genre.” This book would certainly fit into that category. It certainly seems to be a more common theme these days. (I am presently reading The Woman In The Window. It belongs in this new supposed genre, too.)

Moshfegh certainly writes some out of the ordinary characters. I met her recently and I have to say, she’s one herself. The woman is keenly intelligent and it shows in her writing.

I don’t know that I necessarily care for her stories, Eileen was just dark and strange, and MYoRaR is just as strange. A a neurotic woman not wanting to deal with reality so she decides she’s going to drug herself and sleep a year until her problems go away. The unnamed narrator despises her friend, and really isn’t a nice person at all. But Ottessa’s writing is good; she makes me understand her characters and that is what good writing is all about.

Unlike some of the other books I’ve read of late, I didn’t hop out of them because Moshfegh did something mid-story to make me go, “Oh, come on!”

Ottessa Moshfegh is a good writer. Some say she is a brilliant writer. I just don’t care for all the doom and gloom in her writing. I know it exists in the world, but her pages are painted exclusively with it. There is a little ray of sunshine trying to poke out at the end of each of her books. Each character knows they’re caught in shitty lives and shitty worlds and they’re dealing with the mire the best they know how. I get that, but the gloom is melancholy at best. And I guess that’s why people enjoy reading her books. I’ve long held, and unfortunately been involved with some people who as I’ve said, “Can’t be happy unless they’re miserable.”

I need something a little more upbeat in my reading. I’ve endured hardships of my own and have gotten pretty down about things, but I don’t think I’ve ever let my circumstances get to me like these characters did in either of her two books. But that’s just me, and Ottessa’s been published. Twice, and I’m still trying to find an agent, so that shows what I know. Or does it?

 

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Writer’s Doubt 

Aug 9, 2018 by

Writer’s Doubt

There are days when my writer’s doubt makes me want to load up my typewriters, cameras, laptops, iPads, clothes, tent, sleeping bag, the axe, the dog, my notebooks, and typing paper and head far into the woods of Upper Michigan, far from the silence of waiting for the next ding from Mac Mail that might be another rejection from an agent, or might finally, just possibly be an email from an agent wanting more of what I’ve queried.

The seal of The Grammatic Artist.

To date, I’ve sent out 77 query letters. I’ve received 31 rejections and have two agents who have asked for more. One asked for three chapters more on May 3rd and I’ve heard nothing more. Another asked for a full on July 2. It’s now August 9, 2018.

In an effort to keep myself from going stir crazy, I have been revising Book 3, which will be Book 2 to query. Since most agents supposedly vacation in August, I’m spending the month revising, and I’m spending the month doing what I can to work toward my goal set by Heather Sellers in Chapter After Chapter–to read 101 fictional works with the understanding that I will be a much better writer for having done so. As of today, I am on book 74, 1/3 of the way through Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere.

Query Letters and The Synopsis

What I’m also learning on this quest is that there is no right answer, no one way for doing any of this.

What one agent will tell you about how to write a query letter will not match what the next one tells you.

The same goes for the dreaded synopsis.

I was taught to do it one way. In this month’s Writer’s Digest magazine is an excerpt from Ammi-Joan Paquette, who says the synopsis should be one page for every 10,000 words, meaning a good solid synopsis should be five to eight pages in length.

Only problem with that is when you get down to querying and agents ask for a synopsis, they ask for a short one of 1-3 pages, generally.

It’s all a moving target, and for someone trying to break in, it’s mind boggling.

Rejections

Then there is what to make of rejection letters. Most of them include a sentence that says, “we get so many queries, we don’t have time to provide a personal response why we are passing on your book.” So that’s of no real help.

And then when someone does take the time, it doesn’t jive with what the others have said, so there’s no consensus.

The one consensus is, “I’m not the right fit, but keep trying.”

Triple Digits

I keep getting told not to worry about any of this until I hit triple digits in rejections. That leaves 67 more intolerable more dings and quite possibly more ambiguous reasons for why my book got a pass. And of course there are going to be those agencies that simply don’t respond at all. No dings, I should probably call them.

What an unnerving and humbling and disturbing and troubling process.

It’s time to go get back into Ng’s book, to try to trick my mind and ears to stop listening for the ding, like a teen waiting for a girl to call him.

I’m going to get published. I’m going to find an agent. Where are you? Why is it taking so long?

My Query

THE VOODOO HILL EXPLORER CLUB is a rich blend of STAND BY ME, the Netflix series STRANGER THINGS, and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES. The commercial fiction work would be found in the adult section of a book store and is 89,000 words.

In 1977, four teen boys on an Air Force base in Upper Michigan, led by KIRK CARSON, build a tree house near the secret hideaway of a Russian spy.

Kirk is fighting his own Cold War among friends, a bully, and himself.

To tell the story, he tries to type “I’m trying to change my life,” but instead his typewriter clacks out, “I’m trying to change my lie.” He wishes he could use white out on the whole year.

How Kirk handles the ultimate test of a December blizzard and the Russian spy who has been trying to scare them all out of the woods means life or death for his friends.

THE VOODOO HILL EXPLORER CLUB is a nostalgic reminder of an America where kids played outside until their mothers signaled a summer’s day’s end by turning on the porch light.

I have written in journalism and public relations, and for governors and school superintendents for more than 30 years. Since 2014, I’ve been part of Southern Methodist University’s Writer’s Path program.

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The Human Stain by Philip Roth

Aug 9, 2018 by

The Human Stain by Philip Roth

I finished The Human Stain by Philip Roth this past weekend and at times felt like reading the places where he crammed four pages of internal monologue into 20 it should have been called The Human “Strain.” I read this book on my Kindle and listened to other parts on Audible to help speed things along. I don’t normally do that but there was so much gray on the pages my brain needed a break.

The Human Stain

The Human Stain

The Human Strain

All that said, I did like the story, and more importantly, I learned some important things about writing from reading The Human Stain. That simply must be emphasized here. There were times Saturday when I wanted to drive to Interabang Books in Dallas and buy a hard copy of the book to have to underline in it, so I can go back to passages in time and read them again and pull from them, possibly. But then I got to sections, like when Delphine Roux has her thoughts … and thoughts … and thoughts … and thoughts … and thoughts … right before the climax of the book and I damn near put it down for good.

This is what one is taught not to do is writing schools. And yet the book was the winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award. So like in all things, there are rules, but then they are meant for everyone else.

There was a lot of head hopping in this book, things that Nathan Zuckerman could not have known to write it. When he’s supposing in his head about a character, like the example above of Delphine Roux, an antagonist of protagonist Coleman Silk throughout the work, suddenly in the next sentence, we’re in Delphine’s head and we know all about her life in France before coming to America. We know about men she was with. We know about her mom and her mom’s French history. We even get to hear her mom talk. We know about a trip she took to New York. We know how she sent an anonymous letter. We know how she contrived a b.s. story to tie in to the death of Coleman Silk. None of which Zuckerman could have known–yet he presents it in the story as fact. The same for Les Farley. The same for Faunia Farley. The same for Coleman Silk. The same for the guys who take Les Farley to the Chinese restaurant and out to the portable Vietnam Wall.

Yes, this is fiction, but I had a hard time with that, when it’s been drilled into my head, “No head hopping.”

Half-Mast v. Half-Staff

Another point, Roth shows he has vast knowledge of the classics, foreign languages, literature, the psyche of the human condition, etc, (and that’s a big etc.) but he makes the simplest of mistakes which makes me question all the rest of it. The mistake? He says, repeatedly, that the US flags have been lowered to “Half Mast.” Only problem is that masts are on boats, and most flags in the US, particularly the ones on land, fly on staffs, so the proper use of the term is to say, “Flags are flown at half-staff.” So I wonder if his editors, being so overwhelmed with all the other profundity, simply didn’t bother to check. “He must be right!” Or had their minds been so numbed with the 4 pages into 20 monologues they were simply to fried to check out something so simple.

Raising the Stakes – Negation of the Negation

But I came away with a better sense of the proverbial “raising the stakes.” The Robert McKee point of the “Negation of the Negation.”

Coleman Silk has a secret and that secret ultimately isn’t his undoing, but drives the story to the dark corners it sheds light upon. And that’s the beauty of what Philip Roth does with The Human Stain. Race, political correctness, morality, family relationships, secrets, all those themes are woven together and pushed as far as they can be taken. And that is what works in this book. That is what makes it a good read, and a beneficial read as I continue to work toward my goal of reading 101 literary works to help improve my own writing.

Conclusion

Read The Human StainIt won the PEN/Faulkner Award. After seeing Faulkner’s name, yeah, I can see why. (If I could think like that and the synapses and dendrites of my neural pathways were not searing from having spent forty-eight hours of heat-seared Texas summer time sunlight and unseasonably cool evenings surveying the pages of Philip Roth’s book searching for the meaning in his words and trying to find personal meaning and satisfaction in each single solitary one of them for my own beneficial use, I’d write a long and in-depth sentence explaining how that makes every bit of perfect sense to me and how when each new day begins for the rest of my life I will be a changed man because of reading such expansive thoughts that he included on his pages, well, you get the idea….)

 

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Peter Carey’s A Long Way From Home

Aug 6, 2018 by

Peter Carey’s A Long Way From Home

I enjoyed reading Peter Carey’s A Long Way From Home, though I must say from the beginning, when it gets to the fork in the road, I was a little split.

The story was, too.

A Long Way From Home

Peter Carey’s A Long Way From Home starts off about a race around Australia and then ends up as something far different. It is a good story though. Well worth the read.

Carey’s writing is superb and this is one of those award winning books. It is very much worth the read and enjoyable. There is something smooth about how Carey writes, though I will also admit, I had to jump start my reading of this book three times to get fully into it. That means I picked it up three separate times and tried to get going with it, set it down cos I just could not get into it. But the third time, my ignition started, and we were off to the races, literally.

The story is about a husband and wife in rural Australia in the 1950s who embark on a journey around the continent in their Ford with 200 or so others. To navigate, they take with them their next door neighbor, who has recently been let go for hanging a bratty school kid out the second floor window for being a smart ass. (And I thought I had it bad when I was at Dallas Schools and had to explain away things when a teacher taped a kid to his desk one late May.)

So off they pop and go on the trip and the Bobbseys, the married couple have their differences, but for a glimpse, it looks as though the navigator/school teacher and the missus might have a go at it, but then they don’t. Nonetheless, the hubs gets his head filled with a notion that something happened, and the navigator is sacked. He then winds up in a camp of sorts, teaching Aborigines, which, come to find out, are truly his blood relatives. That he’d been born there, sent away, adopted by a German couple, and this is post WWII and that’s what the smart ass kid had been bugging the teacher about–being a kraut, when he was really not.

To me, that’s where the story went sideways. It was a little too convenient. Too contrived. But it helped bring the story full round and helped the character see a new side of himself, helped him rid himself of demons that had been bothering him all his life, and made for a nice character arc.

Again, I liked the story, but it began about a couple getting into the Redex Race, and then it was about something far different by the end. That’s my main criticism.

 

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Kristin Hannah The Great Alone

Aug 2, 2018 by

Kristin Hannah The Great Alone

I’ve read Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone, the first book by her I’ve read. It’s been suggested that I should also read The Nightingale, but I’ve not had the time to do so, yet. The Great Alone has spent 19 weeks now on the New York Times Bestseller Hardcover Fiction list. Once something reaches the 15 week mark, there abouts, I read it to study it.

The Great Alone

Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone didn’t make me want to move to Seward’s Folly, but it is a good read, though there was some interesting work done with POV.

There were some things about this story that I liked. There also were some things that bothered me, considerably. Most of all, the point of view. I’m calling it third/first person omniscient. For me it was weird to read this book. We were in the main character’s head the whole book, except on sub chapter, where we head hopped into another’s, and then we were back only in the lead character’s head, but we weren’t first person in her head, we were third person in her head. But then, even though the book was telling the story from years ago, the late 1970s and the 1980s, there were times when Hannah would say things like, “today,” or “here.” So it was today, but it was years ago all at the same time, and we knew all that was going on in the lead character’s head, but we weren’t in her head. She wasn’t talking to us, the readers.

I also jumped out of the book when Leni, the main character, and her mother, decided after her mother shot Leni’s father in the back, to haul his body off and dispose of it rather than calling the police. There were still about 120 or more pages to go at that point and I’d invested about 300 or more, so I was in, but at that point, I really wanted to stop.

Some of the reviews on Amazon think the ending fit together a little too well, too. That didn’t bother me as much. I was glad to see the denouement  coming together so I could wrap up the book with a bow and it be over. This was a YA book, so it had to have something of a happily ever after ending, don’t you know.

Hannah’s writing is good. Her storytelling, the descriptions of being in Alaska were vivid and raw and made me feel like I’d made the journey and were living there. I don’t have a feeling like I want to rush to Seward’s Folly and stake a claim, but it was a good book to have read.

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Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Aug 1, 2018 by

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

I recently read Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler, and was surprised by some of it, discouraged by other parts, and amused at others.

Throughout 2018 I have been reading everything I can find about F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald presents a unique perspective of the life and times of the Fitzgeralds.

From my reading list, where I’m seeking to read 101 works of literary fiction, I’ve devoured several of Scott and Ernest’s books already. And I’ve read A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s book where he talks about the Fitzgeralds, (some say this book has been disproved) and I’ve also seen the Amazon Season One series of Z: The Beginning of Everything, which is based loosely on this novel about Zelda.

Seeing the relationship between Scott and Ernest through a woman’s point of view certainly cast new light on Scott’s writing career. In this case, Fowler has taken an interesting twist, to suggest that Hemingway doth protest too much in his machoism and was really a closet homosexual. If you Google such, there is a fair amount of discussion about this topic on the Internet, all written long after Hemingway’s death. In many ways I wonder if this isn’t led by those who were holding grudges for having to read Hemingway and Fitzgerald in high school and college and this is their way of getting revenge.

Nonetheless, the book is fiction and Fowler admits at the end that she merely is speculating based on what she’d researched and drawing her own conclusions about many aspects about the lives of the three.

The book is worth reading. It shed light on Zelda I’d not seen before. Fowler suggests that the blame for Scott not writing was more so on Scott than where Hemingway laid it, on Zelda. That probably is more fair to Zelda, though I have to admit, I’ve tried to live in a home where there is chaos and drama and when it’s there, getting much writing done isn’t possible.

Give the book a read.

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