The setting is the mid-1960s in London. Anna, a young “dresser” for an almost-famous actress who has disappeared, embarks upon a journey to find her. Along the way, she meets Aloysius, a soft-spoken accountant. There is kismet between them, and before long he finds himself entangled in her journey. A mystery of sorts, the novel is so much more.
In all honesty, I am not sure how to express my thoughts about this book which I found quite compelling and its central thread – race. Race, in this day and time of history. Yet, this is precisely why I would like to present it here.
Aloysius. This beautiful character. Included is a Turkish family, but this Jamaican immigrant is the story for me. Originally published in 2017, Emmerson gently nudges him into being a central character. And, by doing so, she brings her experiences, her research (dare I say?) about race in England to the fore. I am not sure if she captures the perspectives or feelings or responses by non-whites at this time, but her writing certainly stopped me on the page and gave me serious reflection; another facet about racism. Any racism. All racism. But, her writing is what informs:
He had gone out of his way to present himself well since he moved here. He had bought a briefcase like the ones he saw English accountants carrying in Kingston. He had invested in a fine suite, made to measure from a tailor’s shop in Croydon. He polished his shoes. He shaved meticulously. The boys in the back rook would tease him about his appearance, calling him a fop and a nancy boy. A gentle man by nature, he had to force every instinct he had to answer back or defend himself from slander. When people laughed at him in meetings he smiled and allowed them to have their moment of humor; when he was refused service in a pub or café he packed up his things and left quietly; when men made monkey noises on the bus he moved his seat. He was fighting the assumptions of the English with every weapon in his arsenal but nine times out of ten he was left feeling empty, exhausted, and defeated.”
Hundreds of years of this multiplied by tens of thousands, millions. Day in and day out. Across the world. Unrelenting.
How does one soul keep going?
Emmerson, Miranda. Miss Treadway & the Field of Stars. New York: HaRper, 2017. Print.
Today, I feel loss. It sneaked into this house, my house, despite my defenses.
Adopted from a shelter, a petite, black cat lived in the house for years.
The thing is, she only had three good legs. She dragged the fourth, along with her tail which swept the floors-back and forth – leading a path for us to follow. Hit by a car, and left by the side of the road, she came to us circuitously.
We called her Soot.
Her sweet nature craved love. Her meow, barely audible, could never quite muster the attention she demanded. Yet, she could claw her way up any chair, sofa or bed with those strong and muscular front legs and then, curl herself into the softest, smallest ball and purr as loudly as any big tom prowling through our streets.
Who knew then – oh, more than a decade ago and several cats later -that she would leave me with a broken heart?
Today I long, with such an ache, for her presence.
It is rare that I take issue with a book review. This is especially so when it is written by a review source that I trust and almost revere – Kirkus Reviews. The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler was originally published in 2015; not during the COVID pandemic, a dark time. Hence this novel feels darker and more ominous than “A bit fey, even as romantic whimsy.”
The plot summary alludes to a strange, somewhat mysterious tale about a book, a family, a circus, and yes, water. So intriguing. So different than the usual dysfunctional family story lines that abound. Of course it does have dysfunctional families, but not in the traditional sense. Rather these are the families and the lineages that grow from fairy tales – those tales told for and to adults, not children. There is nothing “fey” about “The Little Mermaid” or the Celtic selkie. These are tales of deep love and sacrifice, especially that of the feminine nature. These are heartbreaking tales.
Swyler accomplishes the dramatic sense of danger as she weaves two stories placed in two different centuries simultaneously into one. There are layers upon layers; depths to this story that are poignant and tragic.
She brings the fairy tale genre right into the twenty-first century, and onto the Long Island Sound.
Perhaps this is why, when I read the last line from the Kirkus Review, “For die-hard mermaid-fiction lovers only,” I cringed. This book is for those far beyond “mermaid fiction lovers.”
Swyler, Erika. The Book of Speculation. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015. Print.
Duringthis time in our history and thisseason [COVID, vitriolic disunity in our country, sadness & anxiety] I find that I am able to read literature during the day time. The evening is reserved from pure adventure as far from real life as possible ( See, Part 1).
The craft of writing beautiful memoir, fiction, and narrative non-fiction is one to which I aspire. My pithy blog scribbling pales in comparison to what I share here. The titles with an asterisks * are the only ones I have read thus far; I am looking forward to reading the rest during July and August. I hope you find at least one of interest during this season of hard living, my friend.
With this source I tried ever so hard to stay away from mystery as they offer an abundance. Sometimes, I need to stretch beyond the whodunit genre; I have with these:
*The Book of Speculation: a novelby Erika Swyler is a most unusual tale with intertwining stories. Who can resist a Long Island setting, a library, mermaids, and circus life? It is reminiscent, ONLY in feeling and the peculiar story line, of The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker.
I will admit this out loud: I did not understand the depth and length of stress in October 2019 with my post, “Read away your stress for only $24.04.”. THIS IS IT. This COVID19. This America. This summer. All are extraordinarily stressful. One layered upon the other.
NOW. I am reading more widely and a variety of titles simultaneously in order to de-stress, yet still within a budget. I admit to holding the line thanks to these authors, which I am sharing here. Some I have read; others, not yet. The books are all piled high on a bedside table with the e-Reader alongside and its multitudinous titles.
I am a sucker for a good mystery, romance-mystery, chick-lit mystery, especially when the first in a series is free or less than $10. Thanks to Barnes&Noble, I downloaded these titles in order to escape the here and now before I drifted off into another surreal world of dreams. Listed here in no particular order:
(many are free both for Nook & Kindle)
Some of these titles are short in length, really novellas; others, full length novels. Check on Goodreads for your preference.
I started reading each one twice before I put down the books. I am wedded to reading these through to the end even if it is to figure out why I am having to struggle. Sometimes, I wonder if it is the cover art that grabs me. Hmmm….
Everything in its place. Order, my prerequisite for peace. Vacuuming before I enjoyed the house. Always. Wiping down the kitchen counters before I baked. Always. Lining up my students before they entered the library. A must.
Peacefulness is messy, now. Bird shit on the stone walkway as the bluejay screeches her joy. Dusty paw prints across the studio desk before the cat curls up on the lap.
Peacefulness comes quietly across soft pine floors. Boots heavy with purpose. A hand holding mine. His fingernails caked with car grease. Morning blankets and sheets askew as the bed is left unmade.
This Summer I am fortunate to be one of several in a writing Group, Project Write Now. One hour during each week we write, read, share, comment, and support each other’s work.
During the past two weeks in the aftermath of the murder of Mr. George Floyd(warning: graphic description) protests here in the D.C. area, the U.S. and across the world have taken center stage. Turning to Twitter, where I follow artists and authors almost exclusively, I came across a plethora of recommended reading under the hashtag BlackLivesMatter. One such list included this book which drew my attention with its focus on implicit bias. Dr. Jennifer L. Eberhardt, a 2014 MacArthur “genius” awardee among outstanding other accomplishments, writes beautifully and clearly on this dense and broad topic.
I value Eberhardt’s openness is discussing her own personal history and her interactions – whether on the UVA or Harvard campuses, working in San Quentin with prisoners, with police departments, and most importantly, with her son. It is this shared intimacy along with her training as a professional social psychologist that conveys the messages – intellectually and emotionally. With these private revelations she grabs you; next, the science exposes the cultural bias.
“…I was busy preparing the turkey…while he [Ebbie, her 6 year old son] sat at the kitchen table. Out of the blue he asked, ‘Mommy, do you think people see black people as different from white people?’ Her honest discussion with her son, is then capped off with research focusing on pre-schoolers and the power of adults to shape profoundly the children’s perceptions.
As a former teacher-librarian, her chapter, “Hard Lessons” carries a special weight; it retells the struggle for education of Judge Bernice Donald on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, who, as a child, picked cotton in “the fields of Tennessee.” Dr. Eberhardt weaves together seamlessly the scientific history and studies behind implicit bias against the backdrop of personal experiences from Black, Latino(a), and whites with the issue of bias at its core. Following the “Conclusion” is included “Questions For Discussions,” and an outstanding bibliography. Whether you read this alone or with a group, there is some way to see yourself reflected. Change is always possible.
Eberhardt, Jennifer L., Ph.D. Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do. Penguin Books, 2019. Print.