Archive for August, 2019

Early Work

Monday, August 26th, 2019

By Andrew Martin

The Short Take:

This slim novel focused on millennial would-be-writers doesn’t paint a flattering picture. Between the drugs, drinking, and cheating not a lot of writing happens. However, Martin’s succinct prose and clear-eyed portrayal of his characters, their inner confusion, self-absorption, and various foibles carries you through.

Why?

It’s a feisty little book populated by people who haven’t fully gotten on with their lives. They’re still in grad school, or medical studies, or struggling with that first book. They live in a bubble of white privilege that ignores the outside world but rejoices in inside jokes and great literature: the names of literary stars pepper everything.

The primary story builds around Peter, a would-be writer who lives with a driven and gifted medical resident, Julia. Her stability would seem the perfect anchor to compensate for his lack of direction and industry. However he becomes attracted to the wild Leslie, also a writer, whose behavior edges into the self-destructive zone.

Most of the book represents Peter’s point-of-view. He has a lot of opinions but no serious commitment to any of them. He feels he deserves complete fulfillment but doesn’t really know what that means.

I realize I’m making this book sound awful. It’s not. The characters are frustrating, but they’re “that age,” with the (often family supplied) financial security to explore options and take risks beyond most people’s dreams.

This book isn’t for everyone, but it’s good.

A Little Plot:

Peter is perfectly content in his five-year live-in relationship with Julia but when he meets the visiting Leslie he feels a sexual connection that intrigues him. Since all he does is teach a composition class at a woman’s college and walk his dog, he has plenty of time to see where this goes. And, he does.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree

Saturday, August 10th, 2019

By Ingrid Rojas Contreras

The Short Take:

Danger lurked everywhere in Columbia during the Escobar era. Contreras draws from her own childhood experiences to weave a powerful tale of two girls: the pampered Chula and the family’s maid, Petrona, who comes from a guerrilla occupied slum. It’s an incredible, eye-opening debut novel that gives insights into today’s immigrants, too.

Why?

Merely looking in the wrong direction could lead to kidnapping or death in Columbia when narco-king Pablo Escobar ruled. The wealthy hide in walled communities. The poor scratch out a miserable existence in crowded slums, where various guerilla groups recruit and kill at will.

Seven-year-old Chula and her sister live in comfort, though any venture beyond their walls is fraught with danger. Even from their window they can see smoke from bombings. Their 13-year-old maid, who must work to feed her family, fears for their own future in the slums.

These two stories intertwine in a masterpiece that brings all the contradictions, terror, and violence of the Escobar years to stunning life. Gut-wrenching events, frightening news reports, and impossible choices impact both girls. While there are light-hearted moments as well, the second half of the book is a rollercoaster of drama. You wish it were all made up. Unfortunately, for thousands that is not the case. Escobar is dead, but new narco-kings exist.

A Little Plot:

Chula is fascinated by their new young maid, who seldom speaks and moves so carefully. Petrona has learned that to survive she must be as invisible as possible Yet even that is not enough to protect her. Nor do the walls surrounding Chula’s family protect them.

For more about Ingrid Rojas Contreras click here.

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