An award-winning California poet, writer, and public school principal, Dr. Mary Langer Thompson was born in Illinois. She is active in the California Writer’s Club, High Desert Branch, and was California’s Senior Poet Laureate. She has given poetry and writing workshops and has authored poetry, nonfiction, and fiction and is the author of The Gull Who Thought He Was Dull, released by AnotherThinkComing Press in 2018.
Brandi’s prose is consistently beautiful, and the story itself remains compelling and fast paced. The rip metaphor is repeated like a refrain throughout the book, and creates a strong connection between the reader and the protagonist. The Rip is an intense, important read, shining a light on an area that has not been the subject of much art, and encouraging deep empathy, understanding and engagement.
There is also an inherent indeterminacy or multiplicity in the way the story unfolds, so that it is both a domestic story, with sumptuously described meals, personal care/tenderness, tea taking, and small acts of kindness that include buying teddies and dolls and supportive talk between friends, as well as being a story of international espionage involving great acts of big evil: arms dealing, drug dealing, government complicity, murder, and looming war.
The writing in both these novellas is masterfully self-effacing. Nothing is forced and nothing draws attention to itself, yet it is all perfect, natural, necessary. It reminds me of the films of Kelly Reichardt, whose shots and compositions share the same sense of unexpected revelation amid the everyday.
The Through is a finely carved sculpture of magical lyricism. His characters are living and breathing people and places. We forget they are lives on the written page and find ourselves relating to them as people we know and places we have read about, lived and visited.
Instead of anthropomorphizing animals, in this collection, people act like animals. There’s a closeness explored between humans and animals, sometimes wild, sometimes their pets. In one story about a young mother addicted to Oxy, she turns her face from her boyfriend’s meanness, “like I’d do with a wild dog, like if I avoided the eyes, that alone would keep it from lunging into me, snapping me at the neck and shaking me dead” (134).
Unlike the fetid and static water evoked by its title, the writing in Dead Aquarium is amazingly fluid and lucid; and it flows, flows easily and effortlessly, so that there is not a single obstruction or blockage, not one awkward, clumsy boulder of a sentence to interrupt the easy procession of prose.
The Stendhal Summer takes the risk of being uncomprehended, yet pays us the compliment of presuming we have lived a little. Thus, mentions of Jean-Louis Barrault, Yves Montand, and Louis Malle’s My Dinner with André (1981), to name just a few examples, either mean something to us or they do not. When they do, they conjure a world of meaning, or an image captured in time, or the tone of a conversation. Such resonances are strange and powerful.
Chang’s cool precise descriptions, reminiscent of her great American contemporary Jane Bowles, are spiked by preternatural attentiveness to light and colour, as in an early scene when Julie walks in the campus grounds where, ‘The sun had baked the red flowers in the blue ceramic flower pots, and had transformed them into little black fists, and had bleached the sea to a faded blue, like old blue linen drenched in sweat.‘
The life of the town centres around the pub, and the way in which the death provides a source for gossip, intrigue and transformation, but also in some respect brings the town together to support one another is charming. Cedar Valley is immensely readable and progresses in ways that are unpredictable but also smooth and natural.