The Anarchist Thing to Do is immensely readable in a way that reminds me of Salinger, whose shorter works are particularly admired by Skye and Jude – I suspect because their descriptions of family life are as eccentric, hermetic and all-encompassing as their own. Embedded in a rich tradition of American storytelling, The Anarchist Thing to Do is a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding book, written with great assurance by an author who rarely puts a foot wrong.
There is a kind of magic that is woven through the book, primarily from the language of flowers that works in conjunction with the semantical story but has its own silent meaning. Flannel flowers mean “what is lost is found”, Sturt’s Desert Peas, which are integral to the plot, mean “Have courage, take heart”, and Foxtails mean “Blood of my blood”. These flowers become Alice’s language when words fail her.
M. Jonathan Lee mesmerizingly develops each story with baby steps that allow the release of tension, which is not necessarily predicated on a joyous turn of events. Sometimes tragedy must happen for this change of perspective, of new awareness and conscience. Mother Nature carries us along in its snowy arms, but it’s human love, wrapping around our fingers, that happily delivers us.
Morocco stands for something to each of the characters. In order to decipher this symbol in their lives, they must look inward. They each arrive at a turning point in which Morocco speaks back to them, helps them discover its meaning to them. For Henry, Ahmed becomes his guide not only to various Moroccan sites, but to his own mortality. Rosemary, an American ex-patriate, a grizzled but classy woman, sees her younger self in Sarah and tries to steer her toward a different future.
It’s hard to believe that The Lucky Galah is a debut. It’s an ambitious, complex novel full of varying points of view, voices, historical narration, a variety of themes, and all sorts of subtle references, including many literary links and allusions, but the writing is so assured and smooth that these complexities become rich undercurrents that seamlessly integrate into the story rather than digressions.
Times and places appear to so often remain in a form of flux throughout this novel, and to help me keep track I began underlining the locations with a yellow highlighter. As for those past decades chosen by Orr, I only have to close my eyes and it all comes back to me as if it were yesterday. Every neighbourhood seemed to have a problem son like Orr’s Hal: the one who started all the fires, or sometimes shot at you with his air rifle, and all too often kicked a neighbour’s garbage tin up and down the street.
Sloan’s characters are from various walks of life: an art dealer, a sculptor, a soldier, a convenience store clerk, a female prize fighter and several disillusioned mothers. Bullying, dishonest superiors, exploitative friends, devoted friends, women who love too much, and the darker side of parent-child relationships are examined in this collection
Lives in these stories never turn out as expected, but they do have the accomplish, the finish, of a life that feels real; sometimes to the point of unbearable pain. Whether it be an old friend that the protagonist bumps into that he can’t connect with, or a father whom he wishes not to be similar to in anyway, for his lack of power, these characters resonate with the human flicker of reality; the chaos that lurks behind the ordinary lives of strangers.
Lynette Washington is s-o-o-o-o-o good at this. She first prepares you with just the necessary brush strokes and then really delivers. All so clever, so unexpected, so unique and the more I read, the more I want. This is addictive reading at its best.
Perhaps the cover says it all? Yes, you can begin to judge this particular book by its cover because inside and throughout all those white pages a hurricane is at work endeavouring to yank everything of life’s rationalizations into shards of disbelief.