As a left-wing person raised to practise the Golden Rule, I have felt guilty about it, since, on at least one significant occasion, my life was transformed by someone who took a chance on me. The question of when to open one’s heart and when to close it is an ongoing one. Diane Schoemperlen’s experience with Shane casts light on this question and makes us feel less alone in the struggle. Her wry humour and way with words keep it from being maudlin.
Mary Karr has said that every memoir is a survival story, triumphant just because the people are still breathing. Tim Elliott’s Farewell to the Father is a survival story with a capital S. Max Elliott was a larger-than-live character—full of laughter, a thrower of grand parties, letting Tim and his siblings grow pot in the backyard, walking around naked and performing mock-deaths in restaurants for the amusement of his family. But he also suffered terrible lows.
Baranay’s memoir is about travelling, art and culture(s) and food, home (and not having one), writing, and friendship. She begins by telling the reader that an inheritance has allowed her to plan a trip to Europe in 2006, one that will enable her to live well while she’s travelling but not be away too long as she does not want to stop writing for too many months. The author does not expect to write while she’s away, which gives us the first hint of a commitment to writing that is strong but realistic. In fact, she does write, and she describes how her life really revolves around writing and reading as well as friendship and human connection.
Regardless of how deeply Caro looks within for answers, what she never does is apologise. There’s absolutely no shame here—not of her mental health issues, her parenting, her outspokenness, her relationship choices, her political affiliations, her atheism, her engagement in public conversation or her career choices. By not apologising, even as she shares her worst mistakes, Caro encourages her readers to show compassion to themselves.
What we’re celebrating most of all in The Odd Woman and the City, is our mutual humanity: all those wonderful discordant notes, all of the flaws, and all of our failures. We love, we lose, and in these gaps, in these surprises, we make our art, our lives, our meaning.
Freese weaves a narrative rich in human frailty and humanity. His reflections regarding life, affection and the way we all change and become who we are now, may serve to motivate the reader toward exploring and perhaps setting down memories for themselves. Freese’s writing is distinctive and well-written with universal appeal. Tesserae is a work to be read and perhaps re-read, for the perceptions it offers into memory and the nature of the self.
Though there’s much about the book that could be (and has been) called radical, in terms of the way the book resists any kind of classification and subverts definitions that have long had specific meanings associated with them, and in terms of the dramatic physical transformations that are undergone by the characters through the book. Yet what comes through for me is how tender and universal a love story The Argonauts is.
Reading Kate Holden’s In My Skin and The Romantic together is a little unsettling. It almost feels as though a third part in the trilogy is missing: the story where the protagonist finds peace. The character arc from one book to another is quite powerful, taking Holden through a series of major changes – some terrifying and some quite wonderful Both books are confronting in very different ways.
It’s hard to read about how this happy and well-cared for boy could have gone so far off the rails, sliding repeatedly back into addiction and violence. Overall, however, That Fry Boy is an affirmative and powerful read, with a strong character arc that is transformative. Fry’s recovery through Twelve Step, and the way he turns his bad experiences into a toolkit for helping others, is inspirational, and will provide solace for anyone who thinks their own case is hopeless.
West is part espionage thriller, part social realism (circa late ‘70s, early ‘80s) and probably partly autobiographical as well: as a young girl, Julia Franck crossed from East to West Germany with her family. The milieu of a reception centre in West Berlin has a banal horror to it, something akin to the quality of a (childhood) nightmare. Families share rooms with strangers and sleep in bunk beds.