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.
The writing is beautiful throughout, without ever over-shadowing the plot or narrative flow, which moves forward quickly. Starford remains non-judgmental, even towards those who caused her the greatest pain, including the many adults who clearly failed in their duty of care.
The humility to which he begins his story is surprising given this title, starting with a simple, “my full-blown obsession with ping-pong began four years ago with the semi-epic road trip.” From the there the story follows a surprisingly human pattern: Beaten by son (at ping-pong), age begins to show (as blood pressure), attempts to reclaim youthfulness (or, at least, not die).
Smith would have us believe that is a book about nothing. She opens it with a phrase from a dream that haunts her: “It’s not so easy writing about nothing.” Those of us who recognise her intense grief, and the determination to capture these experiences in poetic prose, will disagree that this is a book about nothing. Perhaps it’s a book where “nothing” happens: it becomes something.
It’s the story of many things at once: a country torn apart by power factions and manipulation, a story of a man and what happened to his patriotism over time, a story about genetic and cultural inheritance, a story about migration, and above all, what it means to lose a home—something as relevant today as it was during the time of Alizadeh’s migration.
These are close and moving readings that provide depth and personal insight into the narrative framework, the themes that pivot around mental illness and hunger, and the characters that become Wright’s partners through her own recovery. It’s not a facile recovery though. The memory of hunger is almost as acute as the hunger itself.