Time Was is not your usual birth to death autobiography. Waldman’s haphazard style is unique and somehow manages to be both lighthearted and dark at the same time, but these vignettes have an otherworldly quality about them. The subtitle is appropriate as the disconnected voice of the narrator is not only out of time and out of place, it is one that invites the reader to that liminal space.
All three novels explore guilt and innocence, good and evil, and the individual versus the state or government, using changing tense and viewpoints. The grand conception is fairly ambitious, but Maiden handles it all smoothly and the stories read like ordinary thrillers. The binaries that charge these books are played with in all sorts of interesting ways as the characters swap positions, power matrices, emotional landscapes, and unravel the structures in which they work.
Ben Berman’s Figuring in the Figure offers a window into his personal life. In reading the poems, we learn that Berman is a young father and that he is a wizard at word play, among other things. The poems are written in the terza rima form, a rhyme scheme of Italian origins and used by Dante Alighieri. This form allows Berman to showcase is proficiency as a poet.
The writing is so descriptive and uncomplicated that is easy to imagine accompanying the family as they go from one lesson to the next. We go with them to buy furniture, buy food at the hypermarket, get the boiler fixed and tag along on their trips to the Dordogne and some wonderful French towns and villages. We experience the history, the culture and the environment through Marty and Eileen’s exquisite travelogues and memories. And if you think I have forgotten to mention the French food then you are in for a huge surprise.
At a deeper level, there are questions raised about the nature of reality that are chillingly relevant considering the fact that last year Elon Musk stated publically that there is a billion to one chance that we’re living in “base reality” (that is, a non-virtual world), and even Neil deGrasse Tyson has argued that there is a high probability that we’re living a computer simulation.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge took place almost one hundred years ago, on April 9, 1917, as part of the Battle of Arras launched by British and French forces against those of Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany, to divert them from other fronts. The British and French had attempted to take the ridge and had failed. The Canadian Corps, part of the British Expeditionary Force, succeeded, with heavy casualties.
Always there’s a sense that the world is not quite fixed and that what we’re experiencing is illusory (so much smoke), and charged by scars, memories, hunger, and all that we’ve lost. The stories that make up So Much Smoke are powerful, not so much because of what happens, but because of the way they hint at how much lurks below the surface
Roberta Gould knows the minutiae of discrepancies and how we interrupt our own joy with preconceived notions, imagined grudges, misplaced assertions. In “Best Friend,” the title tells us how she feels about her dog, yet she hesitates to share a piece of her food. Finally relinquishing it and, realizing the irony of the conflict, she states, “I do it grudgingly/confusing myself with the truly hungry.” In this simple gesture she questions the meaning of generosity and our perceptions of need and greed.
Despite the relaxed, humorous and conversational tone, the subject is serious. With Facebook, Instagram, Google (including its search engine), Twitter, Snapchat, Skype and email all linking up, nearly everything that goes online is more or less in the public domain. An ill-thought through or offensive post can get you fired, can wreck your home life, can lose you friends, and even get you arrested.
Part Marley and Me, part Bucket List, part travel memoir, Cohen’s book tells the story of Simba, a larger-than-life Labrador retriever whose physical size is matched only by his love of people. Cohen’s wife, Laureen, was technically Simba’s owner (he was bought by her first husband), but as is the case with blended families, when Cohen and Laureen married, their five children and the dog quickly became a cohesive unit.