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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog CHOUETTE by Claire Oshetsky (@oshetsky) (@ViragoBooks) Disturbing, dark, difficult to categorise, but beautifully written #bookreview

Hi, all:

I bring you a book that is… well, special doesn’t cover it. I’m not sure it will the kind of book many of you would enjoy, but it raises important questions, and it is so unusual, I had to share it. Oh, and those covers!

Chouette by Claire Oshetsky

Chouette by Claire Oshetsky (@oshetsky

“Claire Oshetsky’s novel is a marvel: its language a joy, its imagination dizzying.” —Rumaan Alam, New York Times bestselling author of Leave the World Behind

An exhilarating, provocative novel of motherhood in extremis

Tiny is pregnant. Her husband is delighted. “You think this baby is going to be like you, but it’s not like you at all,” she warns him. “This baby is an owl-baby.”

When Chouette is born small and broken-winged, Tiny works around the clock to meet her daughter’s needs. Left on her own to care for a child who seems more predatory bird than baby, Tiny vows to raise Chouette to be her authentic self. Even in those times when Chouette’s behaviors grow violent and strange, Tiny’s loving commitment to her daughter is unwavering. When she discovers that her husband is on an obsessive and increasingly dangerous quest to find a “cure” for their daughter, Tiny must decide whether Chouette should be raised to fit in or to be herself—and learn what it truly means to be a mother.

Arresting, darkly funny, and unsettling, Chouette is a brilliant exploration of ambition, sacrifice, perceptions of ability, and the ferocity of motherly love.

 https://www.amazon.com/Chouette-Claire-Oshetsky-ebook/dp/B08WLWF1FH/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chouette-Claire-Oshetsky-ebook/dp/B08WLWF1FH/

https://www.amazon.es/Chouette-English-Claire-Oshetsky-ebook/dp/B08NPQCJBX/

Author Claire Oshetsky

About the author:

Claire Oshetsky is a novelist whose writing has appeared in Salon, Wired, and the New York Times. She lives with her family in California. Chouette draws on her own experiences of motherhood.

In her own words, in Goodreads:

Shy and nocturnal. Autistic. Demi woman. Avian.

I participate on Goodreads as the fashionably bearded “lark benobi” and you’re most welcome to come on over to my lark benobi page to follow my reviews and talk books with me.

If you have an interest in the music mentioned in Chouettehere is a playlist with most of it. The works by Patricia Taxxon are only available on the indie music site Bandcamp: Tiny hears “Cambria” by Patricia Taxxon when she runs into the gloaming as a child, and she hears “The Stars in My Head” by Patricia Taxxon at the end of her journey.

‘lark benobi’ is going to continue to be the place I hang out on goodreads, but since people are starting to follow me over here too I thought I’d use my ‘Claire Oshetsky’ zone to recommend books that people might like if they liked Chouette. Let’s call them “Bizarro Books.” Happy reading!

 https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20847159.Claire_Oshetsky

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and Virago for providing me an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

What a novel! I must confess I read a comment about this novel, saw the cover, and being crazy about anything owl I had to request it. It seems I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t resist the attraction of the cover, because many reviews mention it as well. Curiously, although the two covers of the novel I’ve seen are quite different (both have owls on the cover, but that’s the only similarity), they are fascinating and beautiful, each in its own way.

The brief description of the book made me think of a French film I saw quite a few years back (2009), called Ricky, directed by François Ozon, about a baby who grows wings and the effect that has on everybody around him, but… This novel is not like that. At all.

It is very difficult to review this novel because I am not sure how to classify it, and although that is often said, in this case, I believe it truly defies classification. Amazon.com lists it under three categories: Humorous literary fiction, contemporary literary fiction, and women’s literary fiction. I have also seen people referring to its style as “magic realism”, a category that seems to have many different definitions and conceptions. Having grown up reading Latin-American writers such as Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende, I think of the genre as one where the story takes place in a world that is realistically rendered, but there are some events or characters that seem impossible, peculiar, or even magical, although that fact (that sometimes might be related to specific beliefs of the community, legends, stories) does not alter or transform totally the nature of the world. It is not a world of fantasy. It isn’t a story where somebody sees, does things, or has special powers that nobody else believes in, either. The whole world accepts what is happening as if it was the norm, and that creates quite a strange effect. (As I said, this is my understanding of magic realism, but not everybody thinks the same). With regards to the other categories suggested… Well, humorous fiction might apply, as there are some scenes that are so over the top and cartoonish, that although they are usually also very dark, they are funny. But there is so much disturbing and weird in the book, that I think most people wouldn’t think of it as a straight humorous read. There’s definitely no light humour here.

Literary fiction seems to fit well. This is not an easy book to read (it is quite short, but it makes one stop and pause often, and it’s difficult not to wonder and ponder at what might be going on), and the writing is precious, using sometimes pretty unusual and even out of place words (gendarme for a book set in California, for example), plenty of references to music (classical, contemporary, music from films, indie music…), and the main protagonists, both Tiny and Chouette, are women (well, or a woman and an owl baby, but a female owl baby), and a lot of the book centres around the notion of motherhood, educating and taking care of a child, a mother’s love, family and family relationships… There is something timeless about the book, and although it is not a piece of historical fiction, other than because references to artificial intelligence and to some of the other suggested therapies bring to mind our era, the story could be set years before or after, and it wouldn’t feel out of place (or rather, it would feel as out of place as it is in the here and now).

There are plenty of strange things happening in this book, but there seem to be two interpretations of what is going on. One, is what Tiny, the mother thinks. The other, what everybody else (or almost everybody else) thinks. Is this, therefore, a case of an extremely unreliable narrator? Some reviewers seem to think so and talk about Tiny suffering from some sort of psychotic break following her pregnancy and the birth of her child. Puerperal psychosis is a well-known diagnosis, as is post-partum depression. Because the story is told by Tiny (we never learn if she has another name) in the second person —as if this were a book she was writing to Chouette, her baby— it is possible that all the events she narrates, which seem to confirm that her baby is an owl baby (more owl than baby) were just in her imagination. (If you want to know what kind of things I’m talking about, I don’t want to go into a lot of detail, because some will probably be disturbing to readers, and I don’t want to spoil the story, but I’ll mention: the child hunting for small animals and feeding on them; attacking people, not only unknown people but also her own relatives and her parents as well; the fact that she never achieves her milestones and doesn’t develop as a “normal” baby; she can’t talk; she doesn’t walk and doesn’t seem to have normal limbs… There are also weird things going on in the house and some events from Tiny’s childhood that seem straight out of a dark and Gothic fairy tale, rather than a realistic novel, which also has a bearing on the story).

The rest of the world thinks that the baby might suffer from a metabolic and/or genetic condition affecting her growth and her development, and her father, who is the main advocate of such view, insists on trying to find a cure. (Of course, if we believe Tiny’s version, Chouette is not really the daughter of Tiny’s husband. But, I won’t reveal anything else). This causes some comedic moments, and some pretty tragic ones as well.

Is the whole novel a metaphor for what pregnancy and bringing up a baby, especially a baby with diverse needs, might be like? Tiny categorizes children (and by extent, people) into either dog-babies (those who are gregarious, love to play, chat, socialize, and achieve all their milestones at the required moments), and owl-babies (wild creatures who follow their own rhythm, don’t conform, and are not terribly sociable). The author’s biography and her comments seem to fit that interpretation, and there are moments in the book that felt quite recognisable to me. I’ve never had a child or been pregnant, so I’m not talking from direct experience, but from what friends who have children have told me, and what I have observed. There is much of the insecurity of not knowing if your approach to bringing up your child is right or not, of the exhaustion of having to be there twenty-four hours a day, or not being able to understand what is wrong and having to second-guess. Of feeling a fierce love and total frustration both at the same time. There are readers who subscribe to that view as well, and even reviewers who have strongly identified with the story. The fact that the author describes herself as “autistic” and “avian” seems to point in that direction too but… I am not sure I have decided what possible interpretation I favour, if I want to decide, or even if I need to.

Whichever interpretation readers give to the story, there is plenty to make people think. One of the themes that particularly grabbed me was the debate between Tiny and her husband as to the education and/or “treatment” for their daughter. Should they try to find a way for her to conform and become more like other children so that she can fit in her family and the society all around, or does she have the right to be herself and it is up to others to accept her and make her feel welcome, no matter how different from the norm she might be? What is “normal” after all, and who gets to decide and set the standards? This is one of the big questions that affect many aspects of our lives, in some hotly debated, highly controversial, and far from resolved, even in this day and age. There is no easy answer, but anything that can make us consider things from a different perspective is welcome.

If you want some facts to help you decide if you’d enjoy reading this novel, the book’s writing is gorgeous. I have mentioned the peculiar usage of words and the richness of the language, and although the images used can sometimes be extremely violent and disturbing, there are others that are breathtakingly beautiful. No matter what one might think of the story, or how puzzled one might feel by what is going on, there are paragraphs that I’d happily frame and hang on my wall.

Some random examples. Please, remember that this comes from an ARC copy, so there might be small changes in the final version.

Here, Tiny is watching her husband, before the baby is born:

I love to watch him shuffle the cards. I love the way he can fit himself into the world so rightly. He’s like a card in the deck that he has just squared up. I’m more like a card that somebody left out in the rain.

An example of humour (oh, and her husband’s family is a caution):

I’m the outlier. I’m known in the family as the tiny, fragile, photogenic little wife. My mother-in-law tends to seat me at the children’s table for family gatherings. I don’t think of it as a slight. It’s more like an oversight. My mother-in-law sees right over me. She is six feet tall and never looks down.

And last, but not least:

The days keep coming. You keep on living. Inside me is a damp and complex geography, a sweaty expanse of mixed feelings, uncertainties, and regret; and all of those feelings spread out from my body like the vast Serengeti, full of dark and danger. The edges blur. The truth is, I have no idea how to be your mother.

It is difficult to talk about the ending because it is left to one’s interpretation and to which version of the story we are going with. For me, it felt hopeful, but that is just my opinion. Oh, for those who love music, the author includes the playlist for the novel, so that is a definite plus.

Another random thought is that the author mentions on her Goodreads page, that she will include recommendations of books she thinks people who’ve enjoyed Chouette might like, and she refers to them as “bizarro books”. I have read reviews of some books that fall under that category, but I haven’t read any (they did remind me too much of some of the things I heard when I worked as a psychiatrist,, but I might try in the future), so this might be something to take into account as well, as that might offer another possible reading of this book.

Who would I recommend this book to? That’s not an easy question to answer. I agree with other readers that this would not be on my list of recommended novels for future mothers or those with very small children. On the other hand, mothers with a dark or alternative sense of humour, and whose children are fairly grown-up, might appreciate it. Readers who are weary of explicit violence, cruelty to animals, and those who prefer a straightforward narrative, should keep away from this book. But those who are happy to explore, are looking for a new voice, don’t mind weird and strange stories, love bizarro books (probably), and appreciate lyrical and gorgeous writing, should give it a go. See what you think. I’m sure it won’t leave you indifferent.

I found this review on Goodreads that provides extra information about the author, and you might find it interesting as well:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4329916979

Thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for this unique book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and keep smiling and safe!

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog The Latecomers by Rich Marcello (@marcellor). Beautiful writing, unusual subject, and a challenging read

Hi all:

So many things have happened recently, I don’t know where to start. But first and most important of all, I hope you are all well and keeping safe. We’ll get through this together. I have no doubt.

Sorry for my long silence. After my previous update, you know many of us are confined home. After completing some parts of the course online, finally, the University of Cambridge decided to accept online teaching as a valid way to complete our practice. As I write this, I’ve taught my first online class, and let me tell you it’s been a steep learning curve, but hopefully, we should all be finished right in time for Easter, so I hope to be able to spend more time with you all after that.

And now, I bring you a review.

The Latecomers by Rich Marcello

The Latecomers by Rich Marcello

An aging couple and their closest friends piece together a life-changing plan from an otherworldly text.

Maggie and Charlie Latecomer, at the beginning of the last third of their lives, love each other but are conflicted over what it means to age well in a youth-oriented society. Forced into early retirement and with grown children in distant cities, they’ve settled into a curbed routine, leaving Charlie restless and longing for more.

When the Latecomers and their friends discover a mystical book of indecipherable logographs, the corporeal world and preternatural world intertwine. They set off on a restorative journey to uncover the secrets of the book that pits them against a potent corporate foe in a struggle for the hearts and minds of woman and men the world over.

A treatise on aging, health, wisdom, and love couched in an adventure, The Latecomers will make readers question the nature of deep relationships and the fabric of modern society.

The Latecomers is a profound and philosophical novel about aging and connection, which offers hope and a new vision for how we as a society could age well. Filled with poetry and mysticism, the novel takes the reader on a journey from which he or she will inevitably be changed.

­­––Rebecca Given Rolland, author of The Wreck of Birds

 

I found Rich Marcello’s absolutely outstanding new novel, The Latecomers, gripping, original, thought-provoking, and very clever. I cared deeply about the main characters, and the book kept me guessing, kept me reading compulsively to find out what happened to them.

––Sophie Powell, author of The Mushroom Man

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/LATECOMERS-Rich-Marcello-ebook/dp/B08427HQXJ/

https://www.amazon.com/LATECOMERS-Rich-Marcello-ebook/dp/B08427HQXJ/

https://www.amazon.es/LATECOMERS-Rich-Marcello-ebook/dp/B08427HQXJ/

Author Rich Marcello
Author Rich Marcello

About the author:

Rich is the author of four novels, The Color of Home, The Big Wide Calm, and The Beauty of the Fall, The Latecomers, and the poetry collection, The Long Body That Connects Us All. He also teaches creative writing at Seven Bridges’ Writer Collaborative. Previously, he enjoyed a successful career as a technology executive, managing several multi-billion dollar businesses for Fortune 500 companies.

The Color of Home was published in 2013. Author Myron Rogers says the novel “sings an achingly joyful blues tune, a tune we’ve all sung, but seldom with such poetry and depth.” The Big Wide Calm was published in 2014. The US Review of Books stated, “Marcello’s novel has a lot going for it. Well-written, thought-provoking, and filled with flawed characters, it meets all of the basic requirements of best-of-show in the literary fiction category.” The Beauty of the Fall was published in 2016. The Midwest Review of Books called it “a deftly crafted novel by a master of the storytelling arts” and “a consistently compelling read from cover to cover.” The Long Body That Connects Us All was published in 2018. Publishers Daily said, “Fathers and sons have always shared a powerful and sometimes difficult bond. Rich Marcello, in a marvelous new collection of extraordinary verse, drinks deeply from this well as he channels the thoughts and feelings of every father for his son.”

As anyone who has read Rich’s work can tell you, his books deal with life’s big questions: love, loss, creativity, community, aging, self-discovery. His novels are rich with characters and ideas, crafted by a natural storyteller, with the eye and the ear of a poet. For Rich, writing and art making is about connection, or as he says, about making a difference to a least one other person in the world, something he has clearly achieved many times over, both as an artist, a mentor, and a teacher.

Rich lives in Massachusetts with his family. He is currently working on his fifth and sixth novels, Cenotaphs and In the Seat of the Eddas.

www.richmarcello.com

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=rich+marcello

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7356640.Rich_Marcello

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

I have read and reviewed another novel by Marcello, The Beauty of the Fall (you can read my review here), was entranced by it, and I was eager to read this book, although worried that, at least for me, the previous novel would be a tough act to follow. This book has many of the qualities that made me love the previous one (beautiful language, gorgeous descriptions, a spiritual dimension, a search for personal truth, and many strange and wondrous events that sometimes are difficult to categorize [are they visions, hallucinations, visitations, a transcendental connection with the gods and the elders, enlightenment?], and little interest in following the standard rules of narrative. Yes, there is a beginning, a middle and an end, of sorts, but one sometimes feels as if there were many corridors the characters could choose, which might end up resulting in a variety of futures and of novels, and at times we get hints of those. Somehow, though, it didn’t move me in the same way the previous book did, and that is perhaps down to current circumstances. Reading this novel in the middle of a pandemic, while confined at home, made me feel uneasy about some of the characters’ decisions, their self-absorption, and the ease with which they make decisions that might potentially affect many people, with little regard for anybody else’s interests.

The book is divided into two distinct parts, the first one told, in the first-person, by the two main protagonists, Charlie and Maggie Latecomer, now in their second marriage, seemingly happy, who after successful careers are now pursuing their own artistic interests. Suddenly, despite their deep love for each other, Charlie, who’s been feeling restless, decides he has to go in pursuit of his own path. He tells his wife this and goes on a retreat. Not only that, but he asks a young woman to accompany him. The couple was completely enmeshed in each other, and although Maggie loves the idea of the MOAI, a Japanese concept that they define as a sort of extended family, she acknowledges that she’s resisted including others in theirs. She starts to question everything she had thought, makes new connections and renews some of the old ones, and when the retreat ends in quite a traumatic manner (I ‘ll avoid spoilers), there is a reconfiguration of their MOAI and new people join in. They also go through some life-changing experiences together. This part is more contemplative, more descriptive, and slower than the rest of the book, and I felt somewhat impatient with Charlie, whose behaviour and reasoning I found quite difficult to accept, in light of his protestations of love and of not wanting to hurt Maggie. I liked Maggie much better than Charlie, and although by the end of the book I was more reconciled with Charlie’s character, because he’d gone through quite a lot of change, I still felt more empathy for Maggie, even if I had little in common with any of them or the rest of the characters in the novel (even if I have visited Northampton and enjoyed the descriptions of the town and also of the island and the retreat).  There are more adventures in part two: we have a mystical book that the characters keep trying to decipher, they uncover a secret, they have to fight a big corporation, and they go through much heartache. The rhythm picks up in the second half, and I felt that was partly because we only get to see things from Maggie’s point of view, and she is more determined, action-driven, and even rushed at times.

There are quite a few themes in the novel, including relationships (love, extended families), growing old, health (what does it mean to be healthy and what price would we pay to live longer), pharmaceutical corporations, end of life care, spiritualism, identity, philosophy, religion, mysticism… There is a search for meaning and for finding one’s place in the world that is quite refreshing, especially because the protagonists are not youths trying to decide what to do with the rest of their lives, but older characters, who refuse to be settled and give up (and although I did not connect with some aspects of the book, I definitely connected with that). I do not know much about Nordic mythology and therefore I felt at times that I was missing much of the background that might have allowed me to understand the characters’ experiences better, and that made me feel somewhat detached. The novel is classed as literary fiction and magic realism. Both genres cover a great variety of styles, subjects, and reading experiences, and readers who enjoy philosophical themes and like a challenge should give it a try.

I have mentioned the two main characters, and I have said that there are a few others: three that end up becoming a part of their extended family, two elders (both women), another female character who is the spiritual guide, some of the other people attending the retreat, and the baddie (who is never fully explained). I’m not that far of, by age, from many of the characters, but I can’t say I have much else in common with them, as they are all fairly well off, (one very rich), and in general seem untouched by the worries of everyday life. Although we spend time with some of the other characters, and I particularly like the two elders, I did not feel we got to know the rest of the MOAI well enough, considering the length of the novel and the amount of time we spend with them. Part of the problem might be that it’s all told from the first-person point of view of the two protagonists, but the decisions of Joe, Ebba (she’s a total puzzle to me), and Rebecca (I liked her but I would have liked to know more) don’t always seem to fit in with what we know about them. But an important part of the novel deals with the fact that no matter how we feel about others, and how connected we are, that does not mean we are the same and we have to live by the same rules and share in all of our experiences. We all have to strive to be the best versions of ourselves.

I have mentioned the writing style at the beginning of my review. There are poetry and lyricism, and as I mentioned above, there are also many contemplative passages. This is not a fast book and there are many descriptions of landscapes, mystic experiences, and also philosophical wanderings. The characters have their own rituals and these are described in detail (and yes, there are descriptions of their art, their shared experiences, their memories, their sexual relationships, although not too explicit…), and I think that readers will either connect with the writing style or not. The quality of the writing is not in question, and the fact that Marcello writes poetry is amply evident, but it won’t suit every taste.

The ending resolves the main points of the plot, although not all mysteries are explained, and there are aspects left to readers’ imagination. I liked the ending, although I had been expecting it for quite a while and at some point worried that the characters wouldn’t do what seemed to be “the right thing”. It’s a difficult decision and not one many people would take in real life, but, at least for me, it made sense.

Would I recommend it? You’ve probably noticed that I’m conflicted about this novel. There is much I like about it and some aspects I don’t like as much, although I think I might have felt different if I had read it in other circumstances (and might come back to it later on). In summary, this is a book for those who like to savour a novel and who enjoy thinking deeply and exploring unusual avenues. It is not a book for those looking for a tightly-plotted story, a mystery, or a fast page-turner. There are mysteries, but not those of the kind we expect to read about in novels of the genre. The protagonists are privileged in many ways, older than the norm, and their search and struggles might not connect with everybody. I’d recommend readers to check a sample of the book, and to give the novel time, because it changes and grows in the second half, as do the main characters, Charlie in particular.  Ah, members of reading clubs have a set of very interesting questions at the end, and I agree this is a book that offers plenty of food for discussion.

 

I leave you a great review of this novel by another member of Rosie’s group, as Barb makes very important points and you might find it helpful in making a decision about the book.

https://rosieamber.wordpress.com/2020/03/31/rosies-bookreview-team-rbrt-the-latecomers-by-rich-marcello-marcellor-tuesdaybookblog/

And I loved the teaser of Marcello’s next novel at the end of this one.

Thanks to Rosie and her team, thanks to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, remember to keep safe, read, and keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview BEASTS OF EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCE by Ruth Emmie Lang (@ruthemmielang) A great debut novel for those looking for a bit of magic and hope #Iamreading

Hi all:

I will be on my way to Barcelona today, so if I take time to reply to your comments, don’t worry. I wanted to post this today because I hope to catch up on more reading and I didn’t want to have to post too many reviews very close to Christmas (as I know we all have other things to do). And, I had to share this book. Although the novel is not Christmassy per se, its spirit is very appropriate to this time of the year. And I loved it. Well, here it is.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang
Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

“Exquisite and adventurous” —Bustle, “11 New Fiction Books You Need”

“Told with brains and heart” –Michelle Gable, New York Times bestselling author of A Paris Apartment

“Bristles with charm and curiosity” –Winston Groom, New York Times bestselling author of Forrest Gump

“A wholly original and superbly crafted work of art, Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance is a masterpiece of the imagination.” –Lori Nelson Spielman, New York Times bestselling author of The Life List and Sweet Forgiveness

“Charlotte’s Web for grown-ups who, like Weylyn Grey, have their own stories of being different, feared, brave, and loved.” –Mo Daviau, author of Every Anxious Wave

Finding magic in the ordinary.

In this warm debut novel, Ruth Emmie Lang teaches us about adventure and love in a beautifully written story full of nature and wonder.

Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn’t like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas day in Oklahoma, he realized just how different he actually was.

That tornado was the first of many strange events that seem to follow Weylyn from town to town, although he doesn’t like to take credit. As amazing as these powers may appear, they tend to manifest themselves at inopportune times and places. From freak storms to trees that appear to grow over night, Weylyn’s unique abilities are a curiosity at best and at worst, a danger to himself and the woman he loves. But Mary doesn’t care. Since Weylyn saved her from an angry wolf on her eleventh birthday, she’s known that a relationship with him isn’t without its risks, but as anyone who’s met Weylyn will tell you, once he wanders into your life, you’ll wish he’d never leave.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance tells the story of Weylyn Grey’s life from the perspectives of the people who knew him, loved him, and even a few who thought he was just plain weird. Although he doesn’t stay in any of their lives for long, he leaves each of them with a story to tell. Stories about a boy who lives with wolves, great storms that evaporate into thin air, fireflies that make phosphorescent honey, and a house filled with spider webs and the strange man who inhabits it.

There is one story, however, that Weylyn wishes he could change: his own. But first he has to muster enough courage to knock on Mary’s front door.

Links:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beasts-Extraordinary-Circumstance-Ruth-Emmie/dp/1250112044/

https://www.amazon.com/Beasts-Extraordinary-Circumstance-Ruth-Emmie/dp/1250112044/

Author Ruth Emmie Lang
Author Ruth Emmie Lang

About the author:

Ruth Emmie Lang was born in Glasgow, Scotland and has the red hair to prove it. When she was four years old, she immigrated to Ohio where she has lived for the last 27 years. She has since lost her Scottish accent, but still has the hair.

Ruth currently lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband and dreams of someday owning a little house in the woods where she can write more books. Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance is her first novel.

https://www.amazon.com/Ruth-Emmie-Lang/e/B06VW16MRN/

My review

Thanks to NetGalley and to St. Martin’s Press for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This book is a joy. Readers need to be prepared to suspend disbelief more than usual, perhaps, but from the very beginning, you realise you are in for a ride where everything will be extraordinary. Weylyn, the protagonist, is born in circumstances that his doctor never forgets, and he grows up to be more than a bit special.

I will not repeat the description of the book, which summarises quite well the main aspects of the novel. Weylyn’s story is told, mostly, from the point of view of the characters he meets along the way, and who, somehow, are changed by his presence in their lives. The story is set in the present, with interludes where a boy who literally falls on Weylyn (who lives like a hermit in the forest, with a wolf as his only company) keeps pestering him to tell him his story, and then goes back to the past, and the story is told, always in the first person, by a number of characters. As all readers know, narrators have a way of revealing a lot about themselves when they tell somebody else’s story, and this is true here. None of the narrators are unreliable, but they tell us more of their own stories through their memories of Weylyn than they do about Weylyn himself. We get to know him by the effect he has on those around him (children, adults, some of the characters —those he is closest to— her revisits over the years) and he remains a bit of a cipher, perhaps because he does not know himself or can explain himself fully either. We hear from him towards the end of the book, also in the first person, but he is not a character who defines himself by his “powers” (if that is what they are), and he never gives his talents a name, although he allows people to think whatever they like (He even tries to hide his prowess behind a pig, Merlin, insisting that the horned pig is the one who controls the weather). Despite all these points of view, the book is easy to read as each point of view is clearly delineated and their stories and narrative styles are distinct and appropriate to the characters. The writing flows well and there is enough description to spur readers’ imagination without going overboard.

In a world where children and parents have difficulty communicating, where fitting in and appearances are more important than true generosity, where politicians are self-serving and corrupt, where people stay in relationships because they don’t know how to end them, and where the interest of big corporations always trumps the needs of the common man, Weylyn is like the energy and light he manages to harvest, a ray of hope and a breath of fresh air.

Weylyn is a great character, but so are most of the other characters in the book. Some are more memorable than others, but they are all likeable and changed for the better by their interaction with Weylyn.

Although there are magical and fantastic elements in the novel, in my opinion, it fits into the category of magic realism (as the world the characters live in is our world and that is precisely why people are touched and surprised by his skills, his “specialness”). It would also fall under literary fiction, although it is a much easier read than many books classed under that label (and I feel this is a book not exclusively for adults either. There is minimal violence, clean romance, and many young characters, all distinct and likeable in their own ways).

A story for readers who love great characters and like to let their imaginations fly, not always feeling the need to remain anchored to reality. This is one of those books that we feel sorry to reach the end of and are thankful because we know their memory will remain with us. A great debut novel.

Thanks to NetGalley, to the publisher, and to the author, for this extraordinary book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and REVIEW!

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#Tuesdaybookblog #Bookreview Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (@jesmimi) (@ScribnerBooks) Magic realism in the heart of darkness. A must read.

Hi all:

Today I’m sharing the review of a book that is not yet available in the UK but I hope you’ll keep it in mind. I’m sorry for including so many editorials reviews, but it’s received a lot of attention in the US and I’m not surprised.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmnyn Ward

‘This wrenching new novel by Jesmyn Ward digs deep into the not-buried heart of the American nightmare. A must’ Margaret Atwood

‘A powerfully alive novel haunted by ghosts; a road trip where people can go but they can never leave; a visceral and intimate drama that plays out like a grand epic, Sing, Unburied, Sing is staggering’ Marlon James, Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2015

An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power – and limitations – of family bonds.

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. His mother, Leonie, is in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is black and her children’s father is white. Embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances, she wants to be a better mother, but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

Rich with Ward’s distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first century America. It is a majestic new work from an extraordinary and singular author.

https://www.amazon.com/Sing-Unburied-Jesmyn-Ward-ebook/dp/B071FK5CHS/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sing-Unburied-Jesmyn-Ward-ebook/dp/B071FK5CHS/

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of September 2017: A slamming, heartbreaker of a novel that is rendered with such stinging beauty and restrained emotion that despite the anguish taking place on the page, you won’t want it to end. For her third novel, National Book Award winning Jesmyn Ward, tells the story of Jojo, a young black Mississippi boy raised by his grandparents, who is forced to become a man far before he should because his mother is a drug addict, his father is in jail, and his baby sister needs a guardian. When Jojo’s dad is released from prison, Leonie packs Jojo and Kayla in the car, picks up her meth addled friend and drives north. What transpires is a nightmarish journey that weaves in and out of the present – Leonie’s meth induced highs, when she dreams of her dead brother who was killed by white hands decades ago, and the past — when a man named Ritchie served time alongside Jojo’s grandfather. Sing, Unburied, Sing shimmers with mythic southern memories to tell a story of the drugged and the damned and the fluttering promise of youth. –Al Woodworth

Review

“Ghosts, literal and literary, haunt nearly every page of Sing, Unburied, Sing — a novel whose boundaries between the living and the dead shift constantly, like smoke or sand. Set on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi (a place rich in oil rigs and atmosphere, if almost nothing else), the book’s Southern gothic aura recalls the dense, head-spinning prose of William Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor. But the voice is entirely Ward’s own, a voluptuous magical realism that takes root in the darkest corners of human behavior … Ward, whose Salvage the Bones won a National Book Award, has emerged as one of the most searing and singularly gifted writers working today. Grade: A.”
Entertainment Weekly

“However eternal its concerns, Sing, Unburied, Sing, Ward’s new book, is perfectly poised for the moment. It combines aspects of the American road novel and the ghost story with a timely treatment of the long aftershocks of a hurricane and the opioid epidemic devouring rural America.”
The New York Times

“Staggering … even more expansive and layered [than Salvage the Bones]. A furious brew with hints of Toni Morrison and Homer’s “The Odyssey,” Ward’s novel hits full stride when Leonie takes her children and a friend and hits the road to pick up her children’s father, Michael, from prison. On a real and metaphorical road of secrets and sorrows, the story shifts narrators — from Jojo to Leonie to Richie, a doomed boy from his grandfather’s fractured past — as they crash into both the ghosts that stalk them, as well as the disquieting ways these characters haunt themselves.”
Boston Globe

Sing, Unburied, Sing is many things: a road novel, a slender epic of three generations and the ghosts that haunt them, and a portrait of what ordinary folk in dire circumstances cleave to as well as what they — and perhaps we all — are trying to outrun.”
New York Times Book Review

“While the magical element is new in Ward’s fiction, her allusiveness, anchored in her interest in the politics of race, has been pointing in this direction all along. It takes a touch of the spiritual to speak across chasms of age, class, and color … The signal characteristic of Ward’s prose is its lyricism. “I’m a failed poet,” she has said. The length and music of Ward’s sentences owe much to her love of catalogues, extended similes, imagistic fragments, and emphasis by way of repetition … The effect, intensified by use of the present tense, can be hypnotic. Some chapters sound like fairy tales. This, and her ease with vernacular language, puts Ward in fellowship with such forebears as Zora Neale Hurston and William Faulkner.”
The New Yorker

“[A] tour de force … Ward is an attentive and precise writer who dazzles with natural and supernatural observations and lyrical details … she continues telling stories we need to hear with rare clarity and power.”
O, the Oprah Magazine

“Gorgeous … Always clear-eyed, Ward knows history is a nightmare. But she insists all the same that we might yet awaken and sing.”
Chicago Tribune

“The novel is built around an arduous car trip: A black woman and her two children drive to a prison to pick up their white father. Ward cleverly uses that itinerant structure to move this family across the land while keeping them pressed together, hot and irritated. As soon as they leave the relative safety of their backwoods farm, the snares and temptations of the outside world crowd in, threatening to derail their trip or cast them into some fresh ordeal …. The plight of this one family is now tied to intersecting crimes and failings that stretch over decades. Looking out to the yard, Jojo thinks, ‘The branches are full. They are full with ghosts, two or three, all the way up to the top, to the feathered leaves.’ Such is the tree of liberty in this haunted nation.”
Washington Post

“In this lush and lonely novel, Ward lets the dead sing. It’s a kind of burial.”
NPR

“Ward unearths layers of history in gorgeous textured language, ending with an unearthly chord.”
BBC

“The heart of Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing is story — the yearning for a narrative to help us understand ourselves, the pain of the gaps we’ll never fill, the truths that are failed by words and must be translated through ritual and song …. Ward’s writing throbs with life, grief, and love, and this book is the kind that makes you ache to return to it.”
Buzzfeed

“Jesmyn Ward’s new novel is like a modern Beloved, with the cruelty of the criminal justice system swapped in for the torments of slavery … Sing marks Ward as the sharpest voice in the contemporary conversation around the past’s relationship to the present … Sing is an expansive endeavor.”
Slate

“Very beautiful.”
—Vox

“Macabre and musical. [Ward] has a knack for capturing vivid details from contemporary poverty: skeletal houses covered in insulation paper, laborers on the prison farm ‘bent and scuttling along like hermit crabs.’ Her lyrical language elevates desperation into poetic reverie … a gripping and melodious indictment of modern racial injustices.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“If William Faulkner mined the South for gothic, stream-of-consciousness tragedy, and Toni Morrison conjured magical realism from the corroding power of the region’s race hatred, then Ward is a worthy heir to both. This is not praise to be taken lightly. Ward has the command of language and the sense of place, the empathy and the imagination, to carve out her own place among the literary giants.”
The Dallas Morning News

“After winning the National Book Award for Salvage the Bones, Ward is back, with an epic family saga, an odyssey through rural Mississippi’s past and present.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“In her first novel since the National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward immerses the reader in a mesmerizing, cathartic family story … Ward’s spellbinding prose has a fervid physicality, teeming with the sights, smells, tastes and textures of her native Gulf town of DeLisle, Mississippi, rechristened here as Bois Sauvage. Her images pulse with stunning intensity, seeming to peer into the hidden nature of things, while laying bare the hearts of her characters. More powerful still is the seemingly boundless compassion that Ward demonstrates toward even the least lovable of her creations, expressed through lines that course with pain and love.”
Seattle Times

“Ms. Ward has mastered a lyrical and urgent blend of past and present here, conjuring the unrestful spirits of black men murdered by white men, and never shying away from the blatant brutality of white supremacy … Ms. Ward’s musical language is the stuff of formidable novelists, and never has it been more finely tuned.”
—The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“As long as America has novelists such as Jesmyn Ward, it will not lose its soul. “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” the story of a few days in the lives of a tumultuous Mississippi Gulf Coast family and the histories and ghosts that haunt it, is nothing short of magnificent. Combining stark circumstances with magical realism, it illuminates America’s love-hate tug between the races in a way that we seem incapable of doing anywhere else but in occasional blessed works of art.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[As] in everything she writes, Ward’s gorgeous evocation of the burden of history reminds me of Mississippi’s most famous writer, in a novel with more than a trace of As I Lay Dying … Always clear-eyed, Ward knows history is a nightmare.  But she insists all the same that we might yet awake and sing.”
—Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal

“[Sing, Unburied, Sing has] a fresh, visceral resonance … [its] story of grief, racism and poverty isn’t only Mississippi’s story but our country’s. So, too, let us hope, is its story of resilience and grace.
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“This book is so good that after you read it, you will want to read it again.”
Sun Herald

“If you’ve already encountered Jesmyn Ward, you need know nothing more than that she has a new book out. If you haven’t, put Sing, Unburied, Sing at the top of your must-read list. [Ward’s] writing is page-turning. In Sing, Unburied, Sing, she puts the reader in the car, palpably rendering the oppressive heat, Kayla’s misery, Jojo’s anxiety, the crustiness of their clothing, their unquenchable thirst and the whole electrified atmosphere. Perhaps the most memorable book I’ve read this year, Sing, Unburied, Sing would be an outstanding book club choice.”
Inside Jersey

“[Jesmyn Ward is] one of the most powerfully poetic writers in the country … Readers may be reminded of the trapped spirits in George Saunders’ recent novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, but Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a more direct antecedent.”
Albany Times Union

“Ward is a visceral writer, her sentences often hitting the reader like a slap across the face … Ward tells a sweeping tale about atonement and forgetting, shame and responsibility, and failure, sorrow, hatred and acceptance. She does not offer answers. And maybe there are none. But her vital novel shows that we must heed the singing of the past, and raise our voices to help those wounds to heal.”
—amNew York

“From the opening pages of Sing, Unburied, Sing, you know you’re in for a unique experience among the pecan trees and dusty roads of rural Mississippi. This intricately layered story combines mystical elements with a brutal view of racial tensions in the modern-day American South…Visitations from dead people, tales of snakes that turn into “scaly birds’ whose feathers allow recipients to fly—this material would have felt mannered in the hands of a lesser writer. But Ward skillfully weaves realistic and supernatural elements into a powerful narrative. The writing, though matter-of-fact in its depiction of prejudice, is poetic throughout…an important work from an astute observer of race relations in 21st-century America.”
BookPage

“No reason to delay this spell-bound verdict: With Sing, Unburied, Sing, her third novel, Jesmyn Ward becomes the standard-bearer for contemporary Southern fiction, its fullest, most forceful, most vibrant, and most electrifying voice … While Ward, born and raised in a small coastal community near Pass Christian, Mississippi, is operating within the contours of the Southern literary tradition—in the swampy lilt of her prose, in the scope of her concerns, in the way she entangles setting and character—she is also expanding it, heaving it forward, and revitalizing it in ways that no writer has done in more than a decade.”
Garden & Gun

“Ward tells the story of three generations of a struggling Mississippi family in this astonishing novel … Their stories are deeply affecting, in no small part because of Ward’s brilliant writing and compassionate eye.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“In her follow-up to the National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones, Ward ambitiously fractures the extended family she portrays along race lines and moves her narrative from the tense realism of Southern rural poverty and prejudice to an African American-rooted magic realism … The narrative … sails through to an otherworldly, vividly rendered ending. Lyrical yet tough, Ward’s distilled language effectively captures the hard lives, fraught relationships, and spiritual depth of her characters.”
Library Journal, starred review

“In her first novel since the National Book Award–winning Salvage the Bones (2011), Ward renders richly drawn characters, a strong sense of place, and a distinctive style that is at once down-to-earth and magical.”
Booklist

“If Sing, Unburied, Sing is proof of anything, it’s that when it comes to spinning poetic tales of love and family, and the social metastasis that often takes place but goes unspoken of in marginalized communitieslet alone the black American SouthJesmyn Ward is, by far, the best doing it today. Another masterpiece.”
—Jason Reynolds, author of Ghost

“The connection between the injustices of the past and the desperation of present are clearly drawn in Sing, Unburied, Sing, a book that charts the lines between the living and the dead, the loving and the broken. I am a huge fan of Jesmyn Ward’s work, and this book proves that she is one of the most important writers in America today.”
—Ann Patchett, author of Commonwealth

Sing, Unburied, Sing is a road novel turned on its head, and a family story with its feet to the fire. Lyric and devastating, Ward’s unforgettable characters straddle past and present in this spellbinding return to the rural Mississippi of her first book.  You’ll never read anything like it.”
—Ayana Mathis, author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

“Read Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing and you’ll feel the immense weight of history—and the immense strength it takes to persevere in the face of it. This novel is a searing, urgent read for anyone who thinks the shadows of slavery and Jim Crow have passed, and anyone who assumes the ghosts of the past are easy to placate. It’s hard to imagine a more necessary book for this political era.”
—Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You

Author Jesmyn Ward
Author Jesmyn Ward

About the author:

Biography

Jesmyn Ward is a former Stegner fellow at Stanford and Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. Her novels, Where the Line Bleeds and Salvage the Bones, are both set on the Mississippi coast where she grew up. Bloomsbury will publish her memoir about an epidemic of deaths of young black men in her community. She is an Assistant Professor at the University of South Alabama.

https://www.amazon.com/Jesmyn-Ward/e/B001JOW9NW/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Scribner for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Sometimes, I’d try to write them down, but they were just bad poems, limping down the page: Training a horse. The next line. Cut with the knees.

It stays with me, a bruise in the memory that hurts when I touch it.

I would throw up everything. All of it: food and bile and stomach and intestines and esophagus, organs all, bones and muscle, until all that was left was skin. And then maybe that could turn inside out, and I wouldn’t be nothing no more. Not this…

“Because we don’t walk no straight lines. It’s all happening at once. All of it. We are all here at once. My mama and daddy and they mamas and daddies.” Mam looks to the wall, closes her eyes. “My son.”

Both of us bow together as Richie goes darker and darker, until he’s a black hole in the middle of the yard, like he done sucked all the light and darkness over them miles, over them years, into him, until he’s burning black, and then he isn’t. There…

“Let’s go,” I say. Knowing that tree is there makes the skin on my back burn, like hundreds of ants are crawling up my spine, seeking tenderness between the bones to bit. I know the boy is there, watching, waving like grass in water.

I decided to start with some quotes (and I would happily quote the whole book, but there would be no point) because I know I could not make its language justice. This is a book about a family, three generations of an African-American family in the South and it has been compared to works by Morrison and Faulkner, and that was what made me request the book as they are among my favourite authors. And then, I kept reading about it and, well, in my opinion, they are not wrong. We have incredible descriptions of life in the South for this rural family (smells, touch, sound, sight, taste, and even the sixth sense too), we have a nightmarish road trip to a prison, with some detours, we have characters that we get to know intimately in their beauty and ugliness, and we have their story and that of many others whose lives have been touched by them.

There are two main narrators, Leonie, a young woman, mother of two children, whose life seems to be on a downward spiral. Her white partner is in prison for cooking Amphetamines, she does drugs as often as she can and lives with her parents, who look after her children, and seems to live denying her true nature and her feelings. Her son, Jojo, is a teenager who has become the main support of the family, looking after his kid sister, Michaela, or Kayla, helping his grandfather and grandmother, rebellious and more grown-up and responsible than his mother and father. Oh, and he hears and understands what animals say, and later on, can also see and communicate with ghosts. His grandmother is also a healer and knows things, although she is riddled with cancer, and his baby sister also seems to have the gift. The third narrator is one of the ghosts, Richie, who before he makes his physical (ghostly?) appearance has been the subject of a story Jojo’s grandfather has been telling him, without ever quite finishing it, seemingly waiting for the right moment to tell him what really happened. When we get to that point, the story is devastating, but so are most of the stories in the novel. Fathers who physically fight with their sons because they love an African-American woman, young men killed because it was not right that a black man win a bet, men imprisoned for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and for being the wrong race… The stories pile up and even the ghosts fight with each other to try and gain a sense of self, to try to belong.

This is magic realism at its best. As I said, the descriptions of the characters, the locations, and the family relationships are compelling and detailed. But there are elements that break the boundaries of realism (yes, the ghosts, and the style of the narration, where we follow interrupted stories, stream of consciousness, and where the living and those who are not really there are given equal weight), and that might make the novel not suitable for everybody. As beautiful as the language is, it is also harsh and raw at times, and incredibly moving.

Although it is short and, for me at least, a page turner, this is not a light read and I’d recommend approaching it with caution if you are particularly sensitive to abuse, violence, drug use, or if you prefer your stories straight, with no otherworldly interferences. Otherwise, check a sample, and do yourselves a favour. Read it. I hadn’t read any of this author’s books before, but I’ll be on the lookout and I’ll try and catch up on her previous work. She is going places.

Thanks very much to NetGalley, Scribner and the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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