Goodnight, Beautiful Women is a debut collection of eleven interconnected short narratives all revolving around young girls and burgeoning women in coastal Maine. I would not call this a collection of short stories; rather, they are brief scenes that give an overall sense of the confusion of desires of young women on the verge of understanding the motives of men.
The writing in this collection is intense. Noyes’ imagery in these short narratives creates piercing anticipation. The scenes she creates are gripping from the outset, with familiar but haunting characters. I loved the fullness of the stories she wove. One of my favorites, “Drawing Blood”, was reminiscent of Sarah Waters’ historical fiction. The stories are all about relationships, between husbands and wives, or between mothers and daughters, or first loves. The stories are dark, melancholy, and without redemption, usually leaving the main character hopeless.
The thing about literary short stories, however, is that often they’re just not stories. The stories in Goodnight, Beautiful Women were scenes, or paintings, or like the beginning-middle chapters of a powerful novel. These stories present an overall mysterious feeling of depression, but they weren’t stories as I’m used to stories. I’m expecting a beginning/middle/end story arc, an enticing story with a satisfying denouement, and that is not what you get here. With each of these stories Noyes easily grabbed my heart with riveting beginnings and then left me, wilted and abandoned, wondering what happened.
Noyes definitely has the skill and literary chutzpah to pull off a great collection here, but if you’re like me and like resolution, you may be disappointed. I’m looking forward to her next work. Many thanks to Netgalley, Grove Atlantic, and Anna Noyes for the advance copy.
I actually hear this all time, from a co-worker, or a friend, or someone who sees me walking down the hall with my thumb in a paperback. I get the inevitable sigh, an exaggerated pout, then the querulous excuse, “I just don’t have time anymore.”
Before I start to sound agonizingly pretentious, let me offer the disclaimer that I don’t read to impress anyone. I just read. It’s my thing. If you’re reading this blog, you’re more than likely the same way. It took me most of my formidable years not to be embarrassed to be a “reader,” not to hide books that I was reading that might be considered highbrow or literary for fear of being labeled a snob. I found one of my best friends in college because we trusted each other to confess that we both had Walden in our respective dorm rooms and it wasn’t required reading. Now I can say that I like Dostoevsky and I’m not going to be ashamed of that anymore. Book empowerment.
This “I wish I had time to read (like you do)” complaint also implies that I have no responsibilities, no obligations, nothing else at all to tend to but my books. “Gee,” I think, fingertips drumming my lips, “I have absolutely nothing else to do in my empty, carefree life. Hmmm. I know! I’ll pick up a book!” Never mind that full-time job, two kids, piles of laundry and dishes, and the fact that the new season of “Orange is the New Black” just came out.
So, with all that going on, when exactly DO I have “time” to read? Well, you see, reading is really my main hobby . . . dare I say, one of my reasons for loving life. Reading isn’t something I have to make time for. It’s just part of who I am.
I read about reading. I surf social media reading apps (I apologize for majorly over-promoting of Litsy (Litsy – a fun, new bookish app!), but it’s book nirvana, so, sorry. I read Websites about books (my favorite is bookriot.com). I get emails from publishing houses about upcoming releases. I click on Netgalley.com, holding my breath that I’m chosen to read an Advance Reader Copy of a new release from a favorite author. I read other bloggers’ book reviews. Like I said, books are what I do.
When I read:
waiting at the daycare to drop off my son in the morning
waiting for meetings to start at work
during my commute to work or to pick up kids (that’s audiobooks, folks. I’m not reckless.)
when doing the aforementioned piles of laundry or dishes (more audiobooks)
waiting in line anywhere, really (CVS, bank, drycleaners . . . I could go on and on)
when other people would choose to do other things with their time (i. e., watch “Big Brother” or “Dancing with the Stars”)
Any chance I get
“Wow,” you must be thinking. “This chick is so uppity.” Nah. I do other stuff, too. I watch TV. I listen to music in the car sometimes instead of listening to a book. I went through a huge “American Idol” phase before it started to go downhill. So, I get it. There are a lot of choices out there. Most of the time, I just choose reading over anything else. Just please, all the “I wish I had time” folks out there, don’t look at me like my choice is somehow inferior.
If you really are earnest in your grating “I wish I had time to read” complaint, try the following:
Serial Reader app for iphone – you can read classics for free sent to your phone in easy-to-digest installments. I’m reading Jane Eyre right now on Serial Reader.
DailyLit.com – the same as Serial Reader, but it’s via email.
Kindle app for iphone. Sorry, all you Samsung people. I’m sure there must be something for you, but I just don’t know what it is.
Overdrive – this app can be on your phone, desktop, laptop, garlic press, whatever. Download audiobooks and e-books for free from your local library.
Audiobooks – I can’t emphasize enough how great audiobooks are. If you haven’t tried one, I highly recommend them. You can get them for free from your local library, either in old-school CD format or via download on Overdrive.
I carry book devices with me. I can read on my Kindle, my phone, my laptop, my desktop, or good old-fashioned paper. Whenever I have a few minutes, I almost always have one of those materials with me, so I’m always well-stocked. Reading is in the forefront of my existence. So, when I hear, “I wish IIIII had time to reeeeeeead,” all sing-song and whiny, I just want to ask, “So what do you choose to do instead?”
Thanks to my new favorite social media app, Litsy (Litsy – a fun, new bookish app!), I’ve discovered a cache of new books that I never would have known about otherwise. Some of these discoveries of mine have just been published, while others have been out for a while. I thought I’d pass along some of the gems that have been highly recommended by other Litsy users:
Ways to Disappear – Idra Novey
This is a debut novel by a poet, so, as expected, many reviewers say the writing is phenomenal. An American translator travels to Brazil in search of her lost author who was last seen sitting in a tree and smoking a cigar. She climbed the tree and was never seen again. Several reviewers said they read it more than once in order to pick up nuances and clues they missed the first time around. Sounds intriguing!
Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders
A book about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his son, Willie, just before the outbreak of the Civil War. Follows Lincoln in the cemetery at Willie’s grave over the course of a single night, with many inhabitants of the cemetery, those recently deceased and those long dead, playing a part in this exploration of the beauty of life and death. I can’t wait to get my hands on this one. It won’t be published until February 2017, so keep this one on your wait list.
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things – Bryn Greenwood
This book will be released in August, 2016, so there’s not too long to wait.
The description may be off-putting to some: a forbidden “love story” between and adult man and a young girl, but from what I have heard from reviewers the story is riveting and not at all distasteful. Alternating points-of-view and first and third person, the story centers around a young girl called Wavy and her dark childhood. This powerful, shocking love story begins when she meets Kellen, a man driven more by loneliness and compassion than any sexual agenda. After reading reviews that call this book stunning and compelling, this book will definitely be on my TBR shelf as soon as possible. The topic is controversial, so I’ll just have to see which side I fall on with this one . . .
A Doubter’s Almanac – Ethan Canin
This book is about the journey from childhood to adulthood of Milo, a psychopathic math
genius. Milo transitions from his rural Michigan boyhood to the academia at Berkeley. The second half of the book is narrated by Milo’s son, Hans. From what I gather from reviewers, this book focuses on the problems of genius, personality disorders, and the universal human quest for happiness.
I’ve tried one of Canin’s other books before, The Palace Thief, and I couldn’t get through it, so I’m kind of a hard sell for this one, but 92% of Litsy reviewers loved it and said they hated to see it end. We’ll see . . .
The Lightkeepers – Abby Geni
This one sounds gripping! Miranda, a nature photographer, travels to the Farrallon Islands
off the coast of California, to join other scientists and naturalists studying the islands. Once there, she is assaulted by a fellow inhabitant, and a few days later her assailant is found dead. Because the islands are only inhabited by scientists, there are limited characters, which makes everyone instantly untrustworthy and suspicious. Themes include discovery of the natural world commingled with the social dynamics in an isolated environment. It sounds like Lord of the Flies meets AndThen There Were None. Count me in!
That’s it for now, my few loyal biblio-friends. Anything out there you’ve discovered recently that you’d like to share? I love book recommendations!
“That was part of being a girl – you were resigned to whatever feedback you’d get. If you got mad, you were crazy, and if you didn’t react, you were a bitch. The only thing you could do was smile from the corner they’d backed you into. Implicate yourself in the joke even if the joke was always on you.”
The Girls follows the ennui-filled life of 14-year-old Evie Boyd in the summer of 1969. Evie is neglected by her recently-divorced mother, and her father is too engrossed by his new mistress to devote any time to his daughter. Spending her days envying other girls and wandering around lost, she is completely enraptured by a new girl she meets, Suzanne, who is bohemian, care-free, and utterly unlike the Country Club boarding school set she’s known her entire life.
Suzanne practically kidnaps Evie while Evie is stranded on the side of the road with a broken bicycle. Evie is captivated with Suzanne’s lifestyle, and the other girls in the van, who speak of the god-like Russell and life at the Ranch, a compound in the middle of nowhere where they all live together and share each other’s clothes. Evie is blind to the brainwashing, oblivious to the dirt and starvation. All she sees is the wonderment of “love,” the friendships and acceptance, and the hypnotizing ways of Russell and those who only want to please him. The insecurities of adolescence make Evie susceptible to the seduction of the Ranch, and to Russell’s hold on everyone. At one point, Evie brings a new outsider to visit the Ranch, and doesn’t understand his revulsion at the poverty and complacency of the girls.
This story mirrors the cult of Charles Manson in the 1960s, but also presents the reader with an explanation as to how those who followed him could get sucked into the vortex of his control. The anguish of adolescence, the yearning for acceptance and desire to be desired, are what Evie wants above all else. She also falls prey to the fixation she has on Suzanne, a crushing obsession only teenagers experience. Murder is alluded to from the beginning, so no spoilers there. The reader knows it’s coming, but not to what extent.
Cline’s writing is adroit and spot-on. She doesn’t dwell on descriptions, but instead offers tiny glimpses of appearance that give the reader and overall picture quickly and specifically: the gravel ground into the knees of an unsupervised, dirty child at the Ranch; the shiny belt-buckle on the hippie, shirtless field hand; the split-ends and pitted fingernails of the cult girls. Evie is the girl on the outside, desperate to be on the inside, desperate to even be noticed.
This story was spellbinding. I highly recommend it.
Thanks to Netgalley, Emma Cline, and Random House for the advance copy in exchange for my honest review.