Spill Simmer Falter Wither – Sara Baume

spill
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This book will tear your heart.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither is described in a lot of reviews as being about a relationship between a man and his dog.

That is not what this book is about at all.

Ray’s relationship with OneEye is only a part of the story. For a while I thought the dog may be entirely imaginary.

This book is about loneliness. It’s about abandonment. It’s about craving parental approval and coming back for more disappointment. And it does not offer redemption.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a mondegreen for spring, summer, fall, winter, and the book covers one year in Ray’s life, after the death of his father and his new relationship with OneEye. They live together in Ray’s house until an incident compels Ray to pack up his small car and take to life on the road with his only companion.

Baume’s writing is poetry. It’s subtle, terse, often sparse, but each detail is full of meaning. There is a heavy sense of place, and Ray’s place in the universe, or lack thereof, comes through in his interactions with the people he encounters and his vicarious freedom through OneEye. At first everything seems happy-go-lucky, but slowly and indirectly Ray’s sadness and rage begin to show. If you take up this book, give it the time it deserves. Don’t read this on the beach, or at the playground, or in five-minute snippets. Every word is there for a reason, and if you’re hurried, you will miss something of devastating importance.

This book is eerie and beautiful. There is a disquieting sense of foreboding that carries through the story, with a culmination that will leave you breathless.

 

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet – Reif Larsen

SelectedWorksOfTSSpivet I bought this book on a whim at a used book store last month. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, and this just jumped out at me (there’s a sparrow skeleton on the cover!). I’m so glad I picked this up. I started leafing through it and ended up just reading it for two hours. The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

The story follows T. S. (Tecumseh Sparrow) Spivet, a 12-year-old scientific savant enduring a lonely, misunderstood existence on his family’s ranch in Montana. His father (another in a long line of Tecumsehs) is a rancher, his mother, whom he calls Dr. Clair, is a reclusive scientist studying the elusive and possibly non-existent tiger moth beetle.

T. S.’s life changes with a phone call. The Smithsonian (T. S.’s Shangri-La) has phoned to let him know he’s been awarded a Baird fellowship for his scientific illustrations, and they would like for him to come to Washington to give a speech. They have no idea that T. S. is only 12-years-old.FullSizeRender (8)

Armed with four compasses, two heliotropes, a theodolite, 16 packs of cinnamon Trident gum, and some underwear, T. S. decides to make the journey to Washington hobo-style by hitching a ride on the rails across the country. Along the way, we learn about T. S.’s life: his compulsion for illustration and map-making, his older brother’s accidental death, his father’s reticence, and his mother’s family history. T. S. discovers just how he fits in, with his current family as well as those who have gone before.

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The book is cleverly illustrated with all kinds of illuminating details. These illustrations are what make this book so enjoyable. They’re witty, sometimes humorous, often revealing.

I recommend this to readers of all ages, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a “kids’ book.” It’s not. I think some mature young readers will be able to appreciate the story, but adults may enjoy it more. The ideas presented in T. S.’s story are universal. Find a copy of this, leaf through it. I promise you won’t be able to stop.

 

 

 

 

 

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things – Bryn Greenwood

26114135This is a beautiful book. Bryn Greenwood definitely has a rare skill in creating unforgettable characters. Kellen is a beefy, uneducated, motorcycle-riding mechanic and occasional meth trafficker (think Jesse Pinkman, just larger and kinder). Wavy is the daughter of the meth dealer, a neglected, taciturn, independent waif whose parents don’t care if she exists. They come together to support each other, mostly filling each others’ black hole of loneliness. Kellen, age 25, takes care of her, takes her to school, gives her a place to sleep. Wavy takes care of him: shows him he has worth and value as a person, and deserves the love she gives him.

It’s innocent at first, a younger sister / older brother kind of relationship. Until suddenly it’s not.

But Greenwood handles this development so carefully, with such grace and understanding, that as the reader I wasn’t surprised when their relationship developed past the threshold of propriety. It made sense. The Big Thing I didn’t understand, however, is that Kellen met Wavy when she was eight years old. Things take the inappropriate turn when she’s thirteen. I just can’t quite wrap my brain around that taboo acceptance, even after understanding the circumstances that brought these two together.

Ultimately, many psychological and abusive disorders get passed over in this book, and that was unsettling. Wavy obviously has many emotional problems as a result of her wretched childhood. Did no one ever think she needed a doctor? She has an eating disorder at an early age, not being able to eat in front of anyone, hardly speaks a word, communicating only with shrugs and nods, and is constantly terrified due to her savage upbringing. I just don’t see this going on and on into adulthood without some kind of intervention. Was her love for Kellen pure, or was it just a result of her psychological scarring? If she’d been allowed to get some counseling and see a doctor, would she have developed into a more functional adult and thus moved past her obsession with Kellen?

The story was interesting at first, but began to lag with repetitive incidences of Wavy’s cruel home life causing Kellen to rescue her. I did enjoy the slow build, however incongruous this may seem, but after the first half of the book I was wondering if there would be any more to the story. The pace of the second half was a whirlwind, with many exciting events and time passing much more quickly. I appreciated the ending, though I’m not sure it should have ended the way it did.

Give this a chance. It will grow on you, and the characters will stay with you for a while.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, Netgalley, and Bryn Greenwood for the opportunity to read this advance copy.

Other books in this same vein that may interest you:

tiger
Find it here on Goodreads
thegirls
My review of The Girls
the kiss 2
Find it here on Goodreads

Goodnight, Beautiful Women – Anna Noyes

Noyes, Goodnight Beautiful Women jacket art 9780802124845
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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.

The Girls – Emma Cline

thegirls
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“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.

When Captain Flint was Still a Good Man -Nick Dybek

When Captain Flint was Still a Good Man will blow you away. I picked up the book based on the cover alone (I judged a book by its cover. For shame.)

All the men of Loyalty Island, a peninsula jutting into the Strait of Juan de Fuca that separates Canada and the United States, leave for the Bering Sea every season to catch crabs. While at sea, the men long for home; when home, they yearn to be back on the open ocean. This liminality pervades everyone’s life on Loyalty Island.

The story begins when John Gaunt, the patriarch and owner of the fleet, dies and leaves the crab industry in the hands of his college-educated, feckless son, Richard. Richard has never even been

captain flint
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to sea, and his misdirected rebellion against his father threatens the men of Loyalty Island. Richard plans to sell the fleet to the Japanese, and the fishermen take matters into their own hands. Teenage Cal is left picking up the pieces after his family’s way of life is shattered.The men of Loyalty Island find themselves going to immoral lengths they never thought possible to preserve their way of life, and Cal is left with a grave life-or-death secret.

When Captain Flint was Still a Good Man is salty, overcast, suspicious, brooding. The story takes place under the dark, roiling turmoil of moral dilemma and the question of how far one should go for filial duty. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Nick Dybek has writing chops, and it shows. Unlike many Workshoppers, Dybek’s writing is subtle and effective. I was drawn in and gave up every other book I was reading to devote all my eye-time to this. This story will haunt me for a long time.

Recommended for those readers who enjoyed The Shipping News, Sweetland, The Man in my Basement, and Mystic River.

 

Gushing over LAB GIRL

Where have I been?

Well, I applied to be a contributor to BookRiot, so I’m waiting to hear back to see if I’ve been accepted. Considering that their acceptance rate is about 20 out of the 1600 or so applications they receive, my chances are about as good as getting into Harvard Law. Worse, actually.

So, rather than leave you all in nail-biting anticipation of when I may post again, I’ve decided to gush about a book I’m super excited about that came out yesterday:  Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.

lab girl
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Part non-fiction science book about plants, trees, flowers, and soil, and part memoir, Lab Girl entails Dr. Jahren’s coming of age as a geobiologist. From the reviews I’ve read online, this book is perfect for scientists and non-scientists alike, especially those who like a little humor and human interest thrown in to their educational reading.

 

Currently a professor at the University of Hawaii, Jahran includes the stories of her lab work, relevant plant information that will interest even the passive naturalist (as I am), her upbringing in Minnesota, her marriage, and her symbiotic relationship and scientific capers with her lab manager, Bill Hagopian. Most importantly, Jahren addresses her struggle with manic-depression and how she manages to pursue her scientific passions without losing sight of her priorities. I haven’t read her book yet and I already think I want to be BFFs.

As a former lab girl myself, I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

I applied to NetGalley to be a reviewer for this book, but, alas, the publisher turned me down. NetGalley so placatingly suggested that this may be because I’m American and am therefore “outside the UK publisher’s territories” (translation: a dumb colonial). Heads up, UK publisher: Americans read books, even books from the UK. This is probably not the reason for the stiff-upper-lip UK “territorial” refusal of Little, Brown, considering the US book edition that just came out is published by Knopf (last I checked, Broadway NYC  is not in the UK), but thanks, NetGalley, for the tea and sympathy. I’m still going to read the book. In the meantime, until I hear from BookRiot, I will keep hurling my bookish thoughts into the ether à la Carl Sagan’s Voyager Golden Record. Perhaps if I also include “hello” in 55 human languages more people may read my blog. Just an idea.

Other books you might want to check out if Lab Girl interests you:

Wild – Cheryl Strayed      Find it on Goodreads

wild

A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered that Plants Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants – Ruth Kassinger      Find it on Goodreads

marvels