Ruth, wife of Bobbo, mother of Nicola and Andy, mistress of No. 19 Nightbird Drive, a good address in the best London suburb, feels she is “trapped in her body.” Ruth is six-foot-two, unshapely, her awkward form undergirding an indifferent face with a hook nose and three black moles, each sprouting hairs. Ruth’s rival is best-selling romance novelist Mary Fisher: diminutive, blonde, pretty, rich. She’s “accustomed to love,” to lying, and to sleeping with other women’s men.Read More
Crime fiction is typically the discovery of a murder, a set clues that explain how it happened, why it happened, and who is responsible. There are three stories in this formula: there is the story of a crime, the story of solving it, and the reader’s own story of trying to solve the crime. It’s fun maybe the first ten or twenty times you read it.
But what I love about Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley is how artfully the formula is subverted. A brief synopsis: young Tom Ripley has been sent to convince Richard Greenleaf to return to his wealthy family—who have no idea that they have just bankrolled the man who will murder and impersonate their son.Read More
Published in 1979, Black Tickets by Jayne Anne Phillips is a collection of short stories and flash fiction that you simply should not deprive yourself of a single day longer. Fair warning: the characters in this world are not “likeable.” Their actions, largely, are not “relatable.” If that’s what you value in fiction, you may find this collection troubling. Read it anyway. The experience will be worth it, I promise.Read More
“They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks.”
So begins Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys’ tale of a Creole heiress, Antoinette Cosway, stuck between two worlds she can never fully inhabit. Published to critical acclaim in 1966, the book was envisaged as a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, a way to reclaim the madwoman in the attic, Mr. Rochester’s first wife, by giving her a name and a voice, along with a tragic story.Read More
It’s hard for people to love you if you don’t love yourself. Or that’s what we’re told again and again if we’re unfortunate enough to struggle with low self esteem. It’s a problematic cliché in that it implies that if you don’t feel lovable – if you are depressed or feel unworthy due to some traumatic experience – you’re right. But as troubling as it is, it is true that it can be hard to love someone who doesn’t seem to understand his or her own worth. A friend who constantly bats away compliments, a lover who regularly asks for reassurance that you want to be with them, a parent who seems always full of regret and guilt. It is hard to love someone when it seems as if there is nowhere for that love to go within that person, when they won’t – or can’t – make a space for it.Read More
The Ballad of the Sad Café takes place in the Deep South where McCullers grew up, in the kind of sparse, dried-up town where I imagine some former, blighted America used to reside—a town linked to other towns only by swamps and roads worked by chain gangs and where, in McCullers’ words, “there is absolutely nothing to do.”
Both starting and ending with the image of a boarded-up house, the site of the “sad café,” the story fills the role of the Gothic spinster, moving about her rooms alone like a mournful ghost, with a decidedly un-feeble female. Miss Amelia, a “dark, tall woman with bones and muscles like a man,” is equal parts respected and feared in the town. Read More
Of my first time reading Beloved, I remember most the violence of the book, and my own horror at learning that such violence was at the root of my country’s history. Of course I knew about slavery and the Civil War, but most history classes are a lesson primarily in sugarcoating, if not in outright lies. Still, lucky me, to have lived so long so blithely unaware.
At seventeen, though, I was primed to see violence everywhere: through copious amounts crime shows I watched each evening, so fond of their pretty dead girls of the week, but also day after day in my own life: sexual harassment in the hallways at school; teachers getting caught, year after year, exploiting and molesting their students; the slurs and whistles and slow creeping of cars weekly (daily?) on my way home from school.Read More