One of my counselling lecturers said something that has stuck with me – “When someone is telling you a story, always listen for the rub.” I knew exactly what he meant. It’s the bit where things don’t quite add up, where someone suddenly reveals more than you expect or conversely, less than you expect. Or the bit where someone reveals a little guilt or anxiety or anger or shame. There’s always a giveaway – the story is told with a ‘but’ or an ‘although’ – however, you have to listen for it.
Curtis Sittenfeld’s You Think It, I’ll Say It, is a collection of short stories, each with their own rub. The stories are about ordinary relationships and situations – a woman runs into a high school frenemy; a volunteer at a women’s refuge takes a disliking to a new, overly enthusiastic colleague; a lonely college student is befriended by a charismatic classmate; a single mother tries to combine work and parenting. Continue reading
I don’t like to can books without giving reasons why. So, in regards to Love and Happiness by Galt Niederhoffer: Continue reading
It might be pitched as light and frothy, a la Sex and the City, but Jami Attenberg’s third novel, All Grown Up, tackles big issues, goes to some dark places and doesn’t provide the New-York-fairy-tale ending that you might expect.
Andrea Bern is struggling with her identity.
For most people, moving to New York City is a gesture of ambition. But for you, it signifies failure, because you grew up there, so it just means you’re moving back home after you couldn’t make it in the world. Spiritually, it’s a reverse commute. Continue reading
A line jumped out halfway through Richard Yates’s penultimate novel, Young Hearts Crying –
‘…but there was a persuasive tone of sadness all through the story and a well-earned sense of impending tragedy toward the end.’
And it was as if Yates had written a review of his own book. Continue reading
In my previous ‘before-children’ life, I worked in water management. The nineties were an interesting time in Victoria in terms of water resources – we shifted from simply river management to whole-of-catchment management; the importance of environmental flows were recognised; and paying for water that was collected on private property (in farm dams) was established. The changes don’t seem like much when I list them here but they took years to implement and had major implications for rural communities, legislation, and the way natural resources were managed.
What does this have to do with Anna Quindlen’s novel, Miller’s Valley?
Everything and nothing. Continue reading
There are two ways to approach Matthew Weiner’s novella, Heather, the Totality – take it at face value or ponder Weiner’s broader commentary.
Should you take it at face value, you’re in for a ripping afternoon’s read. It’s the fast-paced story of Karen and Mark Breakstone, whose only child, Heather, is the centre of their world. But someone enters Heather’s life who threatens the family’s perfect Manhattan existence.
If you want more to think about, Heather, the Totality offers opportunity to consider the influence of one’s upbringing (particularly poverty versus wealth); the impact of social inequity; and what justifies particular actions. Continue reading
Okay, first I’ll get the gratuitous pics out of the way…
I loved The Ice Storm by Rick Moody. It’s a brutal, sad story.
There’s not much to like about the characters but there’s lots to like in Moody’s words. This book was extremely visual for me – perhaps because I saw And Lee’s insanely good movie version of the story years ago, or perhaps it’s because Moody has created a distinct sense of place and time. Either way, writing a review wasn’t working so I’ve gone with an audio approach.
I Write the Songs / Barry Manilow
Once his dreams had been songs. He’d been a balladeer of promise and opportunity. Continue reading
New York, 1995, and newly graduated 23-year-old Joanna Rakoff has deserted her ‘nice college boyfriend’ and has moved into a slope-floored, unheated apartment in New York with domineering Don – a Marxist, aspiring writer, and everyday arsehole.
Although she dreams of becoming a poet, Rakoff takes a job as an assistant at the literary agency that represents J. D. Salinger. The ‘Agency’ is from another era – plush wood-panelled offices complete with Dictaphones and typewriters; old-time agents doing business their way, including martini lunches and afternoon naps; and a boss (‘swathed in a whiskey mink, her eyes covered with enormous dark glasses, her head with a silk scarf in an equestrian pattern’) who keeps track of her authors on specially printed index cards. Her boss notes –
‘…agents used to be upstanding. None of these multiple submissions…no auctions, with publishers bidding against each other. It’s uncouth. That’s not the Agency way. We send things out to one editor at a time. We match writers with editors. We have morals.’ Continue reading