Taking part for the first time in this year's Thankfully Reading marathon, my goal was to finish some of the books in progress.
First up was Liza Campbell's debut novel, The Dissemblers (The Permanent Press, 2010). Ivy Wilkes is the child of parents comfortable in Cheever territory. She heads out west to find her way as a painter, admiring the work of Georgia O'Keefe. Befriended by a confident woman who suggests they could make a lot of money if she could forge paintings in the O'Keefe style, Ivy's path has been determined. Her new friend Maya is a musician, as is her boyfriend Jake, a security guard at the O'Keefe museum where Ivy gets a job in the gift shop. Jake's cousin, Omar, chef and sketcher of birds, soon becomes her lover.
The quartet's relationships tangle and snarl as Ivy tries to lose herself in copying the famous artist. Much of the action takes place either offstage or is muted by the first-person narrative of Ivy reflecting on herself and what she sees, rather than what is taking place. The slim novel has the feel of a memoir in the Eat, Pray, Love vein of writing and self-contemplation.
Started The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. Set in present-day England Land, it's part Rebecca, with the dead spouses and house as a character, plus the first-person narrator occasionaly sounds like "I" deWinter, as well as Tolkien with the great, beloved novel taken as war allegory, A Wrinkle in Time with its scientific search by a father for traveling the timestream, and even Charles Elton's Mr. Toppit with the beloved book, long-dead author and important setting in the characters' real lives that plays a significent role in the beloved great book. In Morton's version of these stories, a young woman stumbles upon the manse where her mother was evacuated in WWII and meets the aged daughters of the great book's author. The youngest of these, now thought of as demented, took her mother in during the war. And that beloved, great book? What if the story of the Mud Man was real?
Rick Bass has written glorious, thick, rich and deep stories and nonfiction about the West, as well as The Diezmo, a slim novel about a band of would-be militia conquerors of Mexico sent by Sam Houston on a mission that goes horribly wrong. So it was a surprise that he went to the deep South and to music for his latest novel, Nashville Chrome (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010). It's a fictionalized account of the Browns, a sibling trio who created remarkable harmonies that pioneered American music, and their relationships with everyone from Elvis and, in passing, Johnny Cash, to Chet Atkins and Jim Reeves.
The writing about music and harsh survival is beautiful. So are his depictions of family relationships, as complicated as any layered harmonies created by the siblings in their music. But, as with all fiction based on real people, there are times it's highly uncomfortable to read and wondering what's real and what was manufactured to make a point with the storyline takes over being led by the narrative itself. Bass thanks Maxine, Jim Ed and Bonnie, the three Brown siblings, still alive, in his acknowledgements, adding to the uncomfortable factor. Oldest sibling Maxine, the magical one who is left all alone, makes for a sad central figure but doesn't have center stage often. Many of the big events in their lives happen offstage or in such oblique terms after tons of foreshadowing that those who read propelled by plot alone will be disappointed.
Bass uses the story of the Browns to write about how people connect, either in harmony or not. He writes about people who take, such as Elvis and a very young filmmaker at the end of the novel, and even Maxine, and those who give, such as the Browns' mother Birdie and always-happy sister Bonnie, and even Maxine. There is meditating on greatness and the hunger for it, and "the heartlessness of ambition" as Maxine realizes when old even while still craving recognition.
Life is a search for harmony and most of life is a metaphor in the novel. A lot of passages are ending up in my chapbook.
And, my Thankfully Reading weekend has included stories contained in Kate Bernheimer's brilliant fairy tale anthology, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, and Best American Stories 2010. The latter have separate posts about each story, while I'm taking notes of the fairy tales for a comprehensive piece.
Thanks to Jenn's Bookshelves for this tradition and an excuse to spend a holiday weekend not fighting the mall crowds, but with a few good books.