Coming to terms with the fact that one is in a satisfactory but unrewarding, and perhaps loveless, marriage is as common a predicament in literature as it is in reality. But what if a dissatisfied spouse were to take a solo vacation thousands of miles away from her husband and child, to a country with an unfamiliar language and culture—and to become so deeply drawn into the possibilities there, of a new life and new loves, that she can’t bring herself to return home? In her début novel The Pull of It, Wendy J. Fox takes us through just such a journey, one that results in both new challenges and personal discovery.
Favorite New Fiction
from Small and Micro Publishers
If you’ve read more than a few of my postings on Small Press Picks, you might have noticed that I’m a big fan of the short story, and I’m always eager to check out new collections from small/indie publishers. Recently, I read Margaret Malone’s début story collection, People Like You, and I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed this hilarious, wonderfully strange, and occasionally heartbreaking book.
As a supporter of any initiative that aims to get more works by women writers published and reviewed, I was delighted when Shade Mountain Press came onto the literary scene in 2014.
To quote from its website, “Shade Mountain is committed to publishing literature by women, especially women of color, women with disabilities, women from working-class backgrounds, and lesbian/bisexual/queer women. We publish work that’s politically engaged, challenges the status quo, tells the stories that usually go unheard.”
With this post, I want to highly recommend the press’s latest publication, The Female Complaint: Tales of Unruly Women. This page-turner of a story collection artfully blends the light and the dark, the bitter and the sweet, with a delightful infusion of the strange and surreal.
Too often, recreational travel, even to the most interesting and exotic places, has the feeling of skimming across surfaces. As we move from notable site to notable site, we are sometimes dazzled. More often, though, we are dazzle-proofed by preformed expectations (think Walker Percy’s “The Loss of the Creature”).
Our outsiderdom also keeps us at a distance. As we observe the locals and even other tourists, we may get the sense that intriguing stories are being played out all around us, but with rare exceptions, we are never immersed in them.
The great gift of Lee A. Jacobus’s new story collection, Hawaiian Tales: The Girl with Heavenly Eyes, is how deeply and richly it immerses us in the predicaments of its characters, from Hawaiian natives to tourists, and in the psychological and physical landscapes of their lives. Reading it, I truly felt transported.
It’s rare for my attention to linger on the cover of a book I’m about to read, but it certainly did when I picked up Jennifer Tseng’s poetic, richly imagined début novel Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness. The cover features an overhead shot of a pale woman in a fuschia dress lying, arms outstretched, on a rippling blue-green sea. Though this might be the sea of happiness, the image suggests a more complicated truth. Underlying the tranquility and sensuality of the scene is a sense of isolation, even peril—seemingly contradictory threads that this novel, like its cover, weaves together deftly and powerfully.
The Mayumi of the title is a forty-something librarian who inhabits a tourist-attracting island off the coast of New England (think Martha’s Vineyard) with her beloved five-year-old daughter and her not-so-beloved husband. Though kind and decent, he no longer interests Mayumi erotically or otherwise. They share little more than affection for their daughter and a ramshackle house, where they sleep in separate beds.
Last fall, after posting “Women: please send me your fiction,” I received a number of excellent books by women authors and their publishers. A dear friend and fellow writer who’d seen the post handed me Garnett Kilberg Cohen’s collection Swarm to Glory, and I am deeply grateful that she did. The book contains those rare kinds of stories that pulled me completely out of myself and into the lives of the characters—seemingly everyday lives in which, in the words of my friend, complexities and dangers lurk under the surface.
The stories in the collection are united by a concern with endings, which range from the deaths of loved ones to the withering of romantic relationships. In an interview with Newcity Lit, Cohen said, “In the face of such endings, my characters often must decide whether they will be ruled by these endings, or whether, in spite of the ephemeral nature of all things, they will ‘swarm to glory.’”
In the title story, the central character, Ellen, finds glory through nature—in this case, through a swarm of bees that has settled into a tree at the foster home where she has been living since her mother became seriously ill. Ellen is living a life of alienation, not only because she is apart from her mother but also because she is the only Jew in the foster home, which causes her to be disparaged by certain members of the community, especially by congregants of the Christian mega-church she’s now compelled to attend. When Ellen observes the cluster of bees, that sense of alienation lifts, and she reconnects to her mother, who “loved nature and educational activities.”