Category Archives: June 2017 Reads

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

Z Title: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
Author: Therese Anne Fowler
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
ISBN: 978-1250028662
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 375
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

When I started reading Z, I knew about Zelda Fitzgerald but not all that much. I knew only what I think the rest of the world did (well some part of the rest of the world at least) – that she was deemed crazy, that she was unstable and highly emotional and also that F. Scott Fitzgerald had plagiarized from her works to create the classics that would be called his. I also knew of the love between them but also of his affairs and how she took to them. However, after reading “Z” by Therese Anne Fowler, I got a better idea of how much of it was true (given Therese Anne Fowler’s research was to the mark) and how much of it wasn’t. To complement this book, you might also want to read “Careless People” by Sarah Churchwell that traces the life of the Fitzgeralds to the time of The Great Gatsby’s publishing.

“Z” starts in 1918 when a reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance. She is only 18 and life is waiting for her with both arms. He is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama and has nothing to his name. She comes from lineage – a judge’s daughter. Her father does not approve of him. He sells his first novel “This Side of Paradise” to Scribner’s and she boards a train to marry him. The rest as we all know is history.

The darling couple of the literary world had the universe at their feet and more. The Jazz Age as we know it. The roaring 20s, the time when everything seemed possible, the era of bright lights, fast music and when anything could be said. Everyone wanted to be with the Fitzgeralds. He for his book and she for her wit and sharp tongue. But there is also trouble in paradise and that is also what Fowler touches on in her book – the fame, its cons, the egos of the husband and wife (and rightly so in her case in my opinion), who was Zelda really and also the doomed Lost Generation with Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and more.

Therese Anne Fowler writes about the literary world no doubt but what she manages to do is also show us who Zelda really was, or who she might have been. The wives of famous men are often in the background and Fowler brings Zelda’s story to the front like perhaps no other author has. The ups and downs of their lives are heartbreakingly told and one can connect with her instantly. I don’t consider this book to be a woman’s perspective but that of another author, another talent who shared the same space as her husband and wrote gregariously but never really got her due. Fowler touches on so many aspects of their lives and also of hers that the book feels complete at every step. Never once did I think I want more. I love literary biographies, though this was touted as a novel, it could have very well been a biography. Read “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald” if you also want to know more about her.

Don’t forget the watch the series Z: The Beginning of Everything on Amazon Prime, based on this book.

A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin

819-Mmqz8XL Title: A Manual for Cleaning Woman: Selected Stories
Author: Lucia Berlin
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374202392
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 432
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Berlin’s collection of short stories is about ordinary people. The people who live right on the margins of society and aspire to make their lives better and yet some succeed (rarely) and most do not. They go through bad Christmases, live hand to mouth sometimes and don’t know what tomorrow brings with it for them. Her characters aren’t depressing as much as they are clueless and bored of living the same life, inside out, almost every single day. Her stories are real and you can identify with each of them with ease and at the same time, they also make you think about the state of affairs of the blue-collar workers.

The stories in “A Manual for Cleaning Women” are slow. Let me warn you upfront about it if you are expecting them to move at a certain pace. That will not happen with a Berlin collection. Berlin’s stories are horrific tales of addiction, poverty, alcoholism, illness, failed love affairs, and wrong choices. At the same time, the obvious isn’t apparent in her stories and that is something which leaves the reader guessing. She doesn’t dish it to you on a platter. At the same time, there is minimum dialogue and brevity in her writing. At times while reading this collection I was reminded of Chekov only because of the way Berlin understood the human condition and expressed it beautifully through her stories.

The collection will leave you devastated if you read it in one go. You need to take your time with these stories and read it after a couple of intervals. Berlin’s writing also reminded me of Alice Munro (who I love and admire) – the slowness, the eye for detail and doesn’t skip a beat when it comes to human emotions. “A Manual for Cleaning Women” will most certainly leave you begging for more.

You are Having a Good Time: Stories by Amie Barrodale

51XyTyEIp7L Title: You are Having a Good Time: Stories
Author: Amie Barrodale
Publisher: FSG Originals
ISBN: 978-0374293864
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

“You are Having a Good Time” by Amie Barrodale is a collection of non-interlinked stories of desire, consequences be damned. It is about characters who are so simple that all they want is for their desires to see fruition and at the same time so complex that they want to justify everything that desire makes them do (or so it seems). The desires in these stories could be related to the body or not. The underline theme though is that of normality being stripped away from every single character, for him or her to discover who they truly are behind the façade.

Barrodale writes with such honesty that she almost shows you the mirror without you wanting to see it. From an up and coming starlet harboring a complicated attraction to her abusive director to a compromised psychiatrist getting embroiled in a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship to even a woman who just wants to break free, so ends up having an affair with a drummer that will ruin it all, Barradole’s characters do not follow any rules. The mean, ugly, often oblivious characters are just placed in terrible situations and they have deal with them, no matter what.

This collection of short-stories does not make you question anything but if definitely makes you think of human relationships a little more in detail. The borderline of being macabre and beautiful is rather thin when it comes to Amie’s style of writing. The stories are devastatingly honest and it might even cause some discomfort but I guess that is the intent of the author. “You are Having a Good Time” will make you think and wonder about what is going on with your life at the end of the day – the compromises you make, the compromises you demand from other people and above all will make you question desire and responsibilities.

The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam

Title: The Story of a Brief Marriage
Author: Anuk Arudpragasam
Publisher: Flatiron Books
ISBN: 978-1250072405
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

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“The Story of a Brief Marriage” is a raw and stark portrayal of a marriage amidst the civil war in Sri Lanka. There, that’s what the book is about. But don’t be mistaken by this one-liner. There is obviously more to the story than just a marriage in time of war. What I could not believe was that this was the author’s debut, only because the skill and craft is way too meticulous and perfect. Also, the backdrop (or perhaps just another character) that is Sri Lanka, adds to the tumultuous nature of this brilliant novel that you just cannot not read.

Dinesh has been evacuated to a makeshift refugee camp as the army advances. He is alienated from home, his family, even from the language he speaks to even his own body. He lives his days without any reaction to what is going on around him (my heart broke to read descriptions of Dinesh in such situation. Arudpragasm does a wonderful job of bringing the real to you as you turn the pages and sometimes too scared to turn them as well) till an old man approaches him and proposes that he marry his daughter Ganga. Marriage in this environment of war seems like safety and the two of them do get married. How they live thereon and make do with circumstances that surround them is what makes the rest of the book or the entire book what it is.

There are so many hopeful moments in the book that sometimes you forget that you are reading a story set in the time of war. Dinesh and Ganga’s banter and silences stay with you and make you wonder how you would react in such situations. Some things as basic such as eating, sleeping, drinking water, breathing, washing or even speaking are touched on with such tenderness in the marriage and the reader is yet well aware of the war that wages outside and its repercussions, that make for an unexpected ending.

Arudpragasm writes with simplicity and honesty that is so at the core that you believe everything he tells you. He also makes you invest your time and emotions in his characters. You feel what they feel, think what they think and also experience fear as they do. The strange and yet assured intimacy between Dinesh and Ganga is sometimes funny and sometimes just heartbreaking. As I reader, while I was aware where the book was headed, I didn’t want it to go there, given how hopelessly a romantic I am.

“The Story of a Brief Marriage” is a short book that doesn’t waste words. The structure, plot and dialogues between characters seem so real that it could very-well be happening in your backyard and you could relate to it just the same. Their world collapses and Anuk makes you feel for them. You are happy for them. You sigh for them and you also cry a lot for and with them. A read not to miss out on.