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Read 105 of 2022. The Trees by Percival Everett

The Trees by Percival Everett

Title: The Trees
Author: Percival Everett
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1644450642
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 312
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Trees is one of my most favourite reads of the year. It is mindful, self-aware, empathetic, brutal in its approach toward understanding a world of inequality, and the constant fight to find your place – only because you are the other – because of your skin colour, because of how you look, and how you are already perceived right from birth.

Percival Everett is a writer who also has a huge heart when it comes to using sense of humour as a device in a book about racial redemption, revenge, and then to use macabre humour, to even the slapstick, and to thread it all in with America’s long and horrifying history of lynching people of colour. Only Everett does what he does best and beyond.

There is a lot if intertextuality in Everett’s works – whether it is a writing of a novel in Erasure, or for that matter Everett’s insertion of himself in I am Not Sidney Poitier, this is how he satirizes.  In The Trees, the construction of the detective novel is used at large to drive the point home – to use the usual detective tropes to speak of justice and when do you truly feel it has been served.

I found myself mulling about the idea of vigilante justice and honestly, I didn’t find anything wrong with it – more so when the judicial system is so broken, who then do the “other”, the “discriminated against” rely on? Where does the idea of morality feature then? What can happen when things remain the same, even after decades? It takes a writer such as Everett then to show us the mirror. Of real racism that exists, of the brutality that takes place, of how lynching and shootings are treated by Americans, of how the collective White shame is not being discussed enough. The Trees is a book that will stay with me for a long time – it shows you what you do not want to see, will hold you and not let you go, and ultimately make you think or feel about the world at large.

Read 42 of 2022. Aurelia, Aurélia: A Memoir by Kathryn Davis

Aurelia, Aurélia - A Memoir by Kathryn Davis

Title: Aurelia, Aurélia: A Memoir 
Author: Kathryn Davis 
Publisher: Graywolf Press 
ISBN: 9781644450789
Genre: Memoirs 
Pages: 108 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 4/5 

Aurelia, Aurélia is a memoir that is sporadic, all over the place, doesn’t make sense sometimes, but so rewarding from the first page. It is also quite random, but the writing charms you, beguiles you, and makes you stay. I haven’t read much by Davis. I think only one book in the past, Duplex which I immensely enjoyed, so I definitely had to read this one.

This book is a memoir – about the death of Davis’s beloved husband, Eric. It is about grief, its contradictions, shuffles between time – from when Davis was sixteen to present-day to recent past to the reader’s some present-day making sense of all the profundity packed into such a short book, one hundred and eight pages long.

This memoir just like her novel is wonderfully strange, turning grief into a universal emotion from a personal one, and to then talk about her cultural preoccupations and interests – from Hans Christian Andersen to the movie, The Seventh Seal, to Beethoven’s Bagatelles, and Virginia Woolf’s, To the Lighthouse.

Aurelia, Aurélia was read slowly by me, and I think that is the way to read it. I might even get back to it again before the year ends, just to also make sense of some of the writing. I loved the last chapter of the book the most – the part when Davis explains the book’s title, and how it all ties in with the core of the book.

Aurelia, Aurélia is a book about memories- disjointed ones, about a couple and their life together, about being alone (though not so explicitly), and haunting, inviting you to make sense of the limitless connections, and the knotty and most complex way of grief.

Read 266 of 2021. The Swank Hotel by Lucy Corin

The Swank Hotel

Title: The Swank Hotel
Author: Lucy Corin
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1644450666
Genre: Literary Fiction 
Pages: 400 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 4/5 

The themes explored in “The Swank Hotel” are large and sometimes hit home very closely. There is familial loss, grief, a tangled web of relationships, and a lot of times just plain confusion.

It took me a while to even get to the core of the novel – which is discontentment, the madness surrounding all of us, the madness we are all a part of it, and yet constantly living day after day.

Em, a corporate employee is haunted by her sister’s disappearance. Her sister, Ad, who has battled mental illness for much of her adult life, and this disappearance isn’t a new one. This plagues her everyday living to a large extent and there is this unspoken guilt that she cannot get rid of. At the same time, there is her manager Frank who has a long-time affair with a married man, Jack, who Em obsesses about. We also meet Em’s parents who are in the state of constantly building their home, which also becomes about their age.

The plot of The Swank Hotel is perhaps not a plot in that sense and yet there is so much going on in it. The structure of the book moves from stream of consciousness at times to vignettes to people just being left half-way in the plot only to come back with no tying up of the story, and yet everything comes together in its own way at its own pace. The writing is sharp, meandering, touches the core, and sometimes just the surface, and all of it is imperfectly perfect, just like life and the medley of characters we encounter in this work that is experimentative and unique.

In The Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado

In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado Title: In The Dream House: A Memoir
Author: Carmen Maria Machado
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1644450031
Genre: Memoir, Gender Studies
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I had read a couple of short stories of Machado before picking up this memoir. I was also aware that this memoir, to a very large extent, would make me see my life and what I had gone through in a toxic relationship. Abuse need not be physical. In fact, the worst kind of abuse is the one that isn’t physical. The kind where no bruises are exposed, no scars are seen, no indication of violence is made known, and the one that isn’t heard or we feel that we cannot talk about it, as it is our own doing that got us here.

 In the Dream House is a book of abuse, hope, and resilience. It is a book about emotional exorcism which we all need to undertake once in a while, no matter the relationship or the intensity or lack of it. It is a memoir of Carmen’s toxic relationship with her first girlfriend and also a history of queer domestic violence. The chapters alternate from one to another. Some chapters read like parts of a larger fairy tale, while others are just downright horrific.

 And what is not surprising at all is the downright honesty of Machado’s writing. She is aware. She knows. The writing spills the heart on to the page. There is manipulation, deceit, a lot of heartache, and in all of this, she gives us glimpses of love. Love for which you stay. Love for which you are willing to perhaps forgive, till you realize that even that cannot change anything in the relationship or the person.

In The Dream House is beautiful and ugly. It is the kind of writing you want to shy away from but you cannot because you are engrossed, absorbed, and not as a voyeur but as someone who has been there (in my case) and knows every word, feels it, and can sense the pain it may have caused.

 There is grace – a lot of it, and then the candour springs on you from these very pages and grabs you at the throat. There is the Dream House as a Lesbian Pulp Novel, Dream House as Epilogue, Dream House as American Goth, Dream House as Sci-Fi Thriller, and Dream House as Ending. Dream House could be anything and is – a beautiful relationship, an abusive one, a one that won’t let go of you, family history, remembrances, queer history, and the author’s life at the core of it. The story she chose to tell and the manner in which she is telling it.

 In the Dream House is confrontative. It enters a territory which doesn’t get spoken about – queer domestic abuse. Machado also mentions at one point that we think queer folks are good and beautiful, but that’s not the case. We are as capable of ugliness. We are after all only human. The past is called on. The bits and sections are not clichéd narratives. There are no stereotypes here. What is there though: A gut-wrenching, redemptive story of the writer’s experiences. A story that needed to be told, and needs to be read.

Don’t Call Us Dead:​ Poems by Danez Smith

Don't Call Us Dead Title: Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems
Author: Danez Smith
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977856
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I think for the longest time I avoided reading poetry as a genre because I was scared. Prose will kill you. Let me correct that: Good prose will kill you. Great prose will leave you bereft. Or the other way around, but once poetry gets into your veins, you are an addict my friend! There is no way out of it. I was introduced to Neruda. Never say never also might work brilliantly as an adage.

Circa 2018. I love poetry. I love poems that seize my heart and wring it with ease. Sometimes brutally. I failed to keep my promise. Why am I saying all this? Well, because I have just finished reading a brilliant book of poems and I want to let you know how I feel about it. The book in question: “Don’t Call Us Dead” by Danez Smith.

This collection isn’t an easy one to read. If you are planning to read it at a stretch or even in one-sitting, my recommendation is you don’t. Smith doesn’t make poetry floral or sweet-smelling or even bearable for that matter. When it comes to me, I agree with him. Poetry like most form of art only reflects what exists around us and should with very good reason.

“…paradise is a world where everything
is a sanctuary & nothing is a gun…” 

Just by reading these two lines, I was moved like I haven’t been moved in a while. The idea that every place is sanctuary (so remote, isn’t it?) and that nothing is a gun couldn’t have rung truer than it does now. The now that we live in that Danez writes about so and that hits so hard.

Smith’s voice is much needed for everyone, but more so for the black men, for the young black man, the gay man, the kind who have endured a history of oppression and violence or have heard of it. It is for everyone who wants to change the world by reading and understanding and that empathy shines through Danez’s poems. The beauty in all of them is striking, almost heartbreaking even.

Take this one for example, where the loneliness of the gay man is stark and evident, universal that it strikes a chord one way or the other.

“everyone on the app says they hate the app but no one stops

I sit on the train, eyeing men, begging myself to talk to them

 He whispers his name into my lower mouth
I sing a song about being alone”

Danez Smith does not shy away from expressing. Some poems run into pages and lots of pages (and for good reasons) while others are explained briefly and they are as effective as any other poem in the collection. This isn’t micro-poetry. This isn’t slam poetry. It is life, that seeps, bleeds ad yearns through the veins and the pores.

“Don’t Call Us Dead” is set in a time – our time, which is equal parts scary, liberating and melancholic. Let me remove my proverbial hat and tip it for Smith.