The Sunday Salon -Bits and Pieces

The Sunday Salon.com

Good morning friends, and happy spring!  I can write those words with some conviction today, sitting at the kitchen table watching my little dogs busily sniffing round in the back yard, discovering all the secret scents which have been hiding beneath the snow. 

Spring brings cleaning to mind, and so during today’s salon, I think I’ll tidy up some loose ends from my reading closet.  So settle in – but perhaps you’d best tie on an apron, as it might get a bit dusty. (winks)

Quite some time ago, I polished off my third collection for The Short Story ChallengeYou Won’t Remember This  is Kate Blackwell’s first published collection, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  All twelve stories center around the ordinary domestic  lives of modern day Southern women, yet Blackwell manages to imbue otherwise “forgettable” everyday occurrences with deep import and meaning.  The stories have relationships at their heart – mother and daughter, husband and wife, neighbor and friend-relationships that are illuminated in all their grit and glory by Blackwell’s painterly writing style.

In My First Wedding, the narrator looks back on her 12 year old self, attending the wedding of her much admired cousin Augusta:

 “The eye was drawn ineluctably to the three figures sitting in a circle of light.  Augusta wore nothing but her ivory slip; her bare arms and throat gleamed like porcelain in the glare of the single bulb.  My mother in scarlet silk leaned toward her across the table, her lips parted in mid-speech.  Beside her, my aunt smiled mysteriously, her brown hair braided and wound around her head in a burnished coronet.” 

But in art, as in life, the reader must be prepared for the unexpected, which intrudes in nearly each one of these tales.  Alexandra, in The Secret Life of Peonies, appears to be living in the midst of domestic perfection, yet there is something slightly rotten hidden beneath this outwardly beautiful tableau: 

“Alexandra arranges six pink shrimp on a white plate, adds a spring of cilantro, an handful of lemony arugula, a single cherry tomato.  Tommy smiles up at her as she sets the plate in front of him.  His face is pink, like a shrimp, his hair a coppery red.  Then: clank, Saturday’s mail shoots through the mail slot in the hall. Tommy shoves back his chair with a shriek of wood on tile.”

In contrast to this scene of domestic bliss, the letter coming through the mail slot is an anonymous note to Tommy, informing him of Alexandra’s affair.

Surprise.

At the heart of this collection is the rhetorical question posed by the narrator of My First Wedding, reflecting now on the Augusta’s death .  “I have learned to appreciate the beauty of still lives,” she thinks, “and it saddens me to think they will all be lost.  For who will remember women like my mother, my aunt, and Augusta?  Who will remember any of us who live so hidden, so far from nearly everything?”

And so these stories become small, beautifully crafted memorials to women’s lives and experiences, ensuring they won’t, after all, be forgotten.

Then (setting that book neatly aside with a fond pat of farewell) from Blackwell I moved on to Sophie Hannah, and her superb psycholgoical thriller Little Face.  I believe many of you are fans of Hannah’s work, but this was a first for me.  Very plot driven, fast moving, and filled with surprising twists and turns of its own, this was the perfect thing to divert my attention from the fractured foot propped on a heap of pillows.  The book is not for the faint hearted , and I admit to being quite disturbed by some scenes of emotional violence and abuse.  But all in all, a fascinating read.

Yesterday, whilst doing some literal cleaning in my study (which amounted to shifting some tottering heaps of books out of my pathway so as to avoid tripping and fracturing my one functioning foot!) imagine my chagrin when I came across two books I had intended to giveaway long ago that were still in residence among my bookstacks.  Way back here, I offered Alice Munroe’s Friend of My Youth to commenting readers who were still on the fence about short stories.  My nifty random number generator singled out true short story cynic Iliana as the recipient of this collection.  (applause applause). 

As for the second giveaway, Anne Enright’s The Gathering will find its way into Anne’s bookstack, for despite my less than glowing review, she expressed a desire to “read it and decide for herself.”  And I look forward to reading her impressions.

(and speaking of giveaways, Nymeth is offering a chance to receive one of five different titles for buy a friend a book week. why not stop by and enter?)    

 Oh, I feel so much better now, having all these bits and pieces swept into a neat and tidy pile.  How kind of you to continue reading thus far, and not consigning them to the dust bin paragraphs ago!

Now the puppies are whining at the door, their little white paws predictably muddy – alas, one of the trials of spring I’m afraid. 

Well, so much for my cleaning…

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9 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon -Bits and Pieces

  1. I have been spring cleaning for the past few weeks. Especially outside because we have our spring clean trash pickup this week. I have put a bunch of work into getting ready for it and now I desperately don’t want to go out there and finished up. I have to gather up the piles and put them out on the road. Today is one of those days I just want to stay inside and read while I have the time. But the spring cleaning only comes once a year and time to read comes once a week if not more often, if only I take advantage of it.

    My books are the next big thing on my spring list. I am determined to get them out of the garage and on the shelf.

  2. Short stories are quite a challenge to keep track of! I find I read an odd one here and there (the best way) and then forget about reviewing them, or if I remember, forget what that particular one was about…. I have n notebooks lying around as it is! I’ve got The Gathering on my list to read, however, somehow I feel a bit uninspired and keep picking out others from the list that seem more interesting….
    Good for you to be springcleaning…

  3. Well, thank you so much. How very kind of you. Do you need me to send you my address? I can’t remember if you have it. How is your foot? I took my broken toe back to the doctor this week, having had to go about something else and because it was still hurting and she said that in fact the bone had healed it was the ligaments that we’re still sore. So don’t be surprised if the pain lasts longer than you might be expecting.

    I love Sophie Hannah and her thrillers get better as they go along, but at the moment I’m reading a very interesting collection of short stories by her that has just come out, ‘The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets’. I’m reading just one a day and should be posting on them at the end of the week.

    Don’t go overboard on the Spring cleaning. Whenever I feel tempted I remember Mole’s advice in ‘The Wind in the Willows’ ‘Hang Spring Cleaning’. He really did know best.

  4. I had never heard of Kate Blackwell, but that collection sounds like something I’d really enjoy.

    Thank you for spreading the word about my giveaway 🙂

  5. Ha,ha… This is great! Thank you so much. I think I may be a convert yet… I actually read another short story by Munro recently (as usual, behind on blogging about it) and I quite liked it. So, I’m very excited about this. I’ll send you my address 🙂
    Oh and I think I will give Sophie Hannah another chance after hearing so many good things about Little Face.

  6. I need to start on the spring cleaning. Although your kind of spring cleaning sounds much more appetizing then the kind I need to do. 🙂

    I am not familiar with Kate Blackwell, but your comments about the short stories you read have piqued my interest.

    I did manage to finish reading my book today. I haven’t devoted nearly enough time to reading lately as I should. I must remedy that.

    Have a great week!

  7. I’ve been in cleaning mode this weekend, too — in this case, trying to face my art room, which is totally out of control. Meanwhile, the stack of books gets higher and I feel more and more at sea, longing for time to do oh, so many things!

    I hope you are feeling much better.

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