My little family has been hit with a stomach bug for the last two weeks, hence my lack of posting. We’re all better now, thankfully, and I’ve got some catching up to do. If I can manage it this week, I’ll try to write about Claire Messud’s two novellas, The Hunters and A Simple Tale; I enjoyed both very much. Messud is a very confident and intelligent writer and I’m looking forward to her next book, whenever it may come out.
I also read Martha Southgate’s The Taste of Salt. This is the second Southgate novel I’ve read – the first was The Fall of Rome. Southgate is an interesting writer because she very gracefully straddles black and white America in her work. She writes about black Americans who have made their way into academic white America, and she looks very sharply at the issues this migration entails. She manages to do this within a story that could be written from either a white or a black perspective – in other words, her stories are human while the tangential details involve race.
I’ve also made some good progress in Volume Two of Virginia Woolf’s diaries – she is writing Jacob’s Room at the moment and discussing process much more than she did in Volume One with regards to The Voyage Out and Night and Day. In a way, I see her gaining confidence – it’s very interesting.
I also read The Lola Quartet, a forthcoming novel by Emily St. John Mandel. Mandel is well-known in the United States if you pay attention to the independent presses. I consider myself a broad reader, but until I started paying more attention to the indie houses, I had never heard of her; once I did, I felt a little silly for not having read her before. She’s of my generation, she’s writing about contemporary America, she’s a very good writer. The Lola Quartet is her third novel.
It’s interesting to me, this split in the United States between the independent publishers and the bigger traditional houses. Obviously, there are aesthetic differences in terms of what gets published, especially when looking at some of the micro presses with very particular publishing agendas. But on the whole, the more I read from both publishing worlds, the more I find the separation false. Such great books coming from both sides of that divide – and yet many of the books published from the independent houses will get overlooked by the greater readership. I realize this is a situation that has probably always existed, but I do wonder about how it might be becoming exacerbated as those traditional publishers seem to get bigger and bigger. Something to think about, and research further.
Finally, I’m reading Lily Tuck’s I Married You For Happiness. Some years ago I read Tuck’s The News from Paraguay, and despite admiring her writing, I disliked the novel. I wish I could remember why exactly, but all I’ve got left is a vague notion of being dissatisfied, of feeling there was something vulgar about that book. I suspect it may be the fact that I don’t often get on with historical novels. In any case, I Married You For Happiness is worlds apart from The News from Paraguay. It is contemporary, intensely personal and involves math, marriage, infidelity and death – so far it is a lovely read.