Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

Things have been quiet around here lately, but I have been reading some wonderful fiction.

First is Jean Stafford’s The Mountain Lion. I read this book for the Dead Writers Book Group and we discussed it (a little) on Twitter two Mondays ago. Discovering Stafford is a real find – an American writer I’d never heard of and one with a wonderfully unique voice. There are some great comparisons to be made between Stafford and Carson McCullers, for example, because Stafford has much of that Southern Gothic feel, except she isn’t a Southern writer but a Western writer (who lived in New York for most of her adult life). She is better known for her short stories… and so I’ve just picked up her Collected Stories and will write about them once I’ve started reading.

In a perfect universe, I will come back and write up my thoughts (properly) on The Mountain Lion but for now let me say that this is a book about two children, a brother and a sister, stuck between two vastly different worlds, and how those worlds pull at them and shape them in different ways. The two children are mostly unloved, and so both do things to become unlovable, as children unfortunately will. It is a powerful story, simply told, with a unique structure.

Next is Karen Brown’s Little Sinner & Other Stories – which I reviewed this past week for Necessary Fiction. I say as much in my review, but these were excellent:

Despite the mini-novel feel to each of these stories, when looked at as a collection there are several themes linking throughout—one I especially enjoyed was Brown’s explorations of infidelity, and in particular, the feminine side of what is too-often portrayed to be an exclusively male issue. First presented in the collection’s second piece, “Swimming,”—a dark and delightful recasting of John Cheever’s classic “The Swimmer”—several of the stories in the collection tell of women (of all ages) who cheat on their partners or spouses. One of the best parts of the way Brown handles this theme is that it isn’t ever a story’s main preoccupation but a kind of subtle side-story, a detail of a life turned upside down, and the woman’s infidelity could be the cause or the result of that upset.

You can read the entire review here.

Also, I just finished reading my second Clarice Lispector – Agua Viva. I’ll be reviewing this title in a few days, so will mention it again soon. But let me just say now that my first impression of Lispector holds firm. An incredible writer, a vivid talent. The Lispector revival that is currently underway in the English-speaking world is exciting and I can’t wait to read her start to finish. She’s got nine novels and the two I’ve read are from her later work, so it’s time to go to her first, Near to the Wild Heart, and start reading her properly.

Finally, I’ve had a number of great books make their way into the house recently. Here’s just a sample of what I’m looking at for fall reading:

  • • Going to Meet the Man – James Baldwin
  • • Best European Fiction 2013 – ed. Alexsander Hemon
  • • My Mother was an Upright Piano (stories) – Tania Hershman
  • • The Slow Natives – Thea Astley
  • • The Very Air – Doug Bauer
  • • Athena – John Banville

Looking forward to all of these and more…

7 Responses to “catching up”

  1. whisperinggums

    Sounds good Michelle. I’ve never heard of Stafford but the reference to McCullers has me intrigued. I’m a big Astley fan, but have not read The slow natives. I have a feeling it’s one of her trickier works. I look forward to hearing your thoughts – when you get around to reading it. And, I do like, Banville so will be interested in that too.

    • Michelle

      I’ve yet to read Astley, but have been meaning to for awhile now. This is actually the first of her books that I could get my hands on…

      • whisperinggums

        I’m glad you found one … so will be watching for whenever you get around to it.

  2. litlove

    I’ve long been wanting to read Jean Stafford, and own The Mountain Lion as well as Boston Adventure. I’m delighted you enjoyed it – certainly bodes well for me!

    • Michelle

      I’d love to hear your thoughts on The Mountain Lion… something tells me you’ll have a similar reaction as I did, it’s an emotionally complicated book, although the telling of that story is straightforward.

  3. Stefanie

    So glad to hear after the first Lispector book the second one confirms how good she is. I loved Hour of the Star. I have Near to the Wild Heart waiting in the wings and am currently reading a biography of her. She was a fascinating woman!

    • Michelle

      I love that you’re reading the biography of her – I plan to as well, but I want to read all of her fiction first. Am now quietly gathering her nine novels and planning to start a big read through!

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