BLOOMSBURY PICKS FOR FEBRUARY
I AM I AM I AM
Life is a series of near death experiences punctuated by moments of brief, beautiful, reprieve. In these seventeen essays, each centered on a brush with death, O’Farrell explores how life and death work in tandem to create meaning for the living. This is not a book about dying, nor is it macabre. Instead, this is a story about embracing the wonder and ugliness, the dichotomy, inherent in conscious existence. This memoir, penned for O’Farrell’s daughter who lives with a serious immunology disorder which means every day, for her, is a sequence of small and large encounters with mortality, defies both life and death in its depth and breadth and moments of pure perfection, and is absolutely stunning. I am. She is. We are, together, alive.
As a lifelong devotee of Laura Ingalls Wilder, I was thrilled by the publication of her annotated memoir, Pioneer Girl; so much was fictionalized, made softer, or omitted in her novels. Fraser’s fascinating and comprehensive biography goes far deeper than Pioneer Girl. Fraser draws on Wilder’s memoir, historical records, letters, and a myriad of never-before-complied sources to provide a vivid portrait of America leading up to and during the Gilded Age, through womens suffrage, two World Wars, the Great Depression, the New Deal and the start of the Cold War. There are personal facts, such as a deeper examination of Wilder’s childhood poverty, which she carefully hid in her novels by detailing the small joys and comforts her parents were able to provide, and a more tarnished portrait of Wilder’s father. There is the birth and death of Wilder’s son, the heavy debts that Almanzo Wilder incurred, and his stroke, brought on by diphtheria, which hurt his use of his legs for the rest of his life. Surprisingly, Wilder was wary of feminism, and had negative feelings towards Roosevelt’s federal programs following the Depression. Also surprising is the selfishness of Wilder’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who was equally bullish and childish in her treatment of her mother, and had fascist leanings. Far from dry, and never boring, this is an incredible book, both a history of America and a more complete look at one of our country’s most famous pioneer women.
THE RED CLOCKS
The wife. The daughter. The biographer. The mender. These are archetypes, but are also four very different women who chafe against the legislation of their bodies, and feel the ticking of their red clocks. In this stunning, disturbingly prescient debut, abortion is illegal in all fifty states, and in vitro fertilization is federally banned under the Personhood Amendment. Laws further restricting adoption will soon take effect, prohibiting unmarried persons from adopting. The world Zumas creates feels eerily familiar. Just like her characters, many of us woke up to a President-elect we didn’t vote for. We felt a sense of misplaced incredulity: “Many horrors are legitimated in broad daylight, against the will of most of the people.” Zumas’ book reads like a Handmaid’s Tale for a new generation. Both Atwood and Zumas are pointing to a large hole in the ground, warning us not to fall in. Zumas ties togeher the stories of four women in surprising ways in writing that is sharp, daring, and wise.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this memoir, and I’m still not sure how to classify it, except to say how compelling, beautifully written, and unexpectedly funny it is. Circumstances force Lockwood, a 30-something poet, and her husband to move in with Lockwood’s parents, who are both larger-than-life characters. Lockwood’s father is a Catholic priest who spends as much time in his underwear as possible, plays loud riffs on his various guitars, and has an abiding love for trilogies (he vehemently believes the original Star Wars trilogy is about priests in space). Her mother, who tries to stuff plates of toast under the door to her daughter’s bedroom, and pops B vitamins by the handful, may not have a direct line to God, but she does have a flair for drama. Lockwood’s book is a moving tribute to her eccentric family life, a deep examination of belonging and religion, and an analysis of how a good Catholic girl has become a poet who deftly weaves magic of the profane, and who re appropriates the language of the church into a vocabulary that makes sense to her. This profound memoir brings to mind Jeanette Walls, Jenny Lawson and Jeanette Winterson.
What if a fortuneteller told you the day of your death when you were just a child? Would belief or disbelief rule your life? The four Gold children each react to their prophesied deaths differently. Simon charges ahead to the San Fransisco of the 1980s, carrying the knowledge of his death in his back pocket but never consulting it. Klara becomes a magician in Las Vegas, treating her own demise as part of a greater magic act, but her greatest trick won’t be her death after all. Daniel spends his career as an army doctor fighting the mortality of others. Varya is perhaps the most stubborn nonbeliever of them all, yet her work with longevity research belies her lack of faith in the old woman’s predictions decades before. Each section in this beautiful, heartbreaking, book is narrated by a different Gold child, and begs deep questions about life, death, immortality, and inevitability. Would knowing the day of your death help you prevent or change it, or is there no intervention big enough to fight the end that comes for us all?