Category: Fiction (Page 1 of 47)

Family hunts fresh start on the frontier in Kristin Hannah’s ‘The Great Alone’

When I first started working at Lemuria, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah was all the rage. Reader after reader was coming in asking for a copy either for themselves or, if they had already read it, for a friend. I quickly learned where her books were located in the store and because I hadn’t read her before, how to hand sell them. Which got me interested….So, when I heard that she was writing another book, I grabbed an advance copy to get a head start on the reading rush…and I’m really glad I did!

great aloneKristin Hannah’s The Great Alone is a powerful, compelling story of survival — survival both of the natural elements and of the human spirit. The year is 1974, and 13-year-old Leni Allbright is not your average teenager. She lives with her devoted mother, Cora, and her abusive father, Ernt, who was a prisoner of war during Vietnam and has never been the same since.

Not only has Ernt changed, but America is changing after the war as well, and Ernt thinks their best chance at a fresh start is to move off the grid, to America’s last frontier—Alaska. The family leaves everything behind to start over on their own, away from the government and hopefully away from Ernt’s abusive past.

The Allbrights quickly learn that Alaska is a harsh place to live, in summer or in winter. Wild animals are abundant, the elements are unforgiving, and people aren’t always on your side.

Leni is one of a handful of kids that live in the small Alaskan town they move to. She begins to learn what it is like to work for food, comfort, and well being. She makes a friend who becomes her lifeline, and begins to settle into their new life with hope. Leni and her mother Cora finally feel that they have truly started fresh and can move on as a family.

Grizzlies, wolves, and dropping temperatures are the worries outside of the family’s cabin, but as Ernt’s battle with his demons rages on, it’s no safer inside.

Kristin Hannah has pulled together mental illness, survival, love, abuse and family in The Great Alone. The result is a beautifully descriptive, heart-wrenching adventure.

Signed first editions of The Great Alone are still available at Lemuria.

Author Q & A with Steve Yarbrough

Interview by Jana Hoops. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (January 28)

Indianola native and longtime author Steve Yarbrough once again branches out into new territory (geographically speaking) with his newest novel The Unmade World, set in both Fresno, California, and Krakow, Poland, as he spins a tale of tragedy, remorse, grief, and, finally, redemption.

Steve Yarbrough

Steve Yarbrough

After living in Fresno himself for two decades even while becoming intimately familiar with his wife’s native country of Poland, Yarbrough weaves these two sites together seamlessly as his main characters are fatefully bound together by unimaginable pain. The story chronicles their decade-long struggle, 6,000 miles apart, to make sense of a life-changing tragedy.

The author of 10 previous books, Yarbrough has received numerous awards for his novels and short stories, including the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Awards for Fiction, among others.

An “aficionado” and instrumentalist of jazz and bluegrass music, he teaches in the Department of Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College and lives in Stoneham, Massachusetts, with his wife Ewa.

How did the Poland and California locations and your familiarity  with them drive the plot that forever ties an American journalist with a working-class, financially strapped Polish man who had come to the end of his rope?

Well, as you said, I lived in Fresno for two decades got to know it pretty well. It’s a city with some complexes, chief among them, the awareness that it’s ridiculed by people in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, and though I seldom felt moved to write about it when we lived there, the day finally came.

As for Krakow, we lived there, too, having bought an apartment there in 2002. I know it better than I know any American city. We don’t own a car in Poland, and so I walk everywhere. I came to love the city. Many of my best friends live there, and though we sold our apartment last year for reasons I won’t delve into, I fully expect to buy another one there one day, maybe even to retire there. It’s a magical city.

You have said that, in your writing, you’ve found that not boxing yourself into an outline is key to character development. Please explain how this works for you.

If I never surprise myself, how can I hope to surprise a reader? And if I sit down to do only what’s already planned out, when do I experience the joy of discovery, that galvanizing moment when the story takes a turn I didn’t foresee? Those are the moments I prize above all others. Not just in writing, but in life as well.

After the death of his wife and daughter in an automobile accident, main character Richard Brennan blames himself each day for having had too much to drink at dinner that night. He is convinced that, if he had been behind the wheel, instead of his wife, “everything that did happen wouldn’t have.” He begins to think of himself as a “lost man,” eventually realizing that he’s lost his motivation to work as a reporter. Meanwhile, life for Bogdan Baranowski, the driver of the other car, has become even more frayed as he deals with his guilt. What keeps them going as they begin to slowly carve out the roles that are left for them?

unmade worldI believe each of them is stronger than he initially thinks is the aftermath of that tragedy. Richard is a naturally skilled writer, and those abilities, along with a lifetime of trying to do an honest job as a reporter, eventually re-involve him in life.

Baranowski’s problem is that he had a hard time handling the transition from a state-controlled economy to the free market model and his business failures left him desperate. They’ve both got some resilience, and I think both of them are ultimately decent people.

Baranowski comes to realize that, as he puts it, his companion Elena’s world had become “unmade” in respect to the mysteries of how people come together in meaningful relationships. Describe the notion of the “unmade world.”

Elena is from that part of the Ukraine that was devastated by the recent conflict. Like Richard, she’s lost most of those who matter. Yet she’s tough. She’s a survivor, and ultimately all of the people at the heart of this novel–Richard, the female reporter named Maria who helps him investigate a gruesome murder, Baranowski, his criminal partner Marek–they’re survivors.

The world is coming unmade all around us. Wars all over the lobe, people being run down on the street in New York, subjected to acid attacks in London, to drone attacks in Iraq. There’s not a lot of stability anywhere. We need to find it in ourselves.

There is a scene in the story in which Baranowski is challenged by the idea that telling his story, and not walking away from it, could bring redemption. What can we learn from this?

In the era of alternative facts? I think we could adhere to what my grandmother used to tell me: “Don’t try to make folks think you’re something you’re not.” As Americans, we cling to the myth of our own innocence. Poles, in my experience, are a lot more likely to own up. As you know, having read the novel, Baranowski finally meets someone whom he trusts enough to tell her what he did. And she helps him begin to live a better life.

For several characters, there is a thread throughout the story that suggests the relevance of a belief in God, i.e., how just being in church by yourself can build courage, and how faith can help soothe the inevitable pains of the human experience. Why did you include this as an important element in the story?

Well, I’m a believer. Always have been. But I’m not a churchgoer. Or to say this more precisely, I don’t go to church services.

But I go to church frequently, especially in Poland, where churches are open pretty much all the time and you can go in and sit down and meditate or say prayers of whatever. I find comfort there.

I think about those who have sat there before me, in a country that suffered so brutally in the Second World War and then survived another 45 years with the Soviet boot on its neck.

I have faith in the triumph of the human spirit, even now, and I have faith in those who seek to help people in need.

Throughout the story, the continuing description of Baranowski includes an unsightly facial mole that seems to define his appearance. Is it in any way a metaphor of his life situation and the hurts he has endured?

I’d say it could represent both the hurts he has endured and those he has inflicted on others. At the same time, I’m not an overtly symbolic writer. As Flannery O’Connor told us, the wooden leg in “Good Country People” is first and foremost a wooden leg. That mole is first and foremost a mole.

Are there future writing projects you can us about?

I just started a novel about a pair of sisters. It begins in the Delta in the mid-70s. Right now, that’s about all I know. I’m waiting for the story to tell me where it wants to go.

Steve Yarbrough will be at Lemuria tonight (Monday, January 29, at 5:00 to sign and read from The Unmade World.

Staff Pick: ‘Fire Sermon’ by Jamie Quatro

Jamie Quatro comes to Lemuria tomorrow (Thursday, January 25) to sign and talk about her new novel, Fire Sermon. We’ve already posted Jana Hoops’s interview with the author, and Lemuria’s own Kelly Pickerill’s review from the Clarion-Ledger. We’ve already selected it as our January selection for our First Editions Club, but so many of our booksellers loved the book so much, we wanted to tell you how this book’s reading experience moved us personally. We’re so excited about this book that we wanted to get you excited, too! We hope to see everybody tomorrow at 5:00.

Aimee:

When I first heard what the plot of Fire Sermon was, I was little hesitant. However, most of my coworkers that had read it were raving about it, so I decided to give it a shot. Boy, am I glad I did! I took this home with me for Christmas, and it was the perfect book to curl up with in front of the fire (no pun intended).

Trianne:

I loved Fire Sermon because the way the story is told–through thoughts and memories, making the story feel familiar. Those things comprise the inner monologue we all have when contemplating our lives, the way we retell our history to ourselves to make sure we know who we are.

Guy:

Fire Sermon reminds us how easily desire can be set alight by anticipation, and, on my favorite pages, how desire remembered is just as combustible. Quatro’s powerful writing stitches together letters and narration seamlessly to yield a dynamic and moving portrait of a life combed through. With surety, she drives home the notion that the truth unfolded and untangled looks a little different every time we find it.

Dorian:

Jamie Quatro brilliantly captures the relationship between spirituality and desire, the eternal and the carnal. The language was so lush, but at the same intimate, as if it were reaching into my own ideas about faith and fidelity. Thank you, Jamie Quatro, for sharing a story of humanity, even when it’s unfaithful to itself.

Austen:

Quatro’s first novel is fire. She deftly flows through God and poetry here to explore the many wires that frame a life. A sensuous and heady cocktail of a book. Everyone should read this.

Hillary:

I loved Quatro’s lyrical writing style, how the story didn’t have a linear timeline and how thoughts varied throughout the book. I think this style of writing really gives the reader insight into the narrator’s mind and adds humanity to the novel. Even if you haven’t personally experienced some of the situations or circumstances that Quatro’s narrator has, you will still feel a connection of empathy, love, and desire to this book like you have not experienced before.

Kelly:

In Fire Sermon, Quatro plumbs truths about the gratification and restraint of desire, about the intimacy and estrangement of marriage, and about the steadfastness and inconsistency of faith…This is a novel that is more than the sum of its parts. Maggie is a real human being, and Quatro’s prose never judges her, so the reader can’t either… In anyone else’s hands, the level of empathy might not be as strong; Quatro adeptly depicts a messy situation with flawed people in a way that connects us with our own shortcomings.

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Steve Yarbrough’s ‘The Unmade World’ masters the literary thriller

By Tom Williams. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (January 21)

unmade worldJust about midway through The Unmade World (Unbridled Books), Steve Yarbrough’s seventh novel, the central character, Richard Brennan, reflects upon his writing process as a reporter.

“Something always happened to him when he knew he’d found his story. A moment came when it seemed as if it would write itself as long as he kept putting one foot in front of the other and didn’t complain about lack of sleep, difficulties that threw themselves before him, people who either lied or paid out the truth like fishing line.”

I don’t doubt Yarbrough’s own writing process parallel’s Richard’s. In the now 10 books he’s published, dealing with such thorny subjects as race relations, redemption, and infidelity, rendering settings from the South, the Northeast, the 19th, 20th, and now 21st centuries, Yabrough makes it look easy to compose lucid prose that gets out of the way of characters as real as your reflection and involved in complex, suspenseful plots. Faithful Yarbrough readers won’t be suprised to see that he has once again “found his story” in The Unmade World.

Concerned principally with Richard and Bogdan Baranowski–two characters yoked together by a set of fateful events on a wintry Polish night–The Unmade World unfolds in three sections, alternating between Poland and Fresno, California, from 2006 to 2016.

And while the political, cultural, economic upheavals of this period are never far from the character’s lives, what’s equally significant are the personal crises faced by Richard and Bogdan. Richard is “trying hard but mostly failing to overcome his loss,” while Bogdan believes he is “missing some essential element. What is was, he didn’t know.”

Yarbrough surrounds these characters with other vividly rendered, wounded souls: Richard’s brother-in-law, Stefan, a novelist who races to finish a novel before cancer finishes him; Marek, a colleague of Bogdan’s, physically scarred by their doomed escapades; Maria, a fellow journalist, driven by the unresolved murder of her own father to uncover and remedy current injustices.

Electing to tell the story in third person omniscient, Yarbrough provides the readers the motives and mindset of this diverse cast of characters (we glimpse the thoughts of at least a dozen: male, female, middle-aged, teenaged, Pole, American), yet his expertly wrought dialogue keeps Richard and Bogdan true to themselves as men who stoically attempt to deal with what life has thrown at them.

In one of the novel’s many stunning moments–and there are many–Bogdan refuses to share with the police the complicity of Marek and others in a scheme to get older tenants to vacate an apartment building. When asked his motive, he replies, “I’m a shell of a person, and I’m drawn to old buildings that remind me of myself.”

One certainty throughout is Yarbrough’s absolute mastery. Too often, a thriller skips by breezily, and a more literary novel gets bogged down by intellectual concerns. In The Unmade World, Yarbrough neatly negotiates between Richard and Bogdan’s narratives, building suspense so effortlessly, you’re often tempted to skip a chapter, only to get wrapped up in the tantalizing clues.

And through the third section of the book at first moved at too swift a pace for me, the finale is tautly rendered it left me breathless. And hopeful–a destination you might not imagine upon finishing the relentless first section.

After reading Yarbrough’s first novel, The Oxygen Man, nearly 20 years ago, I became a convert, and with every book I kept expecting this would be theone that elevated his fiction to a much-deserved place in the highest ranks.

What’s obvious, though, is that Yarbrough is at the top of his game. The Unmade World is a marvel. It’s the kind of book that would equally impress readers of John Grisham and of Jesmyn Ward. Throughtful, entertaining, rich with detail, each page entrances.

Tom Williams lives in Kentucky. His publications include the novel Don’t Start Me Talkin’, and the entrance on Steve Yarbrough in The Mississippi Encyclopedia.

Steve Yarbrough will be at Lemuria Books on Monday, January 29, at 5:00 p.m. to sign and read from The Unmade World.

Author Q & A with Jamie Quatro

Interview by Jana Hoops. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (January 21)

fire sermonJamie Quatro’s debut novel, Fire Sermon (Grove Atlantic), weaves a pensive tale of lust and desire that comes as an unexpected but surprisingly desirable consequence of an innocent exchange of digital messages between main characters Maggie (a writer) and James (a published poet whose work she admires).

The twist on the Nashville author’s story is that both parties are devoted spouses and parents who had no intention of ever finding themselves drawn into the daring–but undoubtedly pleasurable–relationship. And then there’s the matter of Maggie’s faith, which clearly disallows such behavior, and quickly adds tension to an already questionable turn of events.

As a fiction writer, Quatro said she doesn’t remember a time in her life when she wasn’t creating stories.

“In fact, I wrote my first story in second grade,” she said. “I only member this because my mom saved it. It was called ‘The Sad Day and the Happy Day.’ The sad day was when Sally’s mother told her it never snowed in teh desert on the border of Mexico, where they lived; happy day was when Sally woke to see snow covering the cacti. I suspect the story was heavily influenced by Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day.”

Today, Quatro’s fiction, poetry, and essays have been published in The New York Times Book Review, Ploughshares, McSweeney’s, and others. Her stories have also appeared in teh 2017 Pushcart Prize Anthology, Ann Charters’s The Story and Its Writer, and in O. Henry Prize Stories 2013.

Her debut collection, I Want to Show You More (Grove Press), was a New York Times Notable Book, NPR Best Book of 2013, and a New York Times Editors’ Choice. I twas also chosen as a New York Times Top Ten Book of 2013; a New Yorker Favorite Book of 2013 and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, the Georgia Townsend Fiction Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize.

A contributing editor for the Oxford American, Quatro teaches in the Sewanee School of Letters MFA program. She lives with her husband and four children in Lookout Mountain, Georgia.

An accomplished author, you are already known for your fiction, poetry, and essays. Fire Sermon is your debut novel. In what ways was it different from previous writing projects?

Jamie Quatro

Jamie Quatro

I was under contract for a different novel and kept sneaking away to write sections of Fire Sermon. It was a delicious form of procrastination. I was sure I would never show anyone the pages. Once I reached page 100 or so, I told my agent about the cheating. She loved the pages and urged me to finish the book. I wrote the rest of it quickly, in a couple of months.

Fire Sermon is your first novel–one that’s sure to catch the attention of many readers. You’ve taken an age-old plot–two happily married people are drawn to other loves, and find themselves caught between their dual loves and their faith in God. Why this topic?

In my first book, there were six or seven stories about an almost-affair. I felt I’d only begun to scratch the surface of the infidelity theme. I hadn’t pushed as far as I’d wanted to, into the physical and spiritual. A professor in graduate school told me, once, that I needed to let my characters be messier–to do things on the hpage I would never do.

The main characters, Maggie and James, are unquestionably drawn to each other, and are amazed to discover their similarities…both are middle-aged writers, happily married for the same number of years, with the same number of children, and they even have 96-year-old grandmothers. How did this make the story more powerful?

The fact that James and Maggie have so much in common–even as Maggie has increasingly less in common with her husband–is in many ways the very appeal of the affair. The superficial commonalities mirror the much more significant intellectual, spiritual, and sexual bonds.

Your writing style is varied, to say the least–no quotation marks, no particular chronological order, conversations with an unnamed therapist, random journal entries, sometimes a stream of consciousness style of quickly firing strings of facts. Characters are referred to as “the husband,” “the wife,” “the daughter,” etc. How did you develop this approach?

The structure of the novel evolved over time, draft after draft. I think it has something to do with the desire to tell a story from multiple angles and time frames. Maybe a wish to escape the confines of linear time altogether. So rather than stringing beads along a thread, drafting felt more like rotating a cut diamond in the light, to watch the light reflect and refract from various facets.

What are the messages Maggie shares in her attempts at poetry?

The first time she sends poems (to James) she’s hoping for feedback–hoping, too, that James won’t think the poems are bunk. The second time the poems are more erotic. I suppose you could say she’s using them to draw James in.

After a few businesslike e-mail exchanges that begin when Maggie contacts James to praise his new book of poetry, the flirtations in their messages soon grow bolder and bolder, encouraged initially by him, but with Maggie’s immediate complicity. It becomes a relationship that will haunt them forever, as it tries Maggie’s Christian faith. Why did you choose to include the element of faith into this story?

When an act is forbidden, it often becomes more enticing. In this case, the religious rules against adultery heightens the thrill of breaking that rule. It also magnifies the subsequent guilt Maggie feels. How to lose the guilt but keep the erotic thrill alive somewhere inside–this becomes Maggie’s psychological and spiritual struggle.

As Maggie watches her 21-year-old daughter growing into an accomplished young woman, she realizes that her children are “the reason for [her] existence.” Is this a reflection on the state of her marriage and her split loyalties, or one you believe is shared by most mothers at this stage of life?

I can’t speak for other mothers, but I certainly don’t see my children as the reason for my existence. As they’ve grown, I’ve felt more and more like the person I was before having children. There’s something sad and lonely about Maggie’s statement. It’s probably more a reflection of the state of her mind and marriage than it is a universal feeling.

Please explain the title “Fire Sermon.” Certainly, it was a “sermon” Maggie had needed to say out loud for a long time.

The title comes from the Adittapariyaya Sutta–the Fire Sermon–in the Buddhist Pali Canon. It was one of the first sermons the Buddha gave after his enlightenment. T.S. Eliot, of course, also used it as a section title in “The Waste Land,” in which he references St. Augustine’s Confessions, and links the Buddhist Fire Sermon to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. So, the title references two ways of dealing with yearning and desire, Eastern and Western: confession and repentance, or recognition that burning is the result of attachment and illusion. The dialogue between Eastern and Western modes of thought is a thread throughout the novel.

Do you have other writing projects in the works?

I’m working on another novel and have almost finished a new story collection.

Jamie Quatro will be at Lemuria on Thursday, January 25, at 5:00 p.m. to sign copies of Fire Sermon and read from the book at 5:30 p.m. Fire Sermon is Lemuria’s January 2018 selection for its First Editions Club for Fiction.

Jamie Quatro’s ‘Fire Sermon’ explores desire

By Kelly Pickerill. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (January 14)

Jamie Quatro’s second book and first novel seems, by the summary, as through it may be an expanded version of one of her stories.

Her first book, a collection of short stories called I Want to Show You More, was populated with characters whose predilections included  running, infidelity, and theology, though not necessarily in that order.

fire sermonWith Fire Sermon (Grove Press), Quatro has proven that she can successfully make something new out of the same materials, and do so in ways that are fearless, boundary-pushing, and exhilarating to read. As she did in More, Quatro plumbs truths about the gratification and restraint of desire, about the intimacy and estrangement of marriage, and about the steadfastness and inconsistency of faith.

Maggie’s marriage to Thomas and their two children seems perfect from the outside–they married young, had two children, and enjoy a comfortable commitment. But an innocent exchange of letters between Maggie and a poet, James, who shares her spiritual acuity, sparks a desire in Maggie that she finds herself helpless to resist.

Quatro uses several storytelling devices throughout the novel–emails, therapy sessions, prayers, poetry, even a sermon. The affair unfolds in pieces that are out of order chronologically, narrated by Maggie in first person. Maggie and Thomas’s story is written in third person, where Maggie is referred to as “the bride” or “she,” but the reader senses it is really Maggie who is narrating at a distance, perhaps removing herself from the memories, from the past.

The more traditional prose sections have a dreaminess about them, as though you’re being told a story by someone close to you, but the memory they’re describing is one you lived, as well, so you have the benefit of remembering while also being reminded.

Some passages read like they happened long ago, the repercussions almost forgotten. Reading others, what’s happening is so immediate you feel like  you might be able to stop it by crying out.

Fire Sermon is a novel that is more than the sum of its parts. Maggie is a real human being, and Quatro’s prose never judges her, so the reader can’t either.

The choices she makes are not necessarily right for anyone, not for Maggie, not for James, not for Thomas. But they’re her choices.

In anyone else’s hands, the level of empathy might not be as strong; Quatro adeptly depicts a messy situation with flawed people in a way that connects us with our own shortcomings.

Jamie Quatro will be at Lemuria on Thursday, January 25, at 5:00 p.m. to sign copies of Fire Sermon and read from the book at 5:30 p.m. Fire Sermon is Lemuria’s January 2018 selection for its First Editions Club for Fiction.

Cozy Books for a Cold Winter

There are a lot of reasons for which I say that I’m blessed. But the most important reason is that when Jackson’s weather reached literal freezing temperatures a few weeks ago, I was in California visiting my family. Mid -70s, people. I know: you’re jealous. Anyway, even though Jackson weather has warmed up, it’s still pretty cold outside. So I’m sharing a few of my favorite cozy, wintertime, bundle-up-with-hot chocolate-and-a-quilt books!

olaf sun

potato peel societyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I’m not usually a fan of novels told through letters, but this book was surprisingly amazing. It’s the story of Juliet Ashton, a writer in search of her next topic, and her love affair with the island of Guernsey. Set in the years just after World War II, Juliet begins by corresponding with the island’s inhabitants and eventually comes to love them so much that she decides to visit. It’s one of those books that needs to be accompanied by a fireplace and a cup of tea–just make sure you can put the cup down while you laugh!

eleanor oliphantEleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
by Gail Honeyman

This is a more recent book, which came out in the middle of last year. Eleanor Oliphant lives a very structured, solitary life until she accidentally becomes friends with a coworker. As the book progresses, you realize Eleanor’s dry wit and attachment to routine stem from an inability to process tragedy. The sweet characters and gentle ways Honeyman deals with brokenness make this novel the perfect balance of cozy and serious.

hazel woodThe Hazel Wood
by Melissa Albert

This YA novel is coming out on January 30, but I got to read an advanced copy and loved it! A girl who cannot remember her past, a collection of twisted fairy tales authored by her grandmother, and an unpredictable adventure, this story goes a step beyond magical realism while staying grounded in a contemporary mindset. The old-world fairy tales and slightly dark storytelling style made me want to curl up in bed and just keep reading.

capture the castleI Capture the Castle
by Dodie Smith

Written in the 1940s, this YA classic came recommended by a friend a few years ago, and I was instantly in love. Cassandra is a young girl whose family lives in relative poverty in a renovated castle. There’s her unproductive–novelist father, her flamboyant and nature-loving step-mother, her romantic sister, her logical brother, and the sentimental boy who has always lived with them. Add to the mix two handsome brothers–their new landlords–and you have a novel in which anything can happen. I reread this one over Christmas break and its delightful, old-fashioned nature was perfect for nights spent reading.

Not in Our Stars, But in Ourselves: ‘The Immortalists’ by Chloe Benjamin

The year is 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side and the Gold siblings have heard rumors of a mystical psychic living in their area. This rumored gypsy-lady claims to be able to tell anyone the exact date that they will die. The siblings, all under the age of thirteen, decide to visit the woman together and then–one at a time–learn the exact date of their death. Such is the setup for Chloe Benjamin’s new novel, The Immortalists.

immortalistsOnce they have stepped out of her door, their lives and how they live them have forever been changed. Each sibling’s story of how they manage their decisions in life knowing when they will die is then told in moving and powerful chapters.

Simon, the youngest, has his story told first– it follows him as he moves to San Francisco, young and looking for love in the 1980s. We then move on to Klara’s magical world as she becomes a preforming magician obsessed with fantasy and blurring the lines of reality. Daniel is next; he becomes an army doctor post 9/11, hoping to control fate, even if it’s not his own. Lastly, we have Varya who has completely thrown herself into her work: longevity research, testing the boundaries between science and immorality.

Each story holds your attention, even though you know the outcome. It’s almost impossible to not become emotionally invested in each sibling. Benjamin has written a rich and thought provoking novel on the nature of believing. How does learning when you will die, even if it could be untrue, determine how you live your life in the present? Is our time of death predetermined, or can we play a part in changing our destiny? This fascinating read leaves you dreaming for long afterward.

Signed first editions of The Immortalists are currently available.

Lemuria Community Favorites for 2017

Earlier, in December, our staff shared our favorite books that came out in 2017 in three categories: fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books. But somebody had a great idea: instead of just sharing our opinions, why didn’t we share yours?

The rules are a little different this time, though: this is a list of people’s favorite book that they read in 2017, regardless of when it came out (not necessarily last year). Without further ado:

Kathie LottDisclaimer by Renee Knight; The Leavers by Lisa Ko; A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles; A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

John Hugh TateA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles; Hero of the Empire by Candice Millard; A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin

Michael SteptThe Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

Kirby ArinderThe Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith

Lee HowellThe Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

Ed MoakAlone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat into Victory by Michael Korda; Camino Island by John Grisham; The Road to Camelot: Inside JFK’s Five-Year Campaign by Thomas Oliphant and Curtis Wilkie

Hannah HesterThe Fifth Season by N.K. Jenison

Kristine WeaverThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Kay HedglinEveningland by Michael Knight

Jeff Good, proprietor of Broad Street, Bravo, and Sal & Mookie’s – The Simple Truth About Your Business by Alex Brennan-Martin and Larry Taylor

Melvin Priester, Ward 2 City Council member – A Visit from the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan; the Saga series by Brian K. Vaughn

Haley Barbour, Mississippi governor (2004-2012) – Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Jim Ewing, Clarion-Ledger book reviewer – A Really Big Lunch by Jim Harrison

Jana Hoops, Clarion-Ledger author interviewer – Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant; A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Jesmyn Ward, author of Sing, Unburied, Sing and Salvage the Bones – The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies

Michael Farris Smith, author of Desperation RoadStoner by John Williams

Angie Thomas, author The Hate U GiveLong Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Richard Grant, author of Dispatches from PlutoDesperation Road by Michael Farris Smith

Howard Bahr, author of Pelican RoadHue 1968 by Mark Bowden

Matthew Guinn, author of The Scribe and The ResurrectionistDesperation Road by Michael Farris Smith

Thanks especially to the readers and authors who helped compile this list, and thanks to anybody  and everybody who reads this blog and shops at our store. You make Lemuria exist, and on behalf of everybody who works here, we extend our deepest thanks. In the words (you’ve probably heard over our P.A.) of our muse, Ms. Jody, “This wouldn’t be a party without each one of you.”

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Staff Fiction Favorites for 2017

Last Tuesday, we brought you our favorite nonfiction books from the past year. Next week, we’re going to post our favorite children’s books from the experts in Oz. (Don’t forget to share with us your personal favorites; see below). But today, we’re going to share our favorites in the glamour category: fiction. These books made us laugh, cry, and helped us connect more deeply with the world around, like all great stories do. Without further ado, here are each of our staff’s favorite fiction books of the year:

  • John Evans, bookstore owner – Paris in the Present Tense by Mark Helprin
  • Kelly, general manager – The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
  • Austen, operations manager – Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
  • austen lincoln in the bardo verticalIt was with wonder and awe that I read Lincoln in the Bardo. With his first novel, George Saunders subverts the structural integrity of the form nearly to collapse, but apparently, he can dance en pointe. Mr. Saunders was able to transmute the most somber subject into something both wildly entertaining and profound. This is a malformed and superb piece of art.

  • Lisa, first editions manager – Paris in the Present Tense by Mark Helprin
  • Mark Helprin gave his first book to his friend and well-known writer John Cheever with the hope that he would write a favorable review. When Cheever rejected the book and wrote a review for another writer, Helprin described the rejection as a “double lightning bolt of anger and shame.” And so his first book, Dove of the East, has no blurbs on the dust jacket, just a photo of Mark Helprin on the back of the dust jacket looking rather melancholy. To this day, Helprin writes no reviews or blurbs for other writers, he does not long for prizes, and he occupies himself with a large life beyond writing his best-selling novels. He shared in the Paris Review that it was “Flaubert who said something like ‘live like a bourgeois so you can write like a wildman.’” Though others continue to blurb, I will not blurb Mark Helprin’s Paris in the Present Tense. Just read it and live wild.

  • Hillary, front desk manager – History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
  • hillary history of wolves verticalFrom the very beginning of History of Wolves, I could literally feel the anticipation building. I just knew something was going to happen, yet the shock factor was still there when it did. This is a eloquently written debut novel with a fascinating story. Emily Fridlund has a masterful way with words, no doubt, her writing is beautiful.

  • Clara, Oz manager – The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip Stead
  • clara prince oleomargarine verticalWhy is The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine my favorite fiction book this year? In publishing, it is not too rare for a well-known author’s work to be found and published posthumously. However, in the case of this book, Phil and Erin Stead managed to take sixteen pages of notes from a bedtime story that Mark Twain told his daughters, and turn it into a true literary masterpiece over a century later. Phil holds a conversation with the ghost of Mark Twain (which is hilarious) and Erin’s illustrations are airy and lovely, as always. They truly breathe life into the story. So what’s the right age for this book? I’d say somewhere from 6 to 96. There are a handful of times where I walk out of the store, a book under my arm, and race home to read it. Not only did I do that, but I felt somehow as if I was reading a lost masterpiece of children’s literature. There’s only one time I’ve had that experience, and it was with The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine.

  • Abbie, fiction supervisor – The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon
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    The Confusion of Languages is about two military wives who aren’t too fond of each other but have to band together to navigate life in Jordan. It’s a beautiful, well-written story about how kindness, friendship, and otherness translate between cultures.

  • Guy, First Editions Club supervisor – Dinner at the Center of the Earth by Nathan Englander
  • guy dinner at the center verticalDinner at the Center of the Earth gave me the chance to look closely at something, all at once individual and global, and to work backwards and forwards through its history. This is a wild, prismatic spy novel full of strange facets and wonderfully flawed characters. It’s fractured and beautiful and just what you need to puzzle over.

  • Andrew, blog supervisor – Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith
  • andrew desperation road verticalDesperation Road is a stunning second novel by Michael Farris Smith. It’s long, elegant sentences bring urgency and dignity to two desperate citizens, a drifter with her daughter and an ex-con, living on the margins in south Mississippi. It tells the story of the tragedy that binds them together, and the hope that can bring them forward.

  • Pat, bookseller – Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
  • pat exit westExit West is a short book packed with big ideas.  It’s the story of day to day survival in a mid-Eastern country where love and hope bloom in the midst of bombs exploding at any and every corner.

  • Ellen, bookseller – The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
  • ellen heart's invisible furies verticalThe Heart’s Invisible Furies is the story of the life of Cyril Avery, from conception to end of life. Cyril comes roaring into the world in Ireland during the year of 1946. He is alive during the heyday of the IRA and the height of bigotry and intolerance for homosexuals in Ireland, so he therefore is forced to hide his homosexuality for years. His story takes us to Amsterdam and all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City. Fact: Cyril has many hardships in his life. However, this book is not some unending sob story due to the fact that it is balanced with wonderful humor. This is a novel of redemption and it just couldn’t have been a better story. (I fear for the immortal soul of the person who does not love this book.)

  • Katie, bookseller – Human Acts by Han Kang
  • Kang’s second book published in English, Human Acts tells the story of the Gwanju uprising that occurred in South Korea in the 1980’s. This is one of the most beautiful, most powerful books I have read this year.

  • Jamie, bookseller – Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
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    Nothing I read this year matched Sing, Unburied, Sing‘s lyric beauty. The characters are compelling and believable, and Ward’s prose is perfect.

     

  • Aimee, bookseller – Celine by Peter Heller
  • Of all the books I read this year, Celine has stuck with me the best. The writing style and the plot itself contribute to what I now call one of my all time favorite books. Celine is the woman I want to be when I’m in my 60s.

  • Hunter, bookseller – American War by Omar El Akkad
  • Trianne, bookseller – Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • Fresh Complaint is a collection of short stories that is both practical and profound, capturing the lovely details of every day life while examining the underlying existential questions.

  • Taylor, bookseller – Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar
  • Julia, bookseller – The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
  • Abigail, bookseller – The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
  • Dorian, bookseller – Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  • Reading Sing, Unburied, Sing was like the shadow of Toni  Morrison’s younger self snuck up behind me and gave me something else to think about. Jesmyn Ward is an inspired voice sounding at a time when it is most needed.
  • Erica, Oz bookseller – Caraval by Stephanie Garber
  • Diane, Oz bookseller – The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

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Did you enjoy our recommendations? We hope so–but we want to hear from you, dear readers! Tell us your favorite fiction, nonfiction, or children’s books published in 2017. Reach out to us on social media, e-mail us at blog@lemuriabooks.com, or come visit us at the store! All we need is your name and your favorite book of 2017, and a brief description like the ones above and a picture of your book if you wish. We will be dedicating a post next week to our the customers and community of Lemuria. Here’s to a happy new year, full of more great books!

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