The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Hardcover, 352 pages
Expected publication: January 9th 2018 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

“There are two major theories about how to stop aging…”
“…It sounds like you’re saying we can choose to live. Or we can choose to survive.”

Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists is a thoughtfully executed novel written in simple, yet often poetic, prose that allowed the characters’ voices at their most forceful to shine on their own past the narrative itself. More than that, it is a novel crafted around a question we all ask ourselves more often than we’d care to admit: “Is it more important to truly live or to survive? To dare to dream at our grandest or to play it safe?” And, if you knew the exact day on which you’d die, would you live your life any differently than you would without that hateful knowledge?

In their youth, the Gold siblings follow a rumor to the home of a Gypsy fortune teller who gives them the knowledge they seek: the exact dates of their deaths. These prophecies propel them forward for the rest of their lives, influencing their decisions, changing the courses of their lives and plunging the question into the forefront of their minds forever: Was the fortune teller right, and, if so, can they change the course of their own fates?

It’s an intriguing idea, we must all admit. A scary one. A downright chilling one. And the leitmotif Benjamin poses to her reader manifests itself throughout the novel with compelling force, from the exploration of God and country’s place within our existence, to what the prophecy of one’s own death does to such beliefs. Do we cling to such notions and ingrained dogmas all the way to the end, cowering under them safely like warm, childhood blankets, or using them to fortify us in our resolve and everyday decisions—or, do we slough off and away such religious and secular beliefs and become our own reason for living, our own life force, whether to our own detriment or benefit?

The Immortalists bounds along a timeline spanning five decades, trotting through the start of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco—

“You weren’t terrified?”
“No, not then…When doctors said we should be celibate, it didn’t feel like they were telling us to choose between sex and death. It felt like they were asking us to choose between death and life. And no one who worked that hard to live life authentically, to have sex authentically, was willing to give it up.”

¬–toward Las Vegas in the 80s and into the early years of this century, tackling tough questions, such as the logistics behind increasing the human lifespan—and the politics of attempting such a thing. For readers who enjoy novels of sweeping timelines, they’re sure to find a treat in Benjamin’s latest novel. The period settings weren’t quite as immersive as I’d hoped—the societal and technological differences in backdrop between the decades were noted but not submerging in a way that allowed me to really feel I was moving from decade to decade with true authenticity. However, what I did take from this book were lessons to carry with me, delivered by poignant phrasing that outshone the actual stories of the four siblings’ lives. And that resonated loudly enough to forgive such specifics.

I had an interesting relationship with this novel as I continued my reader’s affair with it. I could not relate specifically to any one of the characters in this book. I would not have been friends with any of them in real life, and I did feel that some of the plotlines were predictable. BUT, I learned a lesson from every single one of the siblings that I took with me until the end, and each of those moments of recognition were special.

What do you want?…and if [she] answered him honestly she would have said this: To go back to the beginning. She would tell her thirteen-year-old self not to visit the woman. To her twenty-five-year old self: Find Simon, forgive him…She’d tell herself she would die, she would die, they all would…She’d tell herself that what she really wanted was not to live forever, but to stop worrying…”

This is a novel with a strong core and a big heart, with a moral and a central theme to tie all the threads together. Chloe Benjamin’s second novel continued her thus-far-established trend of exploring existential questions in our everyday lives, creating a brand for her that is sure to glimmer and shine, attracting new readers from far and wide. 4 stars ****

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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**Exclusive CHLOE BENJAMIN INTERVIEW to come!!!**

Chloe  Benjamin Chloe Benjamin is the author of THE ANATOMY OF DREAMS (Atria, 2014), which received the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award and was longlisted for the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. Her second novel, THE IMMORTALISTS, is forthcoming from Putnam. A graduate of Vassar College and the M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Wisconsin, Chloe lives with her husband in Madison, WI.
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Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Paperback, 248 pages
Published October 3rd 2017 by Graywolf Press

In Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. While her work has earned her comparisons to Karen Russell and Kelly Link, she has a voice that is all her own. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.

A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella Especially Heinous, Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgangers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.

Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious, Her Body and Other Parties swings from horrific violence to the most exquisite sentiment. In their explosive originality, these stories enlarge the possibilities of contemporary fiction.

Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties is a collection I was so excited to read I dragged a friend in to read it with me. We handed off back and forth who got to pick the next story, never going in order, and found ourselves surprisingly disappointed by each one.

In all honesty, I was drawn to what Machado was trying to do here, to what she was trying to say. But, she didn’t say it with enough force. Some of her stories, such as “Real Women Have Bodies” and “Eight Bites” seemed to not amount to much more than a harsh whisper, if that, never fully realizing themselves. I wanted more–MORE from a voice that dared to tackle such bold topics as the female experience and psyche. And by “more” I don’t mean argumentative or domineering in tone; some of my favorite short stories ever crept up on me with a gentle breeze at my neck only to bowl me over in the end with words just as gentle. Machado and Her Body didn’t do that for me. In fact, what I remember most about this collection is my buddy reader’s and my disappointed-mounting-to-annoyed reaction as each story was read and discussed. For such a topic that spoke to us, we both wanted to learn something, to feel something–something.

Here’s what I will say: Carmen Maria Machado clearly has something to say, though I, myself, didn’t hear it loudly enough. I thoroughly enjoyed her use of Gothic elements–vaguely supernatural devices used to convey her thoughts, to tinge her messages in wonder. Yet, some of her works were too referential without adding enough to the conversation to warrant the blatant references (to “The Girl with the Ribbon Around her Neck” and Law & Order: SVU in particular). “The Husband Stitch” was my favorite story, because of the unique and haunting asides inserted into the narrative, but the ending failed to shock or move me, so even that story did not live up to the hype around this collection. Every story I read left me wishing there was more–not length but meat and substance, not words but voice and resonance. As we all know, fabulously original ideas must, too, be supported by the execution of them, and that I did not see impressively done here. 2.5* rounded up to ***

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Carmen Maria MachadoCarmen Maria Machado’s debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2017. She is a fiction writer, critic, and essayist whose work has appeared in The New YorkerGrantaAGNI, NPR, VICEBest American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015Best Horror of the YearYear’s Best Weird Fiction, and Best Women’s Erotica. She has been the recipient of a Millay Colony for the Arts residency, the CINTAS Foundation Fellowship in Creative Writing, the Elizabeth George Foundation Fellowship, and a Michener-Copernicus Fellowship, as well as nominated for a Nebula and Shirley Jackson Awards and longlisted for a Tiptree Award. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop, and lives in Philadelphia with her partner.

Palace Council by Stephen L. Carter

Hardcover, 512 pages
Published July 8th 2008 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2008)

In the summer of 1952, twenty prominent men gather at a secret meeting on Martha’s Vineyard and devise a plot to manipulate the President of the United States. Soon after, the body of one of these men is found by Eddie Wesley, Harlem’s rising literary star. When Eddie’s younger sister mysteriously disappears, Eddie and the woman he loves, Aurelia Treene, are pulled into what becomes a twenty-year search for the truth. As Eddie and Aurelia uncover layer upon layer of intrigue, their odyssey takes them from the wealthy drawing rooms of New York through the shady corners of radical politics, all the way to the Oval Office.

Stephen Carter’s novel is as complex as it is suspenseful, and with his unique ability to turn stereotypes inside out, Palace Council is certain to enthrall readers to the very last page.

Whew, this book was a lot! It was a murder mystery and whodunit, an exploration of 20 of the most tumultuous years in American 20th century history and a political thriller, not to mention a foray into Harlem’s Golden Age of influential African Americans with the money and connections most never knew existed for them in those days. There was a lot crammed within these 500+ pages, sometimes for the better and sometimes not.

Stephen L. Carter is my favorite author for his ability to weave historical truth with fiction and for his portrayal of the African American community–both modern-day and historically–so accurate in its incisiveness and so taunt in his analysis of it. I’ve never encountered an author before or since who had such an accurate, compelling and thought-provoking voice about the upper echelons of black culture–the very embodiment of W.E.B. Dubois’ Talented Tenth–the subculture within a culture that so few even know exists with its own rich history, mores and societal rules. Carter displayed all of this and more within the pages of Palace Council, and that I lapped up with the enthusiasm you’d expect from one who’d gone too long without such substance.

I’ve seen Carter’s work described as being Dan Brown-like, and it’s true–they do share the element of mysteries solved through obscure literary references and the thrill of running from killers hellbent on snatching the clues the protagonist has found for themselves. But may I step in here and say that Stephen L. Carter is more wily than Dan Brown, his plots more complex in so many ways? Carter’s novels center around both the present and past of affluent African American culture, which allows his reader a basis on which to start from in every read and the thrill of seeing unexpected recurrences of previous characters in diverse stages of their lives. For example, The Emperor of Ocean Parkrevolves around the Garland family who also play a prominent part in Palace Council, set 50 years before the events in Emperor even happened. Readers who love to follow characters over the spans of their lives–who don’t just want to see them one and done in one novel–will love this as I do. This is Carter’s angle (pun intended for those who’ve read this book), rather than the Bond-like supporting female characters of Brown’s novels.

Stephen L. Carter’s novels are always decadent in setting, but Palace Council took the cake. Sweeping from Harlem to Washington D.C. to Saigon and back again, it’s the details here that filled so many pages of this novel. There are so many minute and intricate details here that make their world more solid and complete–from street names in Hong Kong to delicious elements of historic events of the 50s, 60s and 70s–that this one novel could easily be made into a multi-season TV series–and should! Yet, in the setting of one book, it was a lot to take in at once.

If it’s possible for one to drown in literary details, I must say I certainly struggled to stay afloat at times, keeping characters and their bloodlines straight amidst the historical events surrounding them–from Kent State, to the Tet Offensive, to JFK’s assassination and beyond. At times the narrative moved at too slow a pace, filled with historical filler and unnecessary scenes, both, which slowed the plot (in true literary form) rather than urging it forward. While these historical landmarks (the dates sometimes toyed with for the benefit of the characters at Carter’s admission) helped to center the players within these pages and paint a complete picture of the age they lived in, there were also so many times where historic events seemed just dumped in there. (I hesitate to say haphazardly because I doubt Carter does anything “haphazard” ever.) And, I’ll admit, the plot was sometimes muddled and muddied by Carter’s abundance of clever asides and descriptive tags galore. But Carter’s novels reside in the company between Dan Brown’s thrillers steeped in literary puzzles and Salman Rushdie’s erudition. And for that, he warrants all the praise he has garnered, and remains my favorite author to date. Palace Council earned a solid 4 stars sullied only by the editor’s inability to rein this one in a little more. (Honestly, a good 75 pages at least could have been chopped.) ****

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Stephen L. Carter Stephen L. Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale where he has taught since 1982. He has published seven critically acclaimed nonfiction books on topics ranging from affirmative action to religion and politics. His first novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park (2002), was an immediate national best seller. His latest novel is New England White (Knopf, 2007). A recipient of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature-Fiction, he lives near New Haven, Connecticut.

Francesca Hornak Muses on her Journey to Seven Days of Us

Hardcover, 368 pages
Published October 17th 2017 by Berkley Books

Hey Navi Review Friends & Followers! Seven Days of Us hits the bookstores TODAY, and Francesca Hornak has stopped by to tell us more about her journey to writing and completing her debut novel, Seven Days of Us! This witty author has crossed over from article writing to offering us her first full-length novel, and this exclusive interview celebrates her journey from intern to fashion writer, contributor for The Sunday Times to debut fiction author! From parenting to wardrobe mishaps abroad, Francesca Hornak bares it all with us!

 

Question # 1

The number and caliber of publications you’ve written for is impressive! Could you tell us a little about your journey to becoming a columnist and sought-after magazine writer? How have your personal experiences affected your desire to pursue that field, if they did?

Thank you! I’ve just always adored magazines, and still find them completely compulsive. My parents didn’t really buy them, so they held this exotic allure for me. I vividly remember, aged seven, reading a copy of Vogue that a guest had left in our house and becoming obsessed with supermodels, especially Cindy Crawford. In all the photos from that summer I’m pouting and flicking my hair around. I know this is exactly why people disapprove of the media – I’m afraid I was a textbook case!

As for how I got into writing for magazines, I wrote to all my favourite titles asking for work experience and got a few internships during my university holidays. That led to a junior job at In Style when I graduated in 2005 (it was all a bit easier then, when there was still money in print journalism!). I loved the glamour and urgency of the offices – after three years of academia that was a massive relief.

Question #2

You’ve written a slew of articles for The Sunday Times and other publications. One of my favorites was your 2016 article “The Pointlessness of Parenting Guides” that appeared in Red, where you made some very convincing arguments about “ditching” the trend of parenting guides! What was the final straw in parenting that made you so compelled to write that article?

I think the final straw was a chart in a chapter on weaning, in a book called Coping With Two (yes, I was still reading these books after my second baby…) It had one column for messy foods, and one for less messy alternatives – supposedly to help you keep your house under control. It literally went ‘grated cheese’ vs ‘sliced cheese’, ‘full cup of milk’ vs ‘half full cup of water’ etc. I know the brain numbs a bit after a baby, but still!

Question #3

Your debut fiction novel, Seven Days of Us, hits the shelves in the U.S. in mid-October! What was the most difficult aspect of switching over from article writing to being a novelist? What about that process did you find more satisfying than column writing?

The hardest thing is not being able to hold every paragraph in my head, like I can with a 500 word article. The most satisfying thing for me is pacing the story – deciding to keep the reader in suspense, shocking them with a twist, giving them something funny after a sad episode and so on. With journalism, it’s just about conveying information or opinions as smoothly and entertainingly as possible.

Question #4

Where were you when the idea for Seven Days of Us came to you, and what compelled you to really sit down and bang it out at your computer?

I was staying with my parents-in-law’s house, in the week before Christmas. My best friend, who was treating Ebola in Sierra Leone, emailed me to say she was going to have to spend 30 days in quarantine at home when she got home in January. I wrote back to say it sounded like a budget modern play where the actors just sit in one room, and then I suddenly thought that a quarantine could be a neat fictional device to intensify the standard family Christmas set up.

The thing that compelled me to get it down on paper was a positive pregnancy test. I’d already had one baby, so I knew from experience that when I had another there would be no time to write. That 9 month deadline was the best incentive I’ve ever had to stop procrastinating. Unless I want a huge family I’m going to have to find something else in future, though.

Question #5

Who was the most difficult character for you to write in Seven Days of Us? Who was the most fun to write, and why?

The hardest was probably Olivia, because I don’t have much in common with her character – she’s quite reserved, and very earnest. The most fun was Andrew, because everything irritates him, so his parts were a chance to rant.

Question #6

From my time living in England, I know that there are so many stereotypes of American mores and behavior, one of which you very hilariously pointed out in Seven Days of Us:

“Guns? Guess he is American,” she said, as if it was an embarrassing medical condition.”

What has been your most memorable experience with someone from a different cultural background or nationality from yours, and how do experiences like that help you as a writer (and on a personal level)?

When I was 18 I did a teaching programme at a primary school rural Belize, and stayed with a host family. At first I followed the advice we’d been given about dressing very modestly, but after a couple of months when it became really hot I slacked off a bit and started wearing shorts and t-shirts when I wasn’t teaching. I’d noticed that other girls in the village wore the same, and I didn’t consider that as a teacher it wasn’t appropriate – or that, as a foreigner, different standards might apply to me. One day, an older woman in the village told my host mother that I dressed like a prostitute, and that I wasn’t fit to be a teacher. I came home to find my host mother at the kitchen table in tears, saying she was ashamed to have me in the house. It was absolutely mortifying, and I really realized how naïve I’d been. I wish I could say it had helped me personally, but I’m not sure it did as it was such a confidence knock! But it did teach me (the hard way) that you shouldn’t second guess at the rules when you’re away from home, and that just because people are smiling and waving doesn’t mean they actually like you! On the plus side, those kind of excruciating life experiences are helpful when you’re writing. You don’t need to be writing about the same incident – I think I had some of that pain and alienation in mind when I wrote about Jesse shaming himself as the guest, and foreigner, in Seven Days Of Us.

Question #7

In Seven Days of Us, the father, Andrew, is a writer as well. He has several witty interactions with his editors throughout the novel that give readers a glimpse of the tug of war writers can sometimes have with their editorial teams! What is the most memorable “tug of war” you’ve ever had with one of your editors, and why was that issue so important to you?

So many! I used to be really precious, unnecessarily precious, about tiny changes. I must have been so annoying to work with (I got ridiculously stressed once because a sub-editor insisted on changing ‘his bicep’ to ‘his biceps’, which is technically correct but sounds stupid because nobody ever says ‘biceps’. I do stand by this, but my rage was disproportionate).

It wasn’t actually a style issue, but my favourite altercation with a sub editor was when I was a 25 year old fashion writer for a newspaper, and had a tiny section, literally one newsprint column wide, called ShopSpy. One day I wrote: “This week I’m loving this gigantic cocktail ring by new designer xxxx….’. But the sub-editor hyphenated ‘cocktail’, so that it in the newspaper it read like this:

SHOP SPY

This week I’m

loving this

gigantic cock-

tail ring

Haha.  It was a very awkward middle aged male sub – he went bright red when I came up to point it out to him. 

Question #8

With all of the great hype and reviews of Seven Days of Us, your readers are surely looking forward to your next works, too! Can you tell us what upcoming projects or articles you’re interested in working on?

Thanks! I’m writing a novel set around a communal garden in London. If Seven Days Of Us was about family, this is about community. 

Question #9

What is the strangest compliment you’ve ever received regarding your writing?

It’s not a strange compliment in itself, but I’m always surprised to hear people call it ‘warm’ or ‘heartfelt’ or ‘moving’ because to me my take on the world is quite critical. But I do cry easily, so maybe I’m soppier than I realise.

Question #10

Tell us one awkward/embarrassing/unique fact about yourself!

I love anything miniature. I had an amazing dollshouse when I was a child, but an adult playing with a dollshouse is creepy so I have to make do with sample toiletries and those teeny jams you get with hotel breakfasts.

 

Where the Tables Turn: Feel free to ask me any question you’d like for me to answer for my readers, and/or pose a question to your readers or the general public!

Question for you and your readers:

What one thing makes you fall for a book?

 

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Sarah Schmidt Pulls the Curtain Back on her Debut Novel, See What I Have Done

Hardcover, 328 pages
Published August 1st 2017 by Atlantic Monthly Press (first published March 28th 2017)
Hey Navi Review Followers! See What I Have Done hit the shelves a couple months back to rave reviews and more than a little press! Everywhere I looked, I saw this book–and its very talented, very candid author, Sarah Schmidt. After reading and reviewing the novel, I just HAD to know more about her and this book! Her zany tweets never fail to amuse and neither does she herself. In this exclusive Navi Review interview with her, we get up close and personal with the author of this celebrated novel about that infamous day in 1892–the Australian phenom herself, Sarah Schmidt.
Question # 1
It is so cool that you work around books all day at a public library—what a great place for a reader/writer! Could you tell us a little about your journey to becoming a published author? How did your work in libraries affect that journey, if it did?

 

I began working in public libraries around 4 years ago, so I was well and truly deep into writing See What I Have Done by that stage. But the catalyst to work in this area was the impending birth of my daughter. I remember sitting at my desk writing the novel and all of a sudden I had this overwhelming feeling of impending doom that to this day I still can’t completely describe. That’s when I started thinking about what was important to me and working in a community service organisation was up there. That feeling of urgency also helped push me to get the manuscript to a place I was happy with and do something with it. It took a few more years but it was the push I needed.

Question #2

See What I Have Done is told from multiple POVs in a 19th century setting. Was it difficult to write from so many perspectives and in such a setting? What was the most difficult and the most fun part about that?

In the beginning all I had was Lizzie and I knew immediately that she was never going to give me a complete story. She was always going to hide things, even from herself. I also couldn’t bear to be in her head for long periods of time. That’s when I started dragging other characters in and hoped that somehow these separate narrators would give as a ‘whole’ story in some form. I knew that if I could find empathy for each of them, even Benjamin, then I could find a way to write that point of view. Once I gave in to their wants and needs I really started having fun. Benjamin and Lizzie are the worst people and they would do and say things that I’d never dream of doing. Pushing your characters to do more and more is very satisfying!

Which brings me to the problematic nature of finding balance between your natural writing style and voice versus the voice of the character. I found this the most difficult aspect and although not perfect, I think I was able to find a balance. I know readers have said that they found Lizzie and Emma to be very similar. And I agree. That was a deliberate choice: I wanted them to be so similar because of their parasitic relationship and close proximity.

In the beginning I ‘forgot’ that this book was set in the 19th century and wrote it as if it was happening now. Obviously you bring in the social context of the time to fill the world you’re creating and to give your characters plausibility but I found the more I tried to remind myself this was 1892 the harder it became to write. I added details like clothing, transport etc at the very end of the process.

Question #3

Who was your favorite character to write in See What I Have Done? Who was the most difficult?

At different stages I had a favourite and for years I was addicted to Lizzie. She preoccupied my thoughts at all times and even now I consider writing new scenes for her because I’ve become so used to her being a shadow.

But my favourite character to write was probably Bridget, not least because she knows that family is utterly dysfunctional and had total motivation to leave that house.

Question #4

As a working woman and writer, how do you manage to keep your life balanced? Do you have any tips for other writers on how to manage it all in today’s busy world?

I’ll be honest: I’m not sure I have found a balance. Before I had my daughter it was a bit easier to work and write. I had structure. But things will always change and you need to adapt for where you are at that stage of your life, especially if you decide you’d like to have children.

The only thing I know for sure is that if you really want something you’ll figure out a way to get it done. For a long time after I had the kid, the only way I was able to write See What I Have Done was to get up at 5 am and write for an hour before work.  Often that was all the time I had so I used it wisely. It’s slow going but that’s ok. The other thing I’ve learnt is that you need to take care of yourself. If writing is that thing that makes you happy, makes you feel your complete self, do that and never feel guilty. Because men don’t.

Question #5

Do you think the mystery will ever truly be solved on whodunit?

I don’t think it will and I’m okay with that! I think the mystery is what fascinates and if we were to find out, I think a lot of people would be disappointed. I still maintain that the logical explanation to this case is the simplest: someone in that house is responsible.

Question #6

With all of the great hype and reviews of See What I Have Done, your readers are surely looking forward to your next works, too! Your online blog offers this info on your next project: 

“1. that it’s a dual narrative family portrait spanning 30-40 ish years.

  1. It is about a woman who takes a car trip with her child. Nothing is what it seems.

The working title is Blue Mountain. (You got 3. I’m generous like that!)”

Has blogging through this process been helpful to writing your next novel? If so, how?

It’s been helpful to blog in some ways because it’s forced me to think more logically about how I’ll approach this second novel. The first time around I went purely on gut instinct. That was fine except it took eleven years! This time around I’m still using my gut but encouraging it to be more focussed in some ways.

The other thing that’s been helpful blogging about the creative process is that it reminds me that the beginning of things can be hard and messy. You become very used to working on something that is draft ten, draft twelve. When you start something it’s horrifically beautiful. Your immediate thought is ‘This is shit. I can’t write. This won’t be anything good,’ but at some stage draft one begins to become draft two, draft three, and edges closer to being the manuscript you want it to be.

Question #7

What is the most interesting/funny/strange experience you’ve ever had working in the public library?

Where to begin! Public libraries are weird places. Most of my experiences have been relatively neutral but my work colleagues have told me some incredible stories…like the time they had to step over a sleeping man to get into the building. Only it turned out he was dead.

Question #8

What is the strangest compliment you’ve ever received regarding your writing?

Someone once told me a story about how they died five times. They said something like ‘I’m telling you this because you seem like the type of person who just gets it.’

Question #9

What is your favorite quote from SWIHD, the one that really made you feel one with the story?

Oooh, that’s a tough one. I don’t think there’s one singular moment (although the repetition of ‘the clock on the mantle ticked ticked’ really anchored a particular mood for the novel very early on in the writing process) however when I wrote Benjamin’s line, ‘I used to be butter – the way I’d disappear at the sign of heat’ I knew instantly who he was and what he was going to become. I also knew thematically what I could do with that line for other parts of the novel. Up until that moment I didn’t really connect with him. I have no idea where it came from but I’m glad it arrived when it did.

Question #10

Tell us one awkward/embarrassing/unique fact about yourself!

I feel my whole life could be summed up as one embarrassing, awkward moment after another!

There is however one moment that haunts me to this day and I can’t believe I’m about to make this public. The setting: high school, geography class. I got my period while standing at the front of the class giving a presentation. I had no idea it was happening and no one told me…until much later. I was mortified but the only thing I could do was just push on through the day and act as if it didn’t happen. I think that’s how I survived much of my teenage years.

 

You can follow Sarah’s blog here: https://sarahschmidt.org/

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Incest by Christine Angot

Paperback
Expected publication: November 7th 2017 by Archipelago Books (first published November 18th 1999)

A daring novel that made Christine Angot one of the most controversial figures in contemporary France recounts the narrator’s incestuous relationship with her father. Tess Lewis’s forceful translation brings into English this audacious novel of taboo.

The narrator is falling out from a torrential relationship with another woman. Delirious with love and yearning, her thoughts grow increasingly cyclical and wild, until exposing the trauma lying behind her pain. With the intimacy offered by a confession, the narrator embarks on a psychoanalysis of herself, giving the reader entry into her tangled experiences with homosexuality, paranoia, and, at the core of it all, incest. In a masterful translation from the French by Tess Lewis, Christine Angot’s Incest audaciously confronts its readers with one of our greatest taboos.

JEEZ – W.T.F. did I just read???

The novel closes powerfully–I will say that. Over and over again, the narrator compares herself to a dog. She feels so ashamed of her actions–that she may have even thought she liked her actions at the time, and even now in retrospect–that she compares herself to a dog as someone she loves leaves her:

“It wasn’t his brains I was sucking, do you realize, I could have had very handsome men, I could have loved Nadine’s movies, I could have spent Christmas Eve with you. Either had very handsome men or been with you. But no, you see, Marie Christine. You’re leaving tonight, we canceled the tickets to Rome. You’re going to be with your family, I’m weeping like the dog I am, you don’t celebrate Christmas with your dog. Dogs are stupid, you can get them to suck on a plastic bone, and they’re stupid, dogs believe you. They don’t even notice what they’re sucking on. It’s horrible being a dog.”

There were moments when I thought, “Whew! Might not make it through this one! This stream of consciousness makes me want to slap her and tell her, ‘Sit down and be quiet!'”

This novel was characterized not only by the graphic nature of the relationships described here (incestuous fallacio inside of a church confessional anyone??) but by the chaotic stream of consciousness Angot used to give us her story. Honestly, I both expect and respect that this stream of consciousness is probably what it REALLY sounds like in our heads when we are distressed like this–so unnerved that we feel we’re really bursting out of our heads, seams popping us undone like a shoe two sizes too small. So, Christine Angot shows IMMENSE talent in being able to convey that so effectively. I will give her that. I decided to push through a bit longer and there were moments of gleaming, shining narration that took my breath away–whether for good or bad reasons you can be the judge, but I’d argue that the ability to do so at all can only be all good, no matter the road we took to get there.

“Drinking, to get control, I had to call her two hundred times in those anxious days. It’s normal. And at night. You stop, that’s it. It happened yesterday. I stopped it all. I don’t call anymore, I don’t love her anymore…But the last forty-eight hours, I spent them crying, telephoning, running around, delivering letters, running to get a taxi, the taxi wasn’t going fast enough. I stopped, but not on my own: she said stop. She couldn’t take it anymore either. I begged her for one last weekend. To do the thing I never do, to lick, I can say it, I hoped to be revolted by it for good.”

For me, it wasn’t that the subject matter here bothered me–I have a strong stomach for the taboo and love reads that push all of my limits. It was the author’s method a stream of consciousness that at times maddened me (fitting, perhaps) and at times impressed me. I want to experience the inner thoughts of a manic, yes–show me that!–but I do not want to live inside of those thoughts at that high a frequency of mental vibration for an entire 200 pages. Ultimately, I was too compelled to skim through the read because of this manic narrator’s voice, and for that I give the 2*, though there were definitely some shining moments to be found within these pages.

I could say, “Full review to come” but I think that’s probably enough for now, don’t you? Not even sure how to rate this one, but I’m leaning toward 2* at the moment. Will get my bearings and then possibly reconsider… 🙂

The cover art, though is absolutely exquisite. So simple and yet so beautiful, so telling.

**I received an advance-read copy of this book from the publisher, Archipelago Books, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Christine AngotFrench novelist and playwright, she is perhaps best known for her 1999 novel L’Inceste (Incest) which recounts an incestuous relationship with her father. It is a subject which appears in several of her previous books, but it is unclear whether these works are autofiction and the events described true. Angot herself describes her work – a metafiction on society’s fundamental prohibition of incest and her own writings on the subject – as a performative (cf Quitter la ville). Angot is also literary director for French publishers Stock.

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

Hardcover, 368 pages
Expected publication: October 17th 2017 by Berkley Books

A warm, wry, sharply observed debut novel about what happens when a family is forced to spend a week together in quarantine over the holidays…

It’s Christmas, and for the first time in years the entire Birch family will be under one roof. Even Emma and Andrew’s elder daughter—who is usually off saving the world—will be joining them at Weyfield Hall, their aging country estate. But Olivia, a doctor, is only coming home because she has to. Having just returned from treating an epidemic abroad, she’s been told she must stay in quarantine for a week…and so too should her family.

For the next seven days, the Birches are locked down, cut off from the rest of humanity—and even decent Wi-Fi—and forced into each other’s orbits. Younger, unabashedly frivolous daughter Phoebe is fixated on her upcoming wedding, while Olivia deals with the culture shock of being immersed in first-world problems.

As Andrew sequesters himself in his study writing scathing restaurant reviews and remembering his glory days as a war correspondent, Emma hides a secret that will turn the whole family upside down.

In close proximity, not much can stay hidden for long, and as revelations and long-held tensions come to light, nothing is more shocking than the unexpected guest who’s about to arrive…

Seven Days of Us is the quintessential heartwarming family novel, a quick and quaint little holiday read to be devoured in one sitting. With flashes of wit, intellect and social reflection peppered in, Seven Days offers a great combination of laughter and insight, as we get to know these characters while they re-get to know each other. Imagine being stuck in your home for seven days with your family, unable to flee into the night, unable to avoid the unavoidable. To me, that sounds like the worst kind of torture! And Francesca Hornak brought that feeling to life in a meaningful way that allows the reader to identify with at least one of the characters, always a treat.

This read is not one that will bog you down, nor is it one that will stay with me, personally, for very long. Seven Days of Us is a novel that stays in its lane; it doesn’t try to masquerade as something it’s not, and I can respect that. I don’t know that it was “sharply” anything, as the blurb implied, and the ending did hurry to a close like an urgent hand at your back. BUT, it is a read for the lovers of the quaint and cozy literary experience, a novel for anyone who loved the movie The Family Stone (2005), and a delightful treat for those on holiday to pass the time and enjoy a chuckle. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’ve found a home and a warm mug of Earl Grey within the pages of Hornak’s Seven Days. 3*

**Thank you so much to Berkley Publishing who reached out to me and sent me a physical ARC of this book!

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Francesca Hornak Francesca Hornak is a British author, journalist and former columnist for the Sunday Times. Her debut novel Seven Days Of Us will be published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House, in October 2017. Little Island Productions has pre-empted TV rights to the book.

Francesca’s work has appeared in newspapers and magazines including The Sunday Times, The Guardian, Metro, Elle, Grazia, Stylist, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and Red. She is the author of two nonfiction books, History of the World in 100 Modern Objects: Middle Class Stuff (and Nonsense) and Worry with Mother: 101 Neuroses for the Modern Mama.