Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Monsoon Season by Katie O'Rourke

Monsoon Season is the story of Riley and Ben, two young adults who meet and fall in love. Author Katie O’Rourke handles the burgeoning relationship with deft hands, showing in moments and gestures how the two become acquainted and enamored. Here, Riley’s hand meets Ben’s amidst sparks and spasms; there, he reaches down and readjusts the blankets to cover her cold feet. Facets of their personalities emerge as we follow their movements. They spend hours playing board games and staying in, and days exploring the surrounds of Tucson, where Riley has moved from the east coast after graduating college. The terrain is foreign and new, as is the landscape of the relationship.

And yet Monsoon Season begins with Riley on a bus, en route to her childhood home and separating from Ben. From the intimacy of their fledging love, the novel’s lens widens to include a supporting cast. Donna, Riley’s roommate who has stood by as one friend after another abandons her for romantic pursuits. Laura, Riley’s childhood friend who got married young, after an unexpected pregnancy. Ben’s mother, Teresa, still dealing with the repercussions from her own marriage. And Riley’s parents, Mark and Carol, a seemingly normal middle-aged couple who may have more problems than they let on. As the young couple’s circle widens, as the past and present come together to illuminate how they have found themselves in their current state, we begin to understand the complexity of their relationship (of all relationships), and the influences they’ve absorbed. And like the cracked Arizona earth unable to withstand the torrent of a monsoon, Riley finds herself at the center of a storm, life launching an onslaught from all sides. In the end, she must either drown or dry herself off.

Monsoon Season is touching and feels honest; at times, the prose is lyrical and knowingly observant. Part coming-of-age, part love story, part family drama, it is peopled with vivid characters and tells a story that pulls at the heart and engages the mind. This is what it’s like to love someone, to make a mistake, to start over. These universalities and their nuanced delivery are the strength of Katie O’Rourke’s debut novel.

Here is the publisher's description:

Riley refuses to call herself a battered woman – she doesn’t fit the profile.

When her boyfriend Ben hits her, she doesn't know what to call it. She does know to pack her things and run to the one place that feels safe – home. Riley discovers she’s pregnant and her emotions become tangled. She can’t shake the fact that she's still in love with Ben...

A horrific accident then turns Riley’s world even more upside down, forcing her to accept help from those around her. Before she can begin to heal, she must learn the difference between being independent and being alone.

The novel will be released on July 19th but you can pre-order here. Also, learn more about Katie O'Rourke and the book at her

Friday, May 18, 2012

First Date with Russell Banks

One of my goals for 2012 is to read more novels by Russell Banks. I have only read The Sweet Hereafter, but my memories of it are very strong. Elegant but simple prose, a story that engaged at the deepest levels, a straightforward, haunting quality. I’ve been looking forward to reading his most recent release, Lost Memory of Skin, and this week, I finally had time.

I did not love the book. If my reading experience could be compared to a first date, it would go something like this:

Guy walks in, looks great, all indications of a tight physique and practiced manners. We order drinks and he begins to talk about himself. Soon, my attention begins to wander. Appetizers are brought; he’s still droning on. He’s telling me all sorts of things about all sorts of people and places, with lots of detail about each thing but me with no clear idea of where it’s going. The main course: like the instruments in an orchestra, the lines of his story begin to come together and I feel optimistic. Momentum builds. But then, as the preliminary parts did, the crescendo goes on for much too long. It's ambiguous, frustrating. A final twist feels forced, gimmicky, like an overly-sweet dessert. I begin to nod off before the coffee arrives…

In the following days, I have grown to appreciate some of the poignancy of his themes and the scope of his story. I've continued to think about it and that says something. There were moments of tenderness and desperation, and the ending seemed right. Because of this and because he did, after all, look good coming in, I’ll go on a second date. Next up, Continental Drift.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


"I had pushed the sleeve of her shirt up to the shoulder so I could see her vaccination scar. I love this, I said. This pale aureole on her arm. I see the instrument scratch and then punch the serum within her and then release itself, free of her skin, years ago, when she was nine years old, in a school gymnasium."
                                                --Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

I woke up thinking about this quote, this image, one that has stayed with me for over twenty years since I first read The English Patient. I have read it over and over, from a frayed notebook, my book of inspirations, as I plod through life and try to write a bit about it. And it seems to me that everything important about life is in these three sentences: love and imagination.

For me, writing is the crossroads between past and present, between what is real and what my mind can dream up, and the ability to do this, to use my imagination, is one big reason why it’s fulfilling to be human in the first place.

He loves this woman. He loves her now, he loves the thought of her as a girl, he loves transposing her experiences onto his own past to see how snugly they fit. The scar gives her history, and vulnerability, and weight. It’s a small, pinkish thing—childish, perfect, sexual. He knows something about her, everything about her, nothing about her, when he sees it. And it sets them in a time and place, because most people over a certain age have this scar from the smallpox vaccination, right on their shoulder, if you look for it.

A small thing, leading to so much. Past, present, dreams, truth, rushing love. All from a single image, imagined.
"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka