Friday, February 24, 2017

The Evening Road by Laird Hunt

The Evening Road is ostensibly about the events surrounding a lynching in the fictional town of Marvel, Indiana, but it is really the story of two very different women, Ottie Lee Henshaw and Calla Destry, who are changed by the events of the day.

Ottie Lee is at her job in an insurance office when her boss tells her to put her things away, they’re going to a “rope party”. Everyone in the office is aflutter with the excitement. Ottie and her boss pick up her husband and begin a very circuitous trip to Marvel on which they see two dogs wearing neckties, get threatened by a Civil War veteran, and meet many other colorful characters. They also learn more about themselves and each other than any of them expected.

Calla comes home from a picnic only to find that her foster parents and many neighbors have left Marvel. She sets off to find them and finds a good amount of trouble along the way. Calla’s story, much like Ottie’s, is both funny and sad, but also carries with it an overarching sense of fear. As a person of color so near to a lynching, Calla is in danger from the minute she walks out the door. While both women’s stories occur at roughly the same time and even overlap in strange ways, their experiences of the day could not be more different.

Hunt does not use the terms “cornsilk” and “cornflower” as racial epithets. While this could have easily been a hokey literary device, it was instead a way to encourage the reader to slow down and think. By removing known words for race from the vocabulary of the characters, Hunt forces the reader to think about what words we ourselves use that so often reduce someone to one aspect of their personhood. Each time a character refers to someone as a cornsilk or cornflower, the reader is confronted with the assumptions that are being made about that person and why.

The Evening Road is inspired by real events that happened in Marion, Indiana in 1930. A photograph of the Marion lynching was the inspiration for the song “Strange Fruit” written by Abel Meeropol and made famous by Billie Holiday. 

-Portia Kapraun

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

IQ by Joe Ide

IQ is a mystery/suspense novel by Joe Ide.  It is his first book. Isaiah Quintabe (IQ) lives in South Central Los Angeles.  He is a high school dropout who solves crimes, mostly neighborhood problems the police department have no interest in.  Payment is whatever the client can afford.
Isaiah lived with his brother in an apartment while attending high school.  He idolized Marcus and took in all his advice and words of wisdom.  But when his brother is accidentally killed in a traffic accident, the pain and depression are so hard for him to bear, he drops out of school.  And when his brother's money runs out, he can no longer afford to live in the apartment.  His need to make money leads him down two two different dangerous paths.  The first involves his long time friend Dodson who likes the easy way to make money and the second is a case where a rich rapper may be losing his mind.
The case he takes involves a "rap god" who has had several attempts on his life including one where a huge dog was let into his home and programmed to kill him.  This incident proves the man is not losing his mind.  As often betrayed in this music world, there are drugs, guns and wealth. Also many hangers-on and an ex-wife, all with a motive to kill Calvin Wright known as Black the Knife.  More importantly to the case is the question of why someone would breed a huge dog and train him to kill.  Will IQ's determination and intelligence solve this case before someone gets killed?  There are many tense moments, but also some funny ones.  Everyone in the story speaks  the local dialect except for IQ and his brother.  This adds authenticity to the characters. 
Joe Ide is an Asian American who grew up in the South Central area.  He is a scriptwriter which is evident in the way the book begins with a crime in progress.  IQ is a book for those who want to experience life in a different world.   

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay dedicates this collection of short stories "for difficult women, who should be celebrated for their very nature." While it remains unclear what qualifications a woman must meet to be dubbed a "difficult woman," that is a term many of us have heard at least a handful of times in our lives. Perhaps this is why I found the short stories in this collection so personal, relatable, and emotional while at the same time shocking, distant, and sometimes repulsive. These stories delve into the lives and inner workings of a vast cross-section of those classified as "difficult women."

Gay gives us these women, and the other characters who fill the spaces of their lives, all at once. From the sisters recovering from a childhood nightmare or the woman married to her true love's evil twin, to the girl who grew up a part of her father's affair or the surprisingly diverse members of a gated Floridian community, the reader is dropped into the middle of these stories and brought up to speed throughout. It's disorienting at first, familiarizing yourself with your new host and realizing very quickly that something There is always some behavior or thought process the reader just can't quite understand, something difficult about this woman. By the time the reader has watched the scene play out and gotten a peek behind the curtain, the lines that would define this character to the outside observer are too blurry to even recognize. 

I made a resolution at the beginning of this year to read more materials about people and situations I don't understand, or don't think I could personally relate to. Surprisingly, this collection fit that bill. Though at first glace I thought I couldn't relate to many of these characters, by the end of their stories I either saw myself in them or at the very least understood why I couldn't. I recommend this collection to any woman who has been called "difficult," as well as any person who knows someone who has. If you approach it with an open mind, it can certainly open your eyes as well.

Children of the New World

     I have often wondered what our society will look like years down the road as technology is moving at breakneck speeds, and is, after all, so much a part of our lives.
     In the dystopian novel, Children of the New World, there are thirteen tantalizing and thought-provoking stories that will leave you feeling curious and alarmed about the direction a society may be heading.
     The first story introduces you to a family story, "Saying good-bye to Yang," where the father had to take his teenage son to get help after the son repeatedly smashed his face into a breakfast plate.  The son is actually a robot purchased to take care of his younger sister, Mika, who was adopted from China.  Yang was programmed to teach his little sister about her cultural heritage, but was outdated and classified as scrap metal. Despite being a robot, Yang's father mourns after him as he reminisces about the times they have spent together.  This short story is indicative of how we can become so attached to our "technology " that, after losing it, we are left emotionally compromised.

     The most heart-wrenching story in this book is entitled, "Rocket Night." In it, an annual fall school event takes place where families and staff get together and send the least-liked child into orbit.  The child, Daniel, who had a habit of picking his nose and wiping it on his clothes, chewing his pencils, and also wore hand-me-down clothes, was chosen.  Frightened, he clung to his mother's leg, unwilling to get into the rocket.  The narrator explains, "..and so we let our children loose. I watched my daughter pry the boy's fingers..and dragged him away." Daniel was placed into the capsule where his parents were assured there were enough supplies stocked for a long time into the future.

These stories beg the question, "Can this really happen?"