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Book Review

Guest Review
The Crossing
by Cormac McCarthy

The Crossing  by Cormac McCarthyThis is the second book in McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, coming between the double award-winning first book, All the Pretty Horses and the concluding, Cities of the Plain.

Less than two decades before the Second World War, Billy Parham moves with his family from Grant County, New Mexico to their new home in Hidalgo County. With Billy, riding in front of him in the same saddle, sits his baby brother, Boyd. While they travel south, Billy tells his brother what they’re seeing, giving both their English and Spanish names.

This being a McCarthy novel, life is not a bucolic idyll. It is harsh and character tempering. A handful of years pass, when a wolf begins terrorizing the local cattle ranches. After numerous failed attempts, Billy finally traps her. Rather than killing her, Billy decides to return her to the mountains of northern Mexico, from where she’s come; thus, beginning the first of three such southern crossings he will make over the course of the novel. Later, he’ll return with Boyd, after returning home to find him the sole survivor of a raid on their homestead. His third and finally crossing will be in search of this brother he was forced to leave behind.

McCarthy’s writing shouldn’t work. So many things ought to prevent its being successfully read and understood, never mind enjoyably so. Specifically, his disregard for quotation marks can be off-putting at first. His prose can seem as spare and arid as the landscape it depicts. Yet, there is an elegant beauty to it, like (again) the landscape. You continue reading, drawn into the dreamscape McCarthy’s crafted. Looking up from the pages, the world in front of you has itself been transformed.

Get The Crossing eBook.

By, Eduardo Brummel

The Florist's Daughter
by Patrician Hampl

The Florist's DaughterAt the start of this memoir, Hampl is at the hospital deathbedside of her mother. She's using one hand to hold her mother's, while with the other one she composes her obituary. Between the holding of her mother's hand, and the letting her go, Hampl tells of growing up in a post-World War II, St Paul household where the father was acquiescent, and the mother was, "always ready with a drop of acid."

It was with her father, the florist of the title, whom Hampl felt safer and more secure than with her mother. It was he who was accepting, even if not understanding; offering, "let-it-go shrugs, that every day, keeps the universe from clawing itself to death." But, of course, this memoir isn't solely about its florist. There are at least as many layers, here, as in baklava. Acceptance. Justice. Faith. Choice. Rebellion. Legacy. Destiny. All of these come into play, as well as some baby-boom, "ch-ch-ch-ch-changes."

"It was a world, old St Paul. And now it's gone," she writes. "But I still live there."

Hampl's brother, Peter, left St Paul, and became a West Coast oral surgeon. Hampl became, apart from a dope-smoking feminist writer with a live-in draft-dodger boyfriend, the Prodigal who's never left home.

Hampl's beginnings, and her graduate degree, are in poetry.

The Florist's Daughter is Hampl's fourth memoir, and both the discerning analytic eye and the crafting hand of a poet's are still serving her, and her readers. I finished the book with much the same sense of completeness and contentment as the lingering last taste that ends a perfect meal.

Get The Florist's Daugher eBook.

By Eduardo Brummel

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter
by Carson McCullers

heart is a lonely hunterWhen Carson McCullers published her first novel in June of 1940 she was just 23. She then became a literary sensation almost overnight. Now 70 years later not only has her story survived its initial sky rocket to success but is considered an American Masterpiece. Time Magazine included the book in its "100 greatest English-Language books from 1923 to 2005". The Modern Library ranked it seventeenth on its list of the 100 best English-Language novels of the 20th Century. Even Oprah got in on the act making it a selection for her Book Club.

Okay, given these credentials why have I not read this book? Sure, I have heard the title before but how is it that my 40 something year old daughter turned to me with the book in hand and said, "Have you read this, it's great". How did this happen? More importantly, how did this book keep its appeal through time to continue to be a Modern Classic?

The novel takes place in a 1930's mill town somewhere in Georgia. It revolves around a deaf-mute named John Singer and a troupe of misfits who are inexplicably drawn to him. Besides Singer, there are 4 other important characters; an aging black doctor, a carnie, a restaurant owner and a 14-year-old girl who is loosely based on McCullers' own life. Singer is the common bond who is unaware of his life-affirming powers. He has his own problems that the others do not see. When he falters, the effect is almost a direct hit to the heart of the others. There is desperation and bewilderment but it is delivered with a sensitivity that baffles one considering the author's youth. Her voice is one of compassion.

The insight depicting the loneliness in a small community for individuals isolated within it is remarkable. But do not mistake this for a morbid book. There is some levity. There are actually some downright funny moments.

Mayberry RFD? Not so much.

By, Eliza

When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four variations on voice
by Terry Tempest Williams

When Women Were Birds:Who knew Terry Tempest Williams, with one of the more distinguished, and distinguishable, voices in essays, struggles with a lisp?

Just before dying, Williams' mother gifted her the journals she'd been keeping. When the time came to receive them, after her mother had passed away, Williams discovered that not any one of the journals contained any writing. Writers frequently tell of fear and trembling when confronting the blank page. William's mother gave her three-shelves-worth of empty pages.

As she did with her two previous works: Leap, and Finding Beauty in a Broken World, Williams stretches and plays with the narrative form. But then, how was Williams to answer the call to write about her mother's journals and still follow conventional tactics? In writing about finding one's voice, how could Williams mimic and echo the voices of others'?

Don't misunderstand; this is thoroughly and fully, Terry Tempest Williams. She still has the ability to explain our human heart, to show other, better ways of envisioning and being in our world. For far too long, women have not been allowed to have any voice, not even to themselves. This work of narrative nonfiction offers a glimpse into one woman's pursuit in finding her singular voice, and the permission and trust to utter it.

-Eduardo Rey Brummel

Read some past book reviews.