Valerie Martin’s latest book, Sea Lovers: Selected Stories, features previously published works that span her career. The twelve stories in this collection usually start out firmly based in moody realism, then end up taking a couple of steps into dark whimsy. They’re organized into three different themes: animals, art, and transformation.
Content-wise, the first section, “Among the Animals,” was probably the most difficult for me to get through (and yet I couldn’t look away). Let’s just say that nature — human nature, animal nature, life in general — is not terribly kind, and Martin explores this theme from different angles. The first story in the collection, “Spats,” is an excellent example not just of the section on animals, but of the atmosphere of book as a whole. In it, the narrator is struggling to move on after the break-up of her marriage. Her husband has left her for another woman and is in the process of settling into his new life, so she spends her days dreaming of ways to get revenge.
Do you go by Deborah? It sounds so uptight. I bet you hate Debbie. I hate Debbie, too.
Jack calls you Deb.
This is a letter about Jack.
I began sleeping with your husband last June. We were together for seven months, almost as long as I’ve known him.
Julie Pierpont’s debut novel, Among the Ten Thousand Things, opens with a devastating letter from a lover scorned. The letter is placed on top of a stack of printed correspondence spanning the duration of the affair and left with the doorman of Deb’s building. But instead of going to Deb, the package makes its way into the hands of her curious eleven-year-old daughter, Kay, a sensitive girl who is bullied at school. Her father’s sexually explicit emails stun Kay, as do his occasional references to his wife and children: he actually talked about them — about her — to The Other Woman.
It doesn’t take long before Kay shares everything with her fifteen-year-old brother, Simon, a moody teen who’s desperate to be seen as an adult. He, in a fury, automatically takes the damning evidence to his mother and expects her to immediately file for divorce. She doesn’t: she’s horrified that the children read those emails and she’s furious at Jack, but she’s hit with so much so fast that she needs time to figure out what to do.
Unrequited: Women and Romantic Obsession by Lisa A. Phillips
Publisher/Year: Harper, 2015
What it is: Part memoir, part investigation, Phillips explores the role of obsessive love in women’s lives. She begins with her own story: many years ago she fell hard for someone, was rejected, and kept pursuing him. She ended up sneaking into his apartment complex early in the morning and was shocked that he remained locked behind his door with a baseball bat, ready to call 911. Phillips examines how she, an educated and confident person, could have done that. She also looks at case studies and interviews other women who have done similar things and closely examines the gender-based double standards: former NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak, for instance, became a comedic punchline in 2007; male stalkers, on the other hand, are universally feared and considered dangerous. Women who go through life pining over an unrequited love are pathetic and desperate, whereas men suffering from unrequited love are at the heart of many pieces of classic literature. Towards the end of the book, Phillips also looks at the positive sides of unrequited love.
Why I read it: It sounded like really interesting subject matter, and I was curious how the subject of stalkers would be handled.
What I thought: There are a lot of complexities to this subject, and Phillips does a great job of exploring the different angles. Some parts dragged a bit, but overall, I appreciated the historical context and the way she teased out the double standards. I also like that she split her own story up, interspersing each stage of her romantic obsession into relevant chapters. It’s really interesting how common unrequited love among women is; most women will experience it at some point in their lives (although not everyone will act on it).
Choose Your Shot: An Interactive Erotic Adventure by Christine d’Abo
Publisher/Year: Carina Press, 2013
What it is: This is the fifth and final book in d’Abo’s Long Shots series. I haven’t read the other four books, but they all revolve around a BDSM club called Mavericks, which apparently burned down at some point before Book 5. In this particular book, Mavericks has now reopened for business, and Tegan, one of the regulars, is back for its opening night. Each chapter ends with different options and lets you choose what kind of sexytimes Tegan will have.
Why I read it: To examine the book’s structure and see if “choose your adventure” books worked better in eBook form. (Like, for real. I’ve been toying an idea for a writing project of my own for about a year now.)
What I thought: This is the second “choose your adventure” type book I’ve read. The other one was a romance with hook-ups; this is straight up erotica. In theory it’s a neat idea, but I’ve yet to see it executed in a non-cheesy way. The options just feel too paint-by-numbers. And I know this is erotica and not a romance novel, so it’s more about sex than plot, but when you have so many options, the already weak plot gets stretched way too thin.
All his life, Max has struggled to piece together what little he knows of his mother. Shortly after he was born, his mother and all of his extended family were killed amidst political turmoil in Beirut, Lebanon. His father, Rasheed, managed to find a way to flee the country with his infant son and rebuild a life in the United States. Rasheed — now Reed — was determined to become a fully assimilated American and give his son everything he needed to be happy and successful. Since Max was too young to remember his mother, he clings to any bit of information Reed proffers; as Max grows more curious about his heritage, Reed remained steadfastly evasive.
Max and his father are best friends — try as they might, neither of them quite fit in — and Max often cares for his father when his debilitating bouts of depression hit. But as Max grows older, their friendship becomes strained, and once Max reaches his teenage years, their relationship is almost nonexistent. Then, when Max turns seventeen, everything changes: he discovers that his father has been lying to him about their past for his entire life. The repercussions of this revelation are shattering for both father and son.
Let me just preface this by saying that I am a legit Morrison stan. (For real: I met her in New York years ago with two other Morrison stans I’d just met. We were geeking out and she laughed at us and said, “Y’all are crazy.” Best moment ever.) I was so, so, so excited when I heard that she was releasing God Help the Child, her latest novel. I pre-ordered the book months ahead of time. I love her. She kind of reminds me of my grandma.
So I feel terrible for saying this, but y’all: this book is a hot mess.
God Help the Child is about childhood trauma and how it can shape a person’s life. It’s told from different perspectives, but at the center of it all is a woman named Bride. She’s been paying for the sin of being born with blue-black skin her entire life: both of her parents have lighter skin, and Bride’s father left shortly after Bride was born, convinced his wife had cheated on him. Her mother resented her and always treated her harshly, trying to toughen Bride up for a world that was sure to be unkind to her. (In the book’s opening, her mother even admits, “I even thought of giving her away to an orphanage someplace.”) Bride grew up desperately wanting her mother’s love, and although she’s now a successful, beautiful woman who has found a way to use her skin color to her advantage, she’s haunted by something she did as a child in her need for her mother’s affection.