There are not many books of October. It’s having been eaten alive (as was my brain) by the events surrounding Jim’s knee replacement.
Books that I read:
A House of My Own — Sandra Cisneros (2015)
I read this in bits while waiting around in the hospital and in the first few days after we got home. It was a good choice. Most of these pieces are the prefaces (to her own and other books), lectures, and other small publications that she has amassed over the years. Many of them touch on the questions of what is home and how do we build one and what does mean to have or not to have a home. Home is considered as a physical space, as well as a set of emotional connections, and the intellectual foundation of our work.
In one piece she is remembering and mourning the lovely home of a friend in Sarajevo. It’s a diatribe against war in the form of a touching memory of and nostalgia for a friendship and the place that evokes that friendship. Others are meditations on various authors and artists that have been important to her work and its development. And some are straight biography.
* With a couple of misses this collection is worth taking some time to dip into. *
The House on Mango Street — Sandra Cisneros (1991)
Cisneros’ first and most famous book. I read it when it was published but I haven’t seen it in years. It was mentioned to me by a fellow poet as being an example of multiple prose poetry/narrative/short‐short story bits wrapped up to make a novel. A plan that could profitably be used by some of my own work. So this began as a study, but I had forgotten how heart‐felt the book is. It is a book of adolescence, a time that features so many choices and twists and turns of personality. Cisneros manages to locate in each character and vignette the elements that are common to all of us.
* transgressive at publication, still insightful *
The Nix — Nathan Hill (2016)
A monster of a book — running more than 600 pages in print. There are so many plot threads that it’s as if the author thought he’d never get another chance to tell a story and so he told all the stories in one book. It starts with the protagonist mother abandoning the family. The lesson that Faye leaves Samuel with as she departs his life at the age of 11 is that the things that you love the most will hurt you the most.
Sadly, I found the adult Samuel who narrates the book, (a stalled writer and failed college professor with a computer gaming problem) dull as hell. Even the reappearance of his mother doesn’t make Samuel interesting. The story that he tells of his adolescence and first love, a perfect picture of how broken people infect other people, is affecting. And the story of his mother’s early life, the secret that she keeps and then leaves Samuel and his father for is likewise engaging.
But I can’t bring myself to say that I love the whole thing. I would have loved many parts of it as a much shorter stories or a series of novellas or something that didn’t sprawl all over the place with a protagonist that I just couldn’t quite sympathize with.
Several reviewers have called the book satirical. Well, maybe there are a couple of bits are meant to be satire. The plagiarizing student whose scheming plagues Samuel and eventually leads to his firing might be satirical but it’s not clever enough for me to give a damn.
In the end I can only say — if you have patience you should read The Nix for Faye’s story and the relationship between Samuel and his childhood friend Bishop (twin brother to Samuel’s first love Bethany who remains his ideal and gets a messy part later in the novel) If you’re not feeling patient wait perhaps for Mr. Hill’s second novel which likely won’t be quite so packed with every damned thing that he could think of.
* all this and the kitchen sink *