The Books of May

This month in prose:

The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories — Mehvesh Murad & Jared Shurin(eds) (2017)

A col­lec­tion of  new and tra­di­tion­al tales of the Djinn. Several of these are excel­lent. One is a com­mon­ly reprint­ed bit of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods where the Djinn is a taxi dri­ver. Other sto­ries range from the tra­di­tion­al, to poet­ry, to ones set in mod­ern Islam. There are also a cou­ple of pret­ty ter­rif­ic future world/Sci-Fi sto­ries. The range of sto­ries and ver­sions of the djinn in Islamic folk­lore is amaz­ing. Happily this book is far from a bunch of white folks riff­ing on some­one else’s cul­ture. Also it has one of the high­est rations of good sto­ries to meh sto­ries in any mul­ti­ple author col­lec­tion that I have read in the last three years.
* eclec­tic can be a fab­u­lous thing. *


The Thirteenth Tale — Diane Setterfield (2006)

Another twins sto­ry. The writer Vida Winter has told a thou­sand and two sto­ries about her ori­gins, all untrue and most fan­tas­tic. But now at the end of her life she decides that she will tell one biog­ra­ph­er the truth. Her cho­sen biog­ra­ph­er is Margaret Lea, a ret­i­cent book­worm who lives above her father’s anti­quar­i­an book shop. At the end of their ini­tial inter­view Ms. Lea announces her only con­di­tion for the work: that Ms. Winter only the truth. The truth in this case is at least as fan­tas­tic as any of the sto­ries that the author has told to pre­vi­ous interviewers.
There are secrets on top of secrets and mis­di­rec­tions and … in spite of it all you feel for both the talk­er and the lis­ten­er while this eerie and trag­ic tale unfolds. With a whol­ly sat­is­fac­to­ry, though not quite inevitable, twist at the end. Well writ­ten enough to make the sto­ry paramount.
* good, though I think I might be done with trag­ic twins for a while *

Rabbit Cake — Annie Hartnett (2017)

A new nov­el about the griev­ing process” is absolute­ly not a tag line that would make me pick up a book. But once in a while Amazon gets the “If you liked A you might like B” thing right and throws a book that you would oth­er­wise not con­sid­er into your pile.  So I read the sam­ple. And then I read the book. Because… what if you were an almost 12-year-old, and what is your name was Elvis, (and what of it if you’re a girl with a boy’s name,) and what if you have a weird­ly fact filled head, and what if your moth­er drown while sleep­walk­ing (actu­al­ly sleep-swiming), and what if you know that you should be griev­ing but you aren’t sure you’ve doing it right? That’s a lot of “what-ifs” to find in the first 10% — the Amazon sam­ple length — of a book. Enough what-ifs to make me want to spend time in the head of this won­der­ful­ly odd-ball 12-year-old.
* what-if you ignored the blurbs and just read the book *

Sharks in the Rivers — Ada Limon (2010)

Yes, there are sharks here. Free swim­ming, clear­ly, and decid­ed­ly out-of-place. Things in places where they don’t quite belong are the sub­jects of these poems. And often the thing that does­n’t quite belong is the writer herself.
* things that are out-of-place are more inter­est­ing that things that are where they belong *


This Big Fake World: A Story in Verse — Ada Limon (2006)

Stories in verse are some­thing that I would usu­al­ly run away from.  They tend to be too much about the sto­ry and not enough about the poems them­selves. These are dif­fer­ent. Each poem stands on it’s own and advances the nar­ra­tive at the same time. Prodigious work. Our pro­tag­o­nist — the man in the grey suit, the unrec­i­p­ro­cat­ing object of his affec­tions — the hard­ware store lady, his rather inco­her­ent friend Lewis and the object of Lewis’s epis­to­lary obses­sion, Ronald Reagan wan­der through the their days and inter­act — each with each oth­er and their own desires and obsessions.
* let­ters to RR maybe the odd­est thing I’ve seen in a poem recently *