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If He Comes, We’ll Quit

Helen sat behind the wheel of the panel van, chewing her bottom lip and trying to surf the rising tide of adrenaline before it overwhelmed her completely.

Kelly would be on the bike, a hardy little motocross bike that they had picked up for a couple of grand off a dealer in Philly along with the van. They had fake plates as a precaution, but no one would stop a white van, they were part of the landscape, as anonymous and unseen as homeless people.

Helen’s problem was containing the excitement. Not fear, although there was that element to it, but it had diminished with each job they pulled. The excitement though, it held the pull of gravity to it, an exotic spicy set of emotions and instincts. It challenged everything about her, which appalled and excited her in equal amounts. Kelly embodied that in every fibre of his being, and despite everything they had suffered, they had done so together.

Hardship had been part of the deal for her, he had told her, with marrying a Lumbee.

She had no idea what one was before she met him. She had left college with a degree in social work, at a time when such qualifications were not valued, but she had kept motivated, landed herself some work in North Carolina, outreach for a non-profit working with families who were not so much poor as destitute. A sullen, wounded lot of people who were only unappreciative because they had never gotten anything without being made to feel like shit for it.

Kelly had come back from the north as he called it. Sallow lined cheeks the texture of dried biscuit, caramel brown eyes that held a pensive, wounded quality and long, sandy-brown hair pulled away. He had a rangy, lean body, the kind built for lengthy periods of toil with little to no nutrition. He moved with the restlessness of a smoker trying to quit cold turkey, but his voice had the soft twang of the county rubbed into it, even as he talked about books and his two tours in Vietnam.

He had left North Carolina and the job in the textile factory to serve and came back to nothing. Less than nothing because the contempt for the Lumbee went back generations. A tribe, recognised as Native American but without the iconography or liberal guilt to get them sucking on that sweet, pink federal teat. He was younger than he looked, but war had put miles on his inner clock and the hateful legacy that was his birth right kept the hands spinning fast enough until you felt the hot wave of him from a single look.

She had fallen for him from the first. Hard and fast, marrying him had been worthwhile just for the horrified reaction from her parents, plump and bovine liberal arts professors who had tried to map out her future from the time she could walk. Marrying an honest to goodness indigene challenged them beyond their capacity for compassion.

The problem had been apparent when she had tried to apply for a credit card at the Walmart. They had seen her married surname and sneered at her.

Then, someone made a complaint and her job got lost in a reshuffle so they were soon living off what the VA threw their way in a house with packed dirt floors and tarpaper roofing.

It was one night, their lips greasy and shining with the taste of processed government cheese, that Kelly suggested it.

‘Being smart ain’t got us nowhere, so we might as well try bein‘ stupid.’

Helen had responded with an appalled gasp, but after a few hours, the idea had rooted herself in her nerves, that chill, low whisper that came to her when she wanted to be bad. The same impulse had led her to his bed, and, it suggested, why not a little further?

Why not, indeed?

She had vomited on the first morning they were going to do it, like morning sickness but when he had slipped into the car with the tan duffel bag fat with cash, a surge of utter invincibility had wiped it all away.

They had fucked that afternoon like the world was ending.

2.

A few more robberies under their belt, and they had a nest egg, but it was never enough. The cocktail of it had been a more effective weight loss program than cancer, and Kelly had said to her, when they were laying in bed one night something that made her eyes damp and clutch at him with a desperate passion.

‘You look like a Lumbee, darlin

Kelly kept his voice neutral beneath the balaclava and the polished, gleaming.45 in everyone’s eyeline. Helen would drive the van and park it somewhere close, Kelly would get out, get on and they would get off.

Helen would look at the balance and not even see it. Sometimes when they were trying to live a normal life, or start one, she wondered how longer they could keep going. These concerns were always delivered in her mother’s voice and then Kelly, as though he knew, would gaze into her eyes, touch the small of her back and tell her that they had this and they could stop anyone they wanted to.

Helen’s employment had attuned her intuition to the patois of the habitual addict but she was so deaf and dumb before the excitement that it would only arrive in retrospect.

She looked at her watch. They wound them both before they left for the job, part of the little steps they took, a funhouse mirror of domestic routine that they would chuckle about in the quiet times.

He was two minutes late. She wiped her palms against the thighs of her jeans, looked at her hollow, damp eyes in the wing mirror and said a silent prayer for God to help them. He hadn’t turned up before now, but there was always a first time.

‘If he comes, we’ll quit’ she said.

She flinched at the sound of sirens and gripped the steering wheel. Her body flooded with the instinct to hit the accelerator, but she fought the spasm and focused on her breathing. Police were everywhere, much like the white van she was sat in, waiting for her man to come to her.

She heard the hum of a motorcycle being pushed to its limit and in her peripheral vision, watched as Kelly rode past. The arm of his black leather jacket was slick and wet and he was sagging as he leaned over the handlebars. His hair was loose, and he had an expression of animal acceptance. She wanted to call his name but the physics of the situation defeated her. He rode on. Two patrol cars, lights flashing and sirens wailing were in close pursuit, on his trail like relentless metal hunting dogs.

She sat there, stunned as her thoughts compressed into a high whining sound. It was a minute before she realised that she was actually making the noise. There was a tap at the window. When she turned, she looked into the sunken apple face of an old black woman, her steel wool hair fighting a losing battle against the array of hairpins and slides she had allayed against it.

She smiled at Helen with a bemused kindness that stung like a slap.

Helen just stared at her, stripped of everything but the futile, brutal urge to see her husband again.

‘If he comes, we’ll quit’ she said.

Two thoughts were trying to take her over, and she knew, that if they succeeded, they would send her plummeting her into a final, doomed madness.

The best romances were doomed ones, her mother had said.

She wondered if she would ever to confirm that with her.

She watched the woman speak to her through the window and kept on saying the same phrase.

 

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Two Pages (29/10/16)

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I am now eleven pages into the new book, it’s starting to find it’s voice, and the balance between the language and the story is pleasing. You learn from your failures in writing, and those lessons are the soil from which your next work grows. For instance, I’m far more aware of narrative tension as a tool to keep the reader interested. Asking questions, and then delaying the answers until the need is great, but not so much that you run out of road and have to answer them in breathless, deathless bursts of prose.

I’ve been reading a bunch of Barry Eisler’s work on the Kindle, as it’s available via Kindle Unlimited, which is firmly in the groove of muscular, propulsive techno-thriller. The latter books lose a little momentum but they were enjoyable and easy reads, and reflect Eisler’s growth and focus as he goes on. If anyone is heir apparent to Tom Clancy, then I would recommend Barry Eisler as he does a good job. His latest, Livia Lone, was superb and I hope that he writes more about her as the balance between story and action made it a poignant and involving read.

I have also enjoyed Dear Thief by Samantha Riven, which is an educated, meditative book that also happens to be awash with grief and eroticism, written in an epistolary style, which is a narrative device that can lead to navel gazing that alienates the reader. Here, though, Riven crafts a story that is humane, poignant and full of painful truths. It moved me quite deeply, and it’s one that I would recommend to anyone with the strength to bear it’s truths.

I will be posting some more work later today, so I hope that you will have something that enlivens your weekend. Thank you for reading.

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Two Pages (12/10/16)

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Between scenes in Lawful Evil, I enjoy taking breaths on the page, respites from the tension that I have built and I look to avoid taking away from that entirely. It also allows me to show the changes in the characters as the story has continued. If your characters have not fundamentally changed by the end of whatever you are writing, then you have problems that require fixing before it goes out. In truth, it’s unlikely to go out because any editor or publisher will struggle to see how such a work can find an audience.

They do, though, especially literary fiction. Genre fiction is seen as the dishevelled relative, the kind who shows up at Christmas without a present and eats all the stuffing, but in truth, there’s a robustness, a pragmatism to genre fiction that shows up some of the literary fiction, that is seen as superior. I say that, as someone who enjoys both, and has developed a passion for nuance and ambiguity in the reading that I enjoy.

Genre fiction has it’s flaws too, but to dismay it as merely entertainment in comparison to literature denies it’s power. Entertainment is tough work, I’ve read a lot of literature and a lot of genre fiction, and the genre fiction moves because it has to. Some genre fiction has little more to distinguish it than a strong conceit, or a steroidal macguffin but it can pass a train journey. Literary fiction, can be beautiful but empty and afterwards, you’re left dismayed. It’s also prone to plotholes and characterisation that have led me to want to throw the book across the room. I love ambiguity in endings, but god when it’s done poorly, it’s really irritating. Susan Choi’s My Education was a perfect example of that. It also has a tendency to communicate elitism and disdain without offering a more substantial alternative.

Genre fiction has a bit of a self-esteem problem, self conscious at times because it may feature orcs, elves, vampires, werehamsters and robots made of cheese. Yet, remember that it is as entirely fictional as middle aged professor facing a midlife crisis and his waning libido. Real life, there is the latter but on the page, all bets are off. If you come to the page, do not do so lightly. The best work I’ve read combines literary and genre elements – Red Moon by Benjamin Percy, The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin combine elements of both, Gun Machine and Normal by Warren Ellis all combine fantastical and political/socio-economic elements into dizzying displays of fury.

You could class Gabriel Garcia Marquez as genre fiction, festooned as it is with beautiful language. There is good and bad, and that depends on your preference and point of view. So long as you are reading, and mindful about it, like what you like.

As Shaky Kane, the cartoonist said, don’t be cool, like everything.

I can read Austen then pick up Stephen King and feel the same rush of pleasure. I can move from King to Margaret Atwood and Jonathan Franzen. I don’t bring my politics to the page, in that I am ruthlessly egalitarian. A good book is a good book and sometimes a bad book can be entertaining in the way a bad movie can be, but the time invested in a bad movie can be collaborative joy whereas we seldom read together, unless it’s to our children. Or a book club but that’s in retrospect.

So, at the moment I have finished My Sister, My Love by Joyce Carol Oates which was stunning and biting in it’s pain and satire, a fictionalised account of the JonBenet Ramsay case, which has come to attention after the recent documentary. It combines different textures, ramps the unreliable narrator volume up to full and ends on a note of hopeful redemption that unmanned me a little bit but you read at 0400, you deal with what hits you. I’ve now started Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong, who’s been a genre author that has a snappy, smart style that amuses and entertains me.

In other news, editing on Until She Sings is going well, it’s humbling to see where you were and where you are on the page. Much like going through a photo album and seeing that the light in your eyes hasn’t changed all that much.

Thank you for reading.

 

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creative writing fiction flash fiction grief mother short fiction short stories Uncategorized women writing

We Will Call Again.

In the refridgerator is the following:

 

Half a jar of peanut butter.

 

A quarter of a gallon of milk.

 

Twelve stale crackers, soft enough that they would not snap but gently surrender.

 

The sharp tang of soiled nappies,

 

A sheaf of letters pinned to the refridgerator, with big red letters at the top of each of them. On the front one is scrawled in clumsy cursive, FUCK YOU.

 

There’s a photo, a woman dazed from giving birth, cradling a pink, frail baby and looking up at everything with unfocused black eyes.

 

A folded card, brought at a copy shop in large packs. WE WILL CALL AGAIN.PLEASE BE IN.  FAIRFAX COUNTY CHILD ADVOCATE.

 

There’s a padlock on the bedroom door.

 

2.

 

In the refridgerator:

 

Nothing.

 

The musk of bad sex and alcohol filtered through sweat.

 

An ashtray filled to the brim,sat on a table scarred with the careless anger of lit cigarettes.

 

A photograph pinned to the refridgerator. A little girl, smiling like she only just learned how to do it, holding up a picture she drew in school that day.

 

A manila folder, swollen from where it had beer spilled on it. NAVARRO VERSUS FAIRFAX COUNTY printed on the cover. The sebum from where a finger has traced it, night after night, hoping to draw some meaning from it has discoloured the material.

 

The padlock is gone. Along with the door.

 

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Two Pages (22/09/16)

This morning’s pages were continuing the background piece, I am quite pleased with the tone and the progression here. It’s tentative because it’s at a different pace, a foreign setting and hopefully shows off some of the research without being too ostentatious. I don’t want to be visible on the page, I want the characters and their voices to stay with the reader. If you can sense me on the page, then I will lean towards cutting it.

I have nearly finished Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, which is fantastic. It utilises two disparate narratives, both of which delve into primal fears and self deception in different ways. One of them is the voyeuristic pleasures of crime and revenge fiction, the other about self deception and complicity. It’s not a surprise that Tom Ford has adapted it. After that I have Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, which will be my first Chandler in print although I have seen and enjoyed his influence and the cinematic adaptations of his work.

After the recent reading slump, I have renewed my pleasure and appreciation for reading. It waxes and wanes, sometimes with a book that doesn’t meet my expectations, sometimes a book overpowers me. When I read as a writer, it’s a blend of analysis, envy and sometimes contempt. The latter is a distasteful feeling because even if I don’t enjoy it, it does not take away from my baseline admiration and respect for the effort taken to get the work out there.

It’s why I talk about myself and my experiences. Opinions are like bellybuttons, everyone has them, aside from the clones in Space: Above and Beyond, and I can only ever talk about my experiences. Who am I to tell someone what they should have done? Especially when they are at a different stage than I am, with entirely different experiences and perceptions. We cast aside our own failings when we judge other people. Writing, if it’s taught me anything, has shown me that everyone has their own pain, fights their own battles with the same resources that we all have. I really believe that you have to have an unsentimental compassion for people if you are to write with any degree of passion. Cold, beautifully written insular work might enthral for a moment but it does not sustain or stay with me. Susan Choi’s My Education was an example that stood out in my mind. There is a degree of elitism between literary and genre fiction when in truth, they’re both still cut from imaginary cloth. Whether it’s zombies or twenty-something MFA graduates who can’t commit to a relationship, it’s still fiction.

I only worry about what I can control, which is the work in front of me or behind me. The market resists prediction, my agent has their own workload and I won’t resort to blunt instruments of ego to market myself. Which is my final point.

On Twitter, @buddhab3lly, if you want to follow me, there are a lot of habits that although aren’t offensive in and of itself, essentially guarantee that I won’t read your work because it is robotic, it shows a lack of respect and also because they rarely work. I say this because when I self published, I did some of them.

  1. You follow me, I follow back then you unfollow me for the scalp to your follower count.
  2. You post nothing but links to your books. There’s no sense of you, as a person beyond the content. On the page, that’s fine but social media has an emphasis on the social. I can set up a RSS feed if I want content devoid of contact. Who are you as a person, I don’t know and it feels like I’m following a bot.
  3. Automatic DMs.
  4. Pleading me to read your book.

I have done a review when asked, via Goodreads, and will be doing another one because someone actually took the time to write and ask me. Not because I am important and special but because they had seen one I had written, their novella is in a similar style and they asked nicely. Funny how that works, when you treat someone with respect, they’re more likely to help. A suggestion would not be some hyperbolic marketing guide but Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People. A bit of contemplation, perhaps but I get it. It takes a lot to get a book out there, and there are a lot of books out there. I tried and failed at self publishing, but it was useful because it showed me that it was not an experience I wanted for myself.

Anyway, thank you for reading. Post comments and questions below.

 

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Permission

PERMISSION

 

She opened her handbag and tipped the contents onto the floor. A shower of make up accessories, a pack of cigarettes, receipts and tissues hit the floor with a dull rattle. Her eyes bulged in their sockets and her lips were pulled back over her teeth. Despite the tailored suit and the immaculate hair, she had gone from composed to feral with a lupine ease.

 

Theresa rolled her eyes when she thought that the woman was not looking. She had been at the store for four years and had her SIA license, which she would remind me of, on a regular basis.

 

There’s a rhythm to shoplifting, a poor man’s ballet, a symphony played on broken bottles and cigarette ends. It’s called SCONE and she had sung along with me since she had come in. Selecting the lipstick, concealing it on her person and trying to hide the thrilled smile as she did it. She did not see me at the end of the aisle, taking a deep and profound interest in the presentation of the special offer toothbrushes nor did she bother the checkouts as she sailed past. Her head was high as she left the store, the ecstasy of stealing running through her veins.

 

She had not taken it at all well. The moment that I asked her to come back into the store, she had begun a torrent of abuse that she only ended when she ran out of breath. Hence the handbag.

 

‘Madam, you’re making this more difficult than it needs to be.’

 

My tone was even, which caused her to look down at the contents of her handbag. Her lips went back over her teeth and she asked in a small, broken voice if she could grab the tissues that were part of the pile.

 

‘I’m having some problems.’

 

She offered this, and to a certain degree, until the police were called, we had some discretion left to us. We dealt with first cases by offering them a taste of what would happen. The impressionable would be suitably frightened enough not to do it again but the professionals would stay silent, greeted by their first name when the police arrived. A woman crying is one of the most uncomfortable things you can experience, but it was easier to deal with than rage.

 

Theresa unfolded her arms. The woman gave the lipstick back without incident and her relief was palpable, waking from a nightmare to find that it was not real.

 

When I saw her again, it was on the evening news, yellow crime scene tape strung outside a house that I could never afford, a police car in the foreground and an earnest reporter with a helmet of brown hair telling us about the tragedy that had unfolded. She was smiling as they led her out of the van, months later, and even when they sentenced her, she had a beatific smile on her face. Kids and husband, they said. Used a kitchen knife until the blade snapped. It did not say on whom, but the tea in my mouth tasted like blood. 

The timeline suggested that she had gone straight home that afternoon, redundancy with it’s fresh sting, a husband who had never recovered from his own fall from the pedestal of employment and loud, troubled children with an anagram alphabet of mental conditions. She grabbed the first weapon available and decided that if she had gotten away with one thing, why not another?

I should have let her take the bloody lipstick.

 

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Two Pages (11/09/16)

So, the pen sketch yesterday was useful, and it reads well so I may keep it but I’ve moved things on in order to get to the next set of beats/scenes in order to start bringing together the A and B plots.

When I use these terms, it’s borrowed wholly from Story and The Story Grid, in which you have the following:

The External or A plot is where you have your external conflict and action go on. Explosions, bullets, external events and forces that challenge and complicate your characters. The object of desire for this plot can be the recovery of a magic item, the defeat of a monster or the uncovering of truth.

The internal or B plot runs counter to the external plot. An example McKee gives is ‘Out of Africa’ where Karen Blixen rejects the notion of ‘owning things’ in order to save her soul and identity. It’s what lies beneath the surface of the character, notable by it’s absence in the likes of James Bond, although the Craig-era brought with it, the existence of it in terms of his ageing, the usefulness of his methods in an age of drones and open source terrorism etc.

Now, they don’t necessarily have to intersect but I think that they should because it adds emotional weight to the piece, especially if the successful resolution of the internal plot offers up an insight, an ally or a realisation that allows them to demonstrate the traits necessary to see through the resolution of the A plot.  From even thinking about these, you’re thinking from a point of how to sell, or even pitch your work to people who don’t care about the thousands of hours you’ve put into it, your cogent argument for the inclusion of adverbs. It might take away some of the delight and whimsy you find in writing, but that’s a good thing. I thrive on being a productive adult, not someone who expects a standing ovation because I’ve written something. My concern is with my work, it’s quality and potential because that’s the only thing I have control over. I don’t write for the marketplace and trends because they change. That 50 Shades meets Harry Potter you’ve been working on, posting sentences out of context because the need to be seen to do it is more important than the actual achievement? It’s going to look flat and lifeless if it doesn’t burn like a UTI with your passion and investment in it. It’s not the sloppy, uninformed passion though, it’s the application of it. A sniper round rather than a shotgun. You can, and will write mess but you don’t have to share it. Show us the trick itself, not the endless hours you spent learning how to perform it without flaw.

There will be passion and magic invested in it. I’m open about the points where I write and it’s wonderful, but amongst that are the days you get it down on paper with the same passion that you brush your teeth or shave. Do you brush your teeth passionately? Should you? No, you do what is necessary then get on with your day, you work on improving your technique so your gums don’t bleed and you do it without thinking about it.

The results are there in your smile.

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2016 in library loans

These are copied and pasted from my library account, and reflect the pleasurable reading as well as research, not merely for the writing but also because I tend to take an interest in a subject and want to simply educate myself on it. It’s book nerd stuff, and it’s a sample of my reading habits.

 

1. Nocturnal / [paperback] Sigler, Scott 20 Aug 2016 25 Aug 2016
2. Nine dragons / [paperback] Connelly, Michael, 1956- 20 Aug 2016 25 Aug 2016
3. Dial M for Murdoch : [paperback] News Corporation and the corruption of Britain Watson, Tom, 1967- 20 Aug 2016 25 Aug 2016
4. The magicians. [paperback] Grossman, Lev 20 Aug 2016 25 Aug 2016
5. Bloodlines / [graphic format] Ennis, Garth 13 Aug 2016 16 Aug 2016
6. Hollow City Riggs, Ransom 13 Aug 2016 20 Aug 2016
7. The scarlet gospels Barker, Clive, 1952- 13 Aug 2016 16 Aug 2016
8. Needful things. [paperback] King, Stephen, 1947- 13 Aug 2016 20 Aug 2016
9. London falling / [paperback] Cornell, Paul 13 Aug 2016 20 Aug 2016
10. Kill the dead / [hardback] Kadrey, Richard 06 Aug 2016 16 Aug 2016
11. The fireman : a novel Hill, Joe 06 Aug 2016 13 Aug 2016
12. The double Pelecanos, George P. 06 Aug 2016 13 Aug 2016
13. All involved Gattis, Ryan 30 Jul 2016 13 Aug 2016
14. Selected poems of Pablo Neruda. [paperback] Neruda, Pablo 30 Jul 2016 20 Aug 2016
15. After the crash Bussi, Michel, 1965- 30 Jul 2016 20 Aug 2016
16. The concise Gray’s anatomy / [paperback] Leonard, C. Henri, 1850-1925 23 Jul 2016 20 Aug 2016
17. Ghettoside : investigating a homicide epidemic Leovy, Jill 23 Jul 2016 30 Jul 2016
18. Empire of fear : inside the Islamic State Hosken, Andrew 23 Jul 2016 30 Jul 2016
19. The anatomy of violence : the biological roots of crime Raine, Adrian 14 Jul 2016 30 Jul 2016
20. The book of strange new things Faber, Michel 14 Jul 2016 26 Jul 2016
21. Psychopath free : recovering from emotionally abusive relationships with narcissists, sociopaths, & other toxic people Peace 14 Jul 2016 30 Jul 2016
22. The marriage plot. [paperback] Eugenides, Jeffrey 14 Jul 2016 30 Jul 2016
23. War on Terror, Inc. : [hardback] corporate profiteering from the politics of fear Hughes, Solomon 14 Jul 2016 30 Jul 2016
24. SEAL target Geronimo : [hardback] the inside story of the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden Pfarrer, Chuck 14 Jul 2016 30 Jul 2016
25. The city of mirrors Cronin, Justin 14 Jul 2016 23 Jul 2016
26. A fair maiden. [paperback] Oates, Joyce Carol, 1938- 14 Jul 2016 23 Jul 2016
27. NOS4R2 / [hardback] Hill, Joe 30 Jun 2016 07 Jul 2016
28. Four past midnight / [paperback] King, Stephen, 1947- 30 Jun 2016 07 Jul 2016
29. Middlesex. [paperback] Eugenides, Jeffrey 21 Jun 2016 07 Jul 2016
30. The talented Mr Ripley. [paperback] Highsmith, Patricia, 1921-1995
31. Foucault’s pendulum / [paperback] Eco, Umberto 21 Jun 2016 14 Jul 2016
32. End of watch : a novel King, Stephen, 1947- 21 Jun 2016 28 Jun 2016
33. The pregnant widow. [paperback] Amis, Martin, 1949- 21 Jun 2016 23 Jul 2016
34. A time of torment Connolly, John, 1968- 14 Jun 2016 21 Jun 2016
35. Complete stories. [paperback] O’Connor, Flannery 14 Jun 2016 28 Jun 2016
36. Blonde : a novel Oates, Joyce Carol, 1938- 09 Jun 2016 15 Jun 2016
37. Carthage Oates, Joyce Carol, 1938- 09 Jun 2016 11 Jun 2016
38. Jupiter’s legacy. Volume 1 Millar, Mark 09 Jun 2016 11 Jun 2016
39. Secret wars Hickman, Jonathan 04 Jun 2016 08 Jun 2016
40. The revenant Punke, Michael 31 May 2016 08 Jun 2016
41. The autumn of the patriarch / [paperback] Garcia Marquez, Gabriel, 1928- 28 May 2016 04 Jun 2016
42. A map of desire: Four Journeys into the Far Realms of Lust and : [hardback] four journeys into the far realms of lust and longing Bergner, Daniel 28 May 2016 31 May 2016
43. Hear the wind sing ; and, Pinball, 1973 Murakami, Haruki, 1949- 25 May 2016 04 Jun 2016
44. Hausfrau Essbaum, Jill Alexander 21 May 2016 25 May 2016
45. Zombie / [paperback] Oates, Joyce Carol, 1938- 21 May 2016 25 May 2016
46. High crime area Oates, Joyce Carol, 1938- 21 May 2016 25 May 2016
47. Prince / [paperback] Thorne, Matt 21 May 2016 28 May 2016
48. The big short : [paperback] inside the doomsday machine Lewis, Michael 21 May 2016 28 May 2016
49. The wind through the keyhole / [hardback] King, Stephen, 1947- 21 May 2016 31 May 2016
50. The secret to not drowning Snowden, Colette 21 May 2016 31 May 2016
51. Just mercy : a story of justice and redemption Stevenson, Bryan 21 May 2016 04 Jun 2016
52. The dog of the marriage : [hardback] the collected stories Hempel, Amy 07 May 2016 25 May 2016
53. Salt river. [paperback] Sallis, James, 1944- 07 May 2016 18 May 2016
54. Bloodthirsty. Allison & Busby. [paperback] Karp, Marshall 07 May 2016 18 May 2016
55. Jack of spades Oates, Joyce Carol, 1938- 07 May 2016 13 May 2016
56. Blueeyedboy / [paperback] Harris, Joanne, 1964- 07 May 2016 21 May 2016
57. Absalom, Absalom!. [paperback] Faulkner, William 07 May 2016 25 May 2016
58. Nobody move. [paperback] Johnson, Denis, 1949- 07 May 2016 18 May 2016
59. Hard times. [paperback] Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870 07 May 2016 13 May 2016
60. The dogs of Littlefield / [paperback] Berne, Suzanne 07 May 2016 13 May 2016
No.  Title   Author   Issued  Returned 
61. The devil in the White City. [paperback] Larson, Erik, 1954- 26 Apr 2016 18 May 2016
62. Moranthology / [paperback] Moran, Caitlin, 1975- 20 Apr 2016 30 Apr 2016
63. Hacker, hoaxer, whistleblower, spy : the many faces of Anonymous Coleman, E. Gabriella, 1973- 20 Apr 2016 04 May 2016
64. Dead if I don’t / [paperback] Waite, Urban 18 Apr 2016 26 Apr 2016
65. So you’ve been publicly shamed Ronson, Jon, 1967- 18 Apr 2016 26 Apr 2016
66. The tortilla curtain / [paperback] Boyle, T. Coraghessan 18 Apr 2016 26 Apr 2016
67. It’s not raining, daddy, it’s happy / [book] Brooks-Dutton, Benjamin 18 Apr 2016 26 Apr 2016
68. The luminaries / [paperback] Catton, Eleanor, 1985- 18 Apr 2016 04 May 2016
69. Tender is the night : [paperback] a romance Fitzgerald, F. Scott (Francis Scott), 1896-1940 18 Apr 2016 04 May 2016
70. Legend of a suicide. [paperback] Vann, David 14 Apr 2016 18 Apr 2016
71. Caribou Island / [hardback] Vann, David 14 Apr 2016 18 Apr 2016
72. Goat mountain [paperback] Vann, David 14 Apr 2016 20 Apr 2016
73. Fallen land / [paperback] Flanery, Patrick, 1975- 14 Apr 2016 20 Apr 2016
74. We are all completely beside ourselves [paperback] Fowler, Karen Joy 07 Apr 2016 18 Apr 2016
75. Breed / [paperback] Novak, Chase 07 Apr 2016 18 Apr 2016
76. The troupe. [paperback] Bennett, Robert Jackson 30 Mar 2016 14 Apr 2016
77. Dirt / [paperback] Vann, David 30 Mar 2016 07 Apr 2016
78. Damage. [paperback] Hart, Josephine 30 Mar 2016 07 Apr 2016
79. The wake Kingsnorth, Paul, 1972- 30 Mar 2016 14 Apr 2016
80. Generation loss Hand, Elizabeth 30 Mar 2016 14 Apr 2016
81. The ascent of money : [paperback] a financial history of the world Ferguson, Niall 30 Mar 2016 07 Apr 2016
82. Lady Chatterley’s lover. [paperback] Lawrence, D. H. 30 Mar 2016 09 Apr 2016
83. What do women want? : [book] adventures in the science of female desire Bergner, Daniel 29 Mar 2016 07 Apr 2016
84. You could do something amazing with your life (you are Raoul Moat) Hankinson, Andrew 17 Mar 2016 26 Mar 2016
85. Prince : [hardback] inside the music and the masks Ro, Ronin 16 Mar 2016 29 Mar 2016
86. The sex myth : [paperback] why everything we’re told is wrong Magnanti, Brooke Leigh 16 Mar 2016 29 Mar 2016
87. Sorted! : how to get what you want out of life : the good psychopath 2 McNab, Andy, 1959- 16 Mar 2016 30 Mar 2016
88. Ghettoside : investigating a homicide epidemic Leovy, Jill 29 Feb 2016 29 Mar 2016
89. Trigger warning : is the fear of being offensive killing free speech? Hume, Mick 29 Feb 2016 23 Mar 2016
90. The peripheral Gibson, William, 1948- 29 Feb 2016 23 Mar 2016
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Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

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Synopsis:

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”

So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and her truly unique family secret, born on the slopes of Mount Olympus and passed on through three generations.

Growing up in 70s Michigan, Calliope’s special inheritance will turn her into Cal, the narrator of this intersex, inter-generational epic of immigrant life in 20th century America.

This book serves as a delicious mixture of the intimate and the epic. There is the sweep of history, and it’s made intimate by the lives and the passions of the characters. There is a rich and compelling humanity on display here. There are no villains twirling mustaches, but simply people and their secrets, those that they keep from others and those that they keep from themselves.

Cal, the narrator, takes us back in time and intersperses those stories with his own experiences. He captures the poignancy of life lived as someone who is borne outside of gender norms, but it is not something that you are bludgeoned over the head with. Eugenides draws upon a disparate and dizzying array of influences and events to bring this book to life. I found myself involved from the start, and the deeper I got into the book, the more complete it’s hold over me became.  There is life, death, sex, rioting, incest, blackmail, food, mythology, egotism, hubris and history all within these pages.

I loved this book, it’s depth and power do not undermine it’s entertainment value, they enhance it. The prose is exquisite, the insights that come from each development are startling and for all of it’s weighty matter, it’s warm and funny with it too. You grow to love these people as Cal loves them and I loved Cal, for his integrity, his willingness to pursue and be himself. It’s a story that has dead ends and incomplete events but it serves to add to the reality of the story.

The trick with literature that wins prizes isn’t that it’s pretentious, it’s just not simple and clean cut. It’s humane and expansive, it teaches you about how people are, not as you would wish them to be. Some of it is pretentious, but even then you’ll learn something from it that makes for an interesting conversation, stops you being an asshole in person or online (okay less of an asshole) but still it’s a really good book and I think you should read it.

 

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Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essenbaum

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Synopsis:

Anna Benz, an American in her late-thirties, lives with her Swiss husband, Bruno – a banker – and their three young children, in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich.

Though she leads a comfortable life, she is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with Bruno, or even her own feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters with an ease that surprises her.

But she soon finds that she can’t easily extract herself from these relationships. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there is no going back . . .

Chekhov said that if you show a gun in the first act of a play, you must fire it in the third. It’s one of those lovely concise rules that if you find it in a piece of work, shows good writing, especially if it’s smooth and effortless.

The cover of Hausfrau is a touch titillating. Beneath the cover lives something raw, tragic and utterly devastating. If Essenbaum only ever writes Hausfrau, she should not consider it a failure. I want you to go and read this, but I am going to warn you about it. It is not comfortable to read, although it is beautiful. I read this in a day, in a state of anguished passion, feeling almost ill with dread. It is arousing and passionate, in it’s juxtaposition between the spare poetry of it’s prose and the seething, corrosive delusions that define and drive Anna.

There’s a clipped precision at points that explodes into scenes of utter delightful writing. Essenbaum manages to move from the furtive flirtation to the explicitly erotic without being obvious or gratuitous. There is a quote from Kafka that I’ve spoken of before, that a book should not always be comfortable, like an axe cracking through the ice. Hausfrau is a brilliant example of that.

I was shaken by the last act, the inexorable logic moves like a freight train and the pace makes you hold your breath. Her experience as a poet is wielded to brutal effect, she knows how a great line can drop you in a single reading. I’m still discomforted by the book but I am incredibly moved and honoured to have read it.

The last line moved me into a place of silence, and in awe that she delivers it with an almost casual ease of craft. I tend to read from either envy or contempt, if I’m reading as a writer, and here I read entirely from envy.