Review: Mothers by Chris Power

Read it for the vine cover.Mothers-- bookspoilsChris Power’s stories are peopled by men and women who find themselves at crossroads or dead ends – at ancient Swedish burial sites, river crossings on Exmoor, and raucous Mexican weddings. A stand-up with writer’s block embarks upon his last gig. Reflecting on a childhood holiday, a father is faced with the limit to which he can keep his daughters safe. These characters search without knowing what they seek.

Unfortunately, Mothers turned out to be just another book added to the list of beautiful covers with no compelling storyline to leave me rapt. I continually found an arbitrary flow to the stories that made it rather difficult to keep engaged in my reading.

I will say, though, that the first story starts off promising enough with this below passage that captures an intricate character-building moment, without reading like one:

“On my bedroom wall I had a big poster map of the world and in my bedside drawer I kept a sheet of stickers, red and blue. The red stickers were for the countries I had been to, and the blue stickers were for countries I wanted to visit. The only countries with red stickers on them were Denmark and Sweden.”

The author excels at writing detailed imagery and giving voice to specific thoughts and moments, but at the same time, I can’t deny that the characters in the stories feel completely stiff and traped on the page. Essentially, nothing informative regarding a character’s nature was shared – just their distinct thoughts jotted down.

“Who was she really, this woman? She was my mum, of course, but that was only one part, and I want to know all the parts.”

I went into this hoping for multi-dimensional characters I could root for, or at the very least, care for even a little. But throughout my reading, I felt like something went amiss for me with Mothers that I couldn’t quite describe, which was then, funnily enough, put on the page by the author in the following story, when the narrator goes as follows: “But there isn’t any room for them here. Stories need everything extraneous to be stripped away, and Nancy and Kostas, let alone Karla, are extraneous. So are my brothers, who are barely present at all. ”

I found this to be a huge mistake. I’d much rather spend time reading about the people he got into contact with during his summer vacation, instead of wasting pages upon pages describing a made up fantasy game I had zero connection to.

It’s interesting, really, because Power’s clever ways of exploring and exposing his characters felt unlike anything other. I mean, this quote below made me acutely aware of the linguistic skill it takes to pull something off like this.

“The sky was whitegrey and a cold breeze came from the sea, which lay at the end of the avenue. Standing at a crossing her eyes filled with tears, so completely that for an instant she couldn’t see. Spasms hit her body. She wanted to wipe the tears out of her eyes, but couldn’t lift her arms. There had been episodes like this after her mum died. The sensation, so long forgotten, was instantly familiar. She felt ridiculous, but she couldn’t move. She was a tree in the wind, powerless to do anything but endure. Another spasm went through her and she thought she might be sick. She heard a voice and lifted her head towards the sound.
Her vision began to make sense again. She saw her own face, stricken and doubled: her reflection in the lenses of a large pair of sunglasses worn by a middle-aged woman in a long black coat.”

That moment at the end of seeing her reflection in a stranger’s sunglasses felt like such a bright move on the author’s part. I was taken back by the originality of it all and how the writing didn’t succumb to the usual clichés.

“What am I doing in France?’ she said out loud. She repeated it, then repeated it again, placing the stress on different words in turn. ‘What am I doing in France? What am I doing in France? What am I doing in France?’ ”

These little individual moments is the only link that unites the stories together. So I was a tad dissapointed when the disconnect created between those instants and the flow of each story held me back from truly appreciating Mothers.

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Review: Creatures of a Day: And Other Tales of Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom

I started this collection with the intent of re-familiarizing myself with Yalom’s unique wisdom and forthright regard with his patients. And thankfully it started off promising enough by including some much-needed humor to lighten the air between doctor-patient:

Almost able to hear his joints creaking, I took his heavy battered briefcase, held his arm, and guided him to his chair.
“Thankee, thankee, young man. And how old are you?”
“Eighty years old,” I answered.
“Ahhh, to be eighty again.”

This exchange pretty much summarizes the approach of this collection, being that the main theme surrounding each story circles itself on coming face to face with mortality and death anxiety. Plus, a major part is dedicated to dissecting dreams, which I never grow tired of reading through Yalom’s empathic and insightful observations.

“We all face aging in our own manner. I know I’m very old. There is no denying that eighty is old. I’m working less—I see far fewer patients now, only about three a day, but I’m still writing much of the rest of the day. I’ll tell you the truth: I love what I’m doing. I feel blessed to be of help to others, especially others who are facing the issues I’m dealing with—aging, retirement, dealing with the death of a spouse or friends, contemplating my own death.”

Honestly, the constant discussions surrounding death didn’t bother me, until a couple of stories into the book when it suddenly dawned on me that Yalom’s passing would mean no more new therapeutic content… His books read like free therapy consultations that are factually effective for me, so I was glad to have this reassuring read on hand when the thought passed my mind.

“Yes, I know my existence is drawing to a close, but the end has been there since the beginning. ”

The thing that came to bother me then about Creatures of a Day was the rushed nature of the shared exchanges. I realized about halfway through that my issue stemmed from the fact that the cases described were usually short-term sessions, so we don’t see a complete arc of the person’s life, like what I so cherished in Momma and the Meaning of Life & Love’s Executioner, where the stories span multiple weeks, months, etc… So with these ten stories, I was always left hanging midway, feeling like we were about to make progress in the patient’s life, but then being put to a halt because we’d reached the inevitable end. And that feeling of abruptness, with no real sense of closure, came to repeat itself nearly with every following story in this collection.

Knowing what the author is capable of by having read his previous short story collections – which all completely rocked my world – I felt like this wasn’t what I was seeking. Don’t get me wrong, Creatures of a Day still featured the familiar therapy sessions that I’ve come to seek solace in,  but I can’t deny that there just weren’t any major breakthroughs being uncovered for me, like what I’d gotten used to finding in the aforementioned books. I was in need of “a deep and true session” that “enlivens me.”

So then the seventh story, hoping for a tale full of closure and growth, turned my frown upside down with Sally and her sealed away box of writing.

“There are a lot of dark chapters in my life, darker episodes than I’ve conveyed to you, and there are a lot of dark stories in that box, stories that I may have mentioned, but only obliquely, in our therapy. I’m afraid of their power, and I don’t want to get sucked back into those days. I’m very frightened of that. Oh yes, as you know, my family looked good from the outside, but inside . . . inside there was so much pain.”

I felt the utmost empathy at that. And I like how this thought was shared by a previous patient as well. It’s as if a train of thought starts in a preceding story only to be completed by the following patient.

Perhaps, if I had known going into this that the book follows only short-term sessions, I would’ve felt more prepared and welcoming. But I do have to give credit to Dr. Yalom for always being able to “offer something of value even in a brief consultation.” It’s no easy feat when you consider the circumstances.

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Creatures of a Dayjust click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: Opal by Maggie Stiefvater

If you’ve previously read my reviews* for any of the books in the Raven Cycle, you probably know by now that I’m a huge fan of Ronan Lynch. So finding out about this short story dedicated to Opal, aka Ronan’s dream girl, had me beyond keen on returning to their world.

“She was to remember that she was a secret.”

Set after the events of The Raven King, this story, like all the best things, starts with a dream. And just like that, upon opening the first page, I felt like I had never left this world, even though it’s been nearly two years since I first read the books. It’s even more magical than I could have envisioned. And I have so much to discuss, so let’s start at the very beginning:

(Spoilers from here.)

  •  We’re back at the loyal Barns, featuring Opal, Ronan, and Adam, and thanks to Opal’s excellent eavesdropping, we get an insider’s scoop into their lives that just hits the mark of satisfied:

“She had to content herself with stolen glimpses through cracked doors, slender one-inch views of duvet and sheets piled like thunderheads, Adam and sometimes Ronan pillowed among them.”

I missed my sleepy boys…

  • Good: Ronan’s intent of dreaming up a better and safer Cabeswater. Watching him dream is always one of my favorite bits because that’s Ronan at his most vulnerable. Speaking of which, this delicate shared moment made my heart flip:

“The only thing that had ever made her blink away was when Adam had once encountered Ronan in the second-floor hallway. Ronan had been standing outside of his parents’ old room, one hand holding a cassette tape and the other clenched into a fist, and he’d been there for quite a few minutes by the time Adam climbed the stairs. Adam had taken the cassette from Ronan’s hand, working Ronan’s fingers loose and putting his own fingers between them. For a moment Opal, hidden, had thought they were going to kiss. But instead, Ronan pressed his face against Adam’s neck and Adam quietly put his head on top of Ronan’s head and they did not move for a long time. Something about this made Opal burn so furiously that she could not stand to look a second longer.”

As I read, all I could think of was this fanart:

  • Ronan cares so much for Adam, and you can feel it oozing off the page through the tiniest of moments:

“Ronan was less thrilled to discover Adam’s inventive way of travel. “What the hell, Parrish? I was just about to leave to get you. Who dropped you off?”
“I walked.”
“Ha ha.” Ronan’s real laugh did not sound like ha ha, but this was not Ronan’s real laugh. When Adam didn’t explain the joke, he said, “Walked. From where?”
“Work.” Adam had ceased frolicking and instead removed his shoes and then his socks before sitting at the round table in the kitchen.
“Work. What. The. Hell. I told you I was going to pick you up.”
“I needed to walk.” Adam put his head on the table.”

  • Bad: We were saved from seeing the raven gang disperse in The Raven King, but it’s pretty much unavoidable here… and I wasn’t ready.

“I’m coming back,” he said.
She tore up some more grass, but she felt a little less wobbly having heard him say it.
“I don’t want to go, but I do — does that make sense?” he asked her. It did, especially if she thought about how some of her dreamthing’s happy-sadness might have rubbed off on him because they were sitting so close. “It’s just that it’s finally starting. You know. Life.”

You deserve so much, Adam.

  • Good: Seeing things captured through Opal’s eyes was a curious experiment that I find this passage conveys best:

“Ronan was not there to tell Opal it was all right for this visitor to see her, so Opal hid herself and watched the lady stalk through the mist to the back door. The lady tried the doorknob and the doorknob shook its head no, but then she opened her purse and did something else to the doorknob and the door said yes and opened for her.”

To capture the otherworldliness of Opal I simply had to listen to this equally mesmerizing song:

If anything, this swift read prepared me for any and all future events set to occur next. I just hope the wait for the following book won’t be too long.

“There were no rules in dreams so you could try anything.”

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Opal, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!