THIS WEEK’S FEATURED BOOKS, “AFTERMATH LOUNGE,” BY MARGARET McMULLAN AND “GLASS,” BY KATE KORT, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN DIRECTLY BELOW THIS POST, ALONG WITH THE MONTHLY “FIRST TUESDAY REPLAY.”
UPCOMING ON “SNOWFLAKES IN A BLIZZARD”
This week is about families. All kinds of families — supportive, connected, broken, and in transition. And the subject is examined through three different lenses, ranging from a collection of short stories (“Relative Strangers”) to a novel (“Close”) to a memoir (“Mommy Would You Like a Sandwich?”).
Close is a novel of family and suspense. Wry single mom Kik Marcheson is dancing as hard as she can — teaching at the university, struggling with the family’s finances (which may soon include having to return the long-gone advance for her unfinished second novel), and coping with her increasingly challenging daughters.
Doone, the oldest, is swimming in the deep end of adolescence; Casey, the middle child-slash-good girl, is slowly coming undone and little Tess, the quirky kindergartner, has somewhat alarmingly introduced an invisible playmate into the family constellation.
When Doone’s activities can no longer be ignored, a TV therapist offers a hand. Caving to Casey, Kik sets aside serious misgivings and agrees to let the family participate.
And then things go from bad to terrifying.
“RELATIVE STRANGERS,” BY MARGARET HERMES.
The characters in Relative Strangers – ranging from a high school valedictorian fascinated by bees to a boy who goes through sexual awakening against a backdrop of bigotry — experience warmth as well as alienation, humor as well as heartache.
The fourteen stories are thematically linked by their close examination of relationships. In the title story, relatives are shocked by revelations about the buried pasts of family members. In ”Transubstantiation,” a long-wed couple discovers they are strangers to each other. In “Meet Me,” a much younger couple is all too willing to believe they are strangers to each other. “The River’s Daughter” explores an uneasy relationship between siblings: “Even though I came first, once Carrie was on the scene I never came first to mind. I bore the distinction of being both the oldest and an afterthought.”
The collection is meant to draw the reader in with characters and settings that might seem familiar but never ordinary. I grew up in Chicago and live in St. Louis and some of the stories are set in those cities, while others take place on a South Carolina farm, in a hospital in Duluth, at a baseball game at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, in a mythical town in the Missouri Bootheel, in a suburban nursing home, or in a nameless village in Eastern Europe where “everything was heavy — the coats, the shoes, the sky, the hearts.”
“MOMMY, DO YOU WANT A SANDWICH?” BY SUZANNE McMILLEN-FALLON.
“There’s one thing I know – God exists.” At age nineteen, MaryAnne McMillen severed two vital nerves at the base of her skull when she suffered a near fatal fall. This was followed by an out-of-body experience, life after death, in which she heard the words, “It’s not your time.”
When the two nerves fused together, MaryAnne was left in unrelenting, excruciating pain. Being the mother of a young son and married to a philandering brute of a husband when the accident occurred, the family disallowed the use of any medicine because it was against their religion. After fourteen years of agony, doctors were finally able to perform a unique surgery known as intraspinal rhizotomy. This story weaves together the idea of family and faith, while also creating a sense of longing in the reader’s own life for something bigger than themselves.
Mommy’s Writings is the extraordinary memoir of the love between a mother and her young son, and a great-grandmother whose intense devotion to the two of them kept their little family together. It is a story of faith in God, of forgiveness and acceptance, and of gratitude.