In the High Peaks

Friday, May 26, 2017

Down Time Weekend and Wieke Wang's Chemistry

It's been raining for 50 hours straight so far, but luckily it's been a steady light rain, which is soaking in to the ground. Thankful.
I'm not exactly sure how my reading weekend is shaping up at this moment on a Friday evening, but these are my clues:

I've been enjoying the extraordinarily spare writing style of Wieke Wang, whose debut novel Chemistry has been published this month. I have been drawn to this story of a young Chinese-American woman, who is convinced that the world of chemistry in the laboratory mandates her entire future. She struggles, then she fails abysmally and irrevocably, and--she moves on.

And  halfway through the book I'm fascinated to discover what she will do with her moving on. We've learned she is resilient, she is strong (though she's not convinced of that fact), and I just know (and I think the author wants you to know) that she will find her way, eventually, and with humor.

The prose is written totally in the most unusual sort of  present-tense and is undeniably awkward. But don't let that put you off.  I feel the main characters are like fish out of water with this verb tense, and I wonder if that is the author's intention. The verb tense is not comfortable, yet the novel is a quick read. The young woman narrator is  romantically involved with an All-American, red-headed, Pennsylvania-born only son of a perfect family--no conflicts, no problems--ha! Her family, on the other hand, is tortured, and she is the first-generation only child of Chinese-American parents who have struggled ceaselessly from their childhoods in China. Can her relationship be saved? And what will happen to their beloved goldendoodle if it is not?

So I'll be finishing this novel, and hopefully reading on in The Widow's House. I'm determined to finishing listening to Bruce Springsteen's awe-inspiring memoir Born to Run (while knitting). And I hope to continue John Le Carre's memoir The Pigeon Tunnel, which is so interesting, yet so deep and nuanced that I'm not sure I'm "catching" all he means me to catch.  Did you know that 85-year-old John Le Carre has a new George Smiley novel coming out this fall 2017?? If this memoir is any indication, his skills and mind are as sharp as ever.

Have a great weekend! I may well be posting before it is over.

Monday, May 22, 2017

May Jaunts and Carol Goodman's The Widow's House

Just a very brief post to say I'm still hanging in, despite the fact I haven't been reading a great deal or blogging as much as I'd very much like to do.

My plan is to have a very busy summer reading and blogging.  I've been really bogged down emotionally and it has been very hard to keep up. I don't understand really why this should be, but it must be part of the grieving process, and I hope that after my mom's memorial service, I'll truly begin anew. I guess I can say quite honestly that I can't wait.

I just had a wonderful visit from a friend who now lives in North Carolina. We hiked over 22 miles in four days, and lots of it on rough trails. I'll admit I'm exhausted, but it's a really good kind of tiredness. Beautiful, really cool spring weather, which means that the black flies were not a problem. Lucky us!

I am reading a gothic-style thriller set in upstate New York in the Hudson River Valley. Carol Goodman's The Widow's House has all the traits of gothic suspense, which makes it excellent fodder for my appetites. A married couple, in their mid-30s, moves to a gate-house kind of place on a Hudson River Valley estate. Jess, the husband, is working on his second novel and getting nowhere, really.  His wife, although she has considerable literary talents of her own, has always subsumed them in working to support her husband, doing editorial freelancing for New York City publishers. Then, just a bit at a time, she begins to boldly stretch her literary wings on this estate, no longer playing the self-abnegating helpmate to her husband. That's where I am right now. It is becoming clear that Jess cares only for the support his wife can provide, in the form of meals  and general  household support and literary cheerleader.. Naturally, there is a ghostly presence on the estate--just as one might expect. I'm  really enjoying it.  Carol Goodman  has written a number of gothicky novels set in upstate New York.  I read The Lake of the Dead Languages, which was set at a women's secondary school--private academy, and which was excellent.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Internet Lost! Back Now, and Audio Memoirs

Being without internet service for over a week was much more than Ken and I could tolerate without losing our patience. Fortunately we had satellite tv to keep us connected to the world.

It's twelve miles to the nearest café or pub providing internet service, and even these spots have multiple days they're not open each week, because it's the "off season." Our problem resulted from a brief thunder squall that moved through on May 1st. It was no big deal, really. Hard to fathom.

Thank goodness I had several audiobooks downloaded, and plenty of knitting to do. The weather has been abysmal. We've had snow, hail, downpours, steely rain, and the cold wet and rawness that penetrate all  clothing. The dog sticks her nose out the door and, supposedly intrepid retriever that she is, then looks at me as if to say, "Do we really have to go for a walk?"

As soon as we get a couple of warm days all the wildflowers will blossom and all the trees will leaf out, all at once. It will be a dizzying splendor, though truly I prefer a more gradual unfolding of spring.

I'm nearing the end of Born to Run, written and narrated by Bruce Springsteen, which has been a revelation, and I will hate to let it go. He lets the reader into his deepest soul, into the passions and demons that drive him, and I'm grateful for what he has shared. An amazing audio experience.

I'm now reading one book and listening to two other audiobooks. My auto audiobook is the memoir The Pigeon Tunnel by John Le Carre, author of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and so many other novels of espionage. He, too, is the narrator of this memoir, and at 84 years of age, it is obvious that he is as sharper than any tack. His voice, and the nuanced reading of his memoir, is also extraordinary.  I highly recommend the audio performance--bravo!! Yet I find I wish I had a text copy to refer to, because at many points, he discusses complex events relating to the Cold War and his experience of it. I must admit that my listening skills are nowhere near the acuity of my reading skills. If I continue to listen to audiobooks, I think I'll develop keener listening, but right now I need a physical copy of The Pigeon Tunnel. Again, an absolutely extraordinary book! Springsteen and Le Carre are establishing a new standard for memoir.  

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

An Absurdly Long Interruption and Books

It may seem as though I've walked off the edge of the earth, but I am still in residence. I have been overwhelmed by home issues that have flared up and preparations for a major family reunion, which will take place following my mother's memorial service. It's hard for me to realize, but my brain has been so crammed with duties and errands that I've had nearly no space to reflect, to read, to be.

I have taken up knitting again, as a means to calm myself, and as I knit, I've taken to listening to audiobooks. Currently I'm listening to Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen's memoir, and it's a gem! Springsteen is the narrator, and I'm certain he wrote the book, though it's possible he had an editor help with structure. I can assure you there was no ghostwriter here!

Springsteen writes and narrates in the same passionate language as is present in the lyrics to his songs. His childhood is fascinating--as  the oldest grandchild, he lived with his grandparents until they were too old to cope, and only then did he move in with his parents, who lived a few blocks away. I'm less than halfway through, but his memoir also reveals the music scene of the early- to mid-1970s beautifully. I'm not yet beyond that era and am just now reading about the magic of the Born to Run album, an era that changed everything for Springsteen and his band who had labored so hard for years and years in the backwaters of New Jersey.

Have you ever wondered what life would be like living as a woman and a mother in a Hasidic Jewish community? This is the universe I discovered when I listened to Leah Lax's  Uncovered:How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home.

Hasids are ultra-orthodox or ultra-conservative, fundamentalist Jews. The largest community in the U.S. resides in Crown Heights in Brooklyn, New York. Other communities are scattered throughout a number of major U.S. cities, and although  the memoir did not discuss this, there are also communities in Europe. (Hasidic Judaism originated in eastern Europe early in the 20th century.) If you have ever read the best-selling classic novels The Chosen and The Promise by Chaim Potok, these novels portrayed conflicts in Hasidic life among young people raised in the culture, growing to maturity, then you are familiar with this way of life and religion.

Leah Lax was born into a Jewish family that did not practice the faith of their parents. They scarcely permitted themselves to ascribe to the views of  liberally-minded Reformed Jews. In the early 1970s Leah became extremely interested in conservative Judaism and sought out many opportunities to learn more about it and to practice her faith with other conservatively-minded Jews. Later, in college, she attended North Texas State University in Denton, which is where she really began to orient herself and commit herself to "God's Laws" as practiced by the Hasidic Community. At the age of 19, she agreed to an arranged marriage and began her life as a Hasidic wife, woman, and mother.

She portrays her life, her profound loneliness, the endless childbearing and housework, and, eventually, her realization as her seventh child grew up, that her soul and spirit were suffocating in this  life.