Short Story Review from: The Best American Short Stories 2004

Welcome to a new feature on Book Club Mom. Short reviews of short fiction. This selection comes from The 2004 edition of The Best American Short Stories, edited by Lorrie Moore.

“The Walk with Elizanne” by John Updike from The New Yorker

In this poignant story about getting older, looking back and making sense of lost moments, David Kern returns with his second wife to Oligner, Pennsylvania for his fiftieth high school reunion. His first stop is the hospital where their class organizer, Mamie Kauffman, is dying of cancer. At the reunion, David meets an old girlfriend, Elizanne, and she triggers long-buried memories of a first kiss on a walk home from a date and the charged moments of adolescence.

David considers his small-town upbringing, of knowing his classmates from Kindergarten through high school, and then leaving to start a life somewhere else. As he recalls the heat of this early teenage encounter, he’s jarred by Elizanne’s coarse comment, “It got me started, I must tell you, on a lot of, whatever. Kissing, let’s say.”

For days after the reunion, David thinks of his walk with Elizanne, and wonders what he might ask her now. But he won’t call her and he knows the importance of this memory will fade. “The questions he was burning to ask would receive banal answers. It was an adolescent flirtation that had come to nothing.”

I enjoyed this story and how Updike contrasts the limitless possibilities of youth with the realities that alter his characters’ paths. Mamie, who had stayed in Olinger, and was always the one with the most class spirit, spins her coming death into something positive, telling David, “That I’ll be all right. That when it comes, I’ll still be there. Here. You know what I’m saying?” Elizanne, who has not returned for reunions until this one, will likely refile her walk with David, giving it little meaning other than a quick reminiscence. All three have no choice but to accept the reality of passing time and narrowing paths.


John Updike (1932-2009) was an award-winning American writer of novels, short stories and poetry. He was a regular contributor to The New Yorker and was known for his stories of middle-class Protestant life in small-town Pennsylvania. In addition to many other awards, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1982 and 1991.

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Book Review: The Raft by S. A. Bodeen

The Raft
by
S. A. Bodeen

Here’s a fast-moving Young Adult survival story about fifteen-year-old Robie Mitchell, who lives with her parents on the Midway Atoll in the Pacific Islands. The story begins on Honolulu where Robie often stays with her young aunt, A. J. When A. J. is called out of town, Robie convinces her she can remain in Honolulu alone, rather than return to Midway.

But a series of bad decisions puts Robie on a cargo plane back to Midway. The plane crashes into the Pacific and she finds herself on a raft. Robie faces the usual dangers of being lost at sea: dehydration, starvation, and shark attacks are just a few.

Until this point, Robie has faced very few difficulties, but as an independent only child, she’s developed many untapped inner strengths. She’s learned much about sea life from her research biologist parents, knowledge that will come in handy on the raft. But, as with all dangerous situations that demand sudden physical and mental strength, Robie must also cope with several quick decisions she’s had to make, including a few moral ones. Now she has plenty of time to consider them.

These worries rotate through Robie’s mind, but the most important task is survival. I enjoyed seeing how she celebrates new hope when she discovers unseen resources on the raft. I also gained confidence in her as she learns to improvise with what little she has. New and dangerous problems are a given as time passes and it’s all up to Robie to figure out how to get rescued.

The author includes interesting details about bird and marine life, including hard facts about how these creatures survive. Bodeen also points to an alarming amount of trash that floats in this part of the Pacific, debris that interferes with sea life. These details make Robie’s story modern and realistic.

The Raft is another YA book I grabbed off the shelf at the library. It’s an easy read and think it would be especially great for reluctant readers and for those who like survival stories.

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Who’s That Indie Author? Gerald Yeung

Author Name: Gerald Yeung

Genre: Travel Memoir, Humor

Books: Kong Boys (2020); Wannabe Backpackers (2009)

Are you a full-time author? If not, what’s your side gig? I am a tech project manager aspiring to be a full-time writer one day.

Favorite authors/books: Authors: Bill Bryson. Lauren Weisberger. David Sedaris. Augusten Burroughs. Books: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. A Wolf at the Table. Born a Crime.

What experiences or people have influenced your writing the most? I love reading about other people’s travels. I live vicariously through books like The Motorcycle Diaries because I don’t have the grit to “rough it out” like many people. When I took a “backpacking” trip with my childhood friends the summer we turned twenty, I decided to keep a journal. One thing led to another and I discovered my passion for writing (and what I like to write about).

Do you keep a writing journal and if so, how do you use it? Only when I travel. A few years ago, I made the switch from pen and paper to my iPhone. Storyist is a good app for writing.

Do you belong to a writers’ group? If so, describe your experience: I don’t but would love to one day.

Are you up with the sun or do you burn the midnight oil? Up with the sun for sure. I go to sleep at 10.

How do you get over a writing slump? I reread my favorite books and passages. They inspire me to tell myself, “well, I think I can do this.”

Do you prefer writing dialogue or descriptive passages? Dialogue comes more naturally to me.

What are you working on now? I’m taking a break after releasing Kong Boys this summer. Next I would like to try fiction.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about writing and publishing a book? Write something that interests you first. Writing should be enjoyable. Then think about what may interest your readers.

Do you listen to podcasts? If so, which podcasts do you find the most interesting? Yes. Fantasy Football Counsellor is my secret to get ahead in my fantasy league. 🙂

Favorite escape: Golfing on an early Saturday morning

Have you ever tried Kombucha tea? I have not!

Do you prefer a couch with pillows or no pillows? Without for sure. I even started sleeping without pillows.

Would you rather rake leaves, shovel snow or weed? Weed. I spent seven years in Upstate New York and have had enough snow for the rest of my life.

Favorite mask – disposable paper, plain fabric, colorful print or something else? Anything reusable and eco-friendly

Biggest writing challenge since Covid-19: Keeping up with my two small kids at home (20 months and 4 months)

Website and social media links:
www.geraldyeung.com
https://www.facebook.com/geraldyeungauthor


Are you an indie or self-published author?  Do you want to build your author network? Get your name out on Who’s That Indie Author!

Email bvitelli2009@gmail.com for a bio template and other details.

Happy National Punctuation Day!

Did you know that today is National Punctuation Day? Who knew there was whole day set aside to think about punctuation?

I could probably use a brush-up on these rules. One of my kids recently told me that he got major points off an essay I had checked because of a run-on sentence. I guess I didn’t catch a misused comma or semicolon! So much for bragging about being an English major in college…

To celebrate this big day, I grabbed these grammar and punctuation books at the library. I’m going to flip through them and try to nail down some of my comma weaknesses!

Here’s the full list, with links to Goodreads.

Gwynne’s Grammar: The Ultimate Introduction to Grammar and the Writing of Good English by N.M. Gwynne

The Associated Press Guide to Punctuation by Rene J. Cappon

Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark by Cecelia Watson

Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris

In case you were wondering, National Punctuation Day was founded in 2004 by a guy named Jeff Rubin (nationalpunctuationday.com). You can learn more about Jeff here.

What are your biggest punctuation weaknesses?

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Book Review: The Year They Fell by David Kreizman

The Year They Fell
by
David Kreizman

I was in the mood for a Young Adult book so I picked up The Year They Fell by David Kreizman at the library. It’s a teenage drama about five former friends whose lives suddenly change the day their parents head off to an island vacation. The plane crashes and there are no survivors.

Josie, Jack, Archie, Harrison and Dayana were great friends in preschool, but that was a long time ago. Now about to start senior year of high school, their lives are vastly different. Twins Josie and Jack hang with the fast crowd, but Archie, Harrison and Dayana are awkward outsiders to that world.

Josie and Jack may seem perfect, but they have their demons. Josie, queen of the social scene, has a terrible secret. Jack is a hulking football star with a violent temper. The others also struggle. Archie clings to his sketch pad and wonders how he fits into his adoptive white family. Harrison’s dad abandoned him and his mom and he suffers from major anxiety. Dayana’s parents aren’t getting along and she pops pills to cope. In addition, past dynamics from years ago interfere with their current relationships.

As the former friends awkwardly circle each other, Harrison launches an investigation. Soon the group must confront painful details about their parents’ lives. Harrison determines the crash might not be an accident and tries to convince the others with his extensive research.

I enjoyed this fast read, set in River Bank, New Jersey, a town I hadn’t heard of, but was surprised to find in a familiar part of the Jersey shore. In addition to the tragedy, the author packs a lot of major developments and problems into these high schoolers! Probably not realistic and that is my one gripe with the story. The high school setting and dialogue seemed true to life, but I hope no sample set of high schoolers has this many things to deal with.

In addition to suffering tragic loss, Kreizman introduces important themes into his story, including love, friendship, sexual identity, family relationships, fitting in, anxiety, sexual abuse, and drug addiction. While these are all important, I think the story would have been better if the author focused on fewer issues. As a result, the story reads more like a soap opera. Pretty interesting because Kreizman used to write for television soap operas and even spent time as a writer for the WWE. I laughed when I read that because those plots are really over the top!

Despite these comments, I’d still recommend The Year They Fell as an engaging story with modern themes and plenty of teen angst. I also love the cover and think the title is great because it makes potential readers wonder what the story will be.

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Book Club Mom’s Author Update – Joanne Kukanza Easley

Author name: Joanne Kukanza Easley

Genre: Literary Fiction

Book: Sweet Jane

News: Joanne Kukanza Easley is pleased to announce that her second novel, Just One Look, will be released by Black Rose Writing on June 24, 2021. Her debut novel, Sweet Jane, was named a finalist in literary fiction in the 2020 International Book Awards and in the Readers’ Favorite Book Awards.

Website: https://www.sweetjanenovel.com/


Are you working on a new book? Have you won an award or a writing contest? Did you just update your website? Maybe you just want to tell readers about an experience you’ve had. Book Club Mom’s Author Update is a great way to share news and information about you and your books.

Email Book Club Mom at bvitelli2009@gmail.com for more information.

Open to all authors – self-published, indie, big-time and anything in between. Author submissions are limited to one per author in a six-month period.

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Book Review: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys
by
Colson Whitehead

I don’t know how I can properly review a book that has already received as much recognition and praise as The Nickel Boys, except to join the crowd in saying how great I think this novel is. I read The Underground Railroad over the summer and thought it was excellent (read my review here). I think The Nickel Boys is even better, if that’s possible.

The Nickel Boys is the fictional story of Elwood Curtis, a young black boy growing up during the 1960s in Tallahassee, Florida. His mother and father are long gone and he’s raised by his grandmother Harriet, who introduces Elwood to the powerful words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Elwood is smart, ambitious and on his way to something better when he’s unfairly sentenced to time at the Nickel Academy, a reform school for boys in Florida. He arrives at Nickel as a Grub and hopes to earn his way out, through the ranks of Explorer, Pioneer and Ace. But rules and punishments are both random and cruel, with no guarantees of getting out. Administrators use brutal physical and sexual abuse to control their charges and it’s even worse for the black boys in this segregated institution.

Elwood hangs on Dr. King’s words for comfort and strength, hoping that “the ultimate decency that lived in every human heart” would carry him through his time at Nickel. He soon makes friends with another black boy named Turner, who has a different strategy for survival. Early on, Turner tells Elwood,

The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course. If you want to walk out of here.

He adds,

Nobody else is going to get you out—just you.

The friendship between Elwood and Turner influences both their thoughts and actions. They both want their freedom, but they have different ideas about how to get it, if they can. Their friendship and what they do with their ideas are at the heart of the story and its aftermath, better experienced first-hand. I highly recommend The Nickel Boys. On top of being a great story, it’s a powerful reminder of the history of racial injustice and the abuse of power and its continued effects on modern thinking.

Although The Nickel Boys is fictional, Whitehead based the Nickel Academy on the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. The reform school was established in 1900 and had a reputation for cruel and violent abuse, resulting in many deaths at the school. Several investigations between 2009 and 2011 confirmed the abuse and the state closed the school in 2011. An archaeological investigation uncovered fifty-five burials on the school grounds, most outside the cemetery, with nearly one hundred deaths at the school. Further investigations discovered additional graves.

Colson Whitehead is an American author of seven novels and two books of nonfiction. The Underground Railroad (2016) won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. The Nickel Boys (2019) won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Visit colsonwhitehead.com for more about Colson Whitehead and his books.

These nonfiction books tell the story of the abuses at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida:

The White House Boys: An American Tragedy by Roger Dean Kiser

The Boys of the Dark: A Story of Betrayal and Redemption in the Deep South by Robin Gaby Fisher

Here’s an excellent article and interview from Time:

‘I Carry It Within Me.’ Novelist Colson Whitehead Reminds Us How America’s Racist History Lives On – from time.com June 27, 2019

Have you read any books by Colson Whitehead? Do you think you would read The Nickel Boys? Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

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Who’s That Indie Author? Richard Fulco

Author Name: Richard Fulco

Genre: Literary Fiction

Book: There Is No End to This Slope

Are you a full-time author? If not, what’s your side gig? My paying gig is teaching high school English Literature and Creative Writing.

Favorite author/books: My list is quite lengthy, so I’ll just mention a bunch of authors I’ve been interested in recently: Baldwin, Morrison, Camus, Whitehead, Woodson, Adichie, Diaz, Frost, Eliot and Beckett. Always Beckett.

What experiences or people have influenced your writing the most? When I was nine, my teacher, Mrs. Nevins, told me that I had a creative mind and that I could be a writer when I grew up. A teacher’s words can lay the groundwork for a lifetime of toil and misery (kidding).

Do you keep a writing journal and if so, how do you use it? I keep a journal, though I don’t write in it every day. But I frequently jot down thoughts and ideas that I might explore or otherwise incorporate into a piece I’m working on.

Do you belong to a writers’ group? If so, describe your experience: I haven’t had much luck with writers’ groups. It’s difficult to organize a quorum of like-minded individuals. Although I am fortunate to have a trusted and worthwhile collection of astute readers who are generous, kind and critical of my work.

Are you up with the sun or do you burn the midnight oil? I’m up with the sun, plugging away before a full day of teaching. It’s not perfect, but it’s a faithful routine and a productive way to begin the day, especially in the dead of winter.

How do you get over a writing slump? I think writers, like baseball players, are in a slump more often than they are in a groove, and the only way out of a slump is to step up to the plate and take your cuts. Sure, you’ll strike out a bunch of times, but you’ll eventually get your hits too.

Do you prefer writing dialogue or descriptive passages? I write plays too, so I am drawn to clean, crisp and provocative dialogue, dripping in subtext.

What are you working on now? My latest novel, WE ARE ALL TOGETHER, is the story of a young guitar player’s willingness to prove he’s not the washed-up wannabe he fears he might become. My novel addresses questions of race, integrity, narcissism and greed that drive the art and lives of those who have a dream. How much does the artist owe the world and what do we expect in return?

What advice would you give to someone thinking about writing and publishing a book? First, ask yourself, “Why do I want to write a book?” If your answer is something like “I want to be rich and famous,” then you’re in the wrong profession. But if your answer is something along the lines of “I have a story that only I can tell,” then sit down immediately and begin writing. You should know, however, that the sea is lonely and it will be long, treacherous, disheartening and you’ll want to abandon ship on more than one occasion, but if you maintain the oars and ride out the storms, you will eventually steer the ship into port.

Do you listen to podcasts? If so, which podcasts do you find the most interesting? I should probably get on that.

Favorite escape: My version of a great day includes, running, playing guitar, hanging out with my children and reading (and of course, some writing too).

Have you ever tried Kombucha tea? Kombucha is not my cup of tea.

Do you prefer a couch with pillows or no pillows? I prefer a couch with a couple of pillows to rest my head.

Would you rather rake leaves, shovel snow or weed? If I even look at poison ivy, I get a rash. However, I’d rather rake leaves and weed the garden over the back-breaking work of shoveling snow any day.

Favorite mask – disposable paper, plain fabric, colorful print or something else? My favorite mask is one that hides my wrinkles.

Biggest writing challenge since Covid-19: It has been difficult to maintain my writing routine.

Website and social media links:
Publisher’s Website: wampus.com/richard-fulco/
Amazon: There Is No End to This Slope
Twitter: @RichardFulco


Are you an indie or self-published author?  Do you want to build your author network? Get your name out on Who’s That Indie Author!

Email bvitelli2009@gmail.com for a bio template and other details.

 

On YouTube today – look at these cool bookish wall tapestries!

Hi Everyone!

I’m over on YouTube today sharing my new wall tapestry and some cool bookish ones! Take a look!

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Book Club Mom’s Author Update – Noelle A. Granger

Author name: Noelle A. Granger

Genre: Historical fiction

Book: The Last Pilgrim

News: This book was a labor of love (and sweat and tears) for the past four years. It began with the realization that the women of the Mayflower have been much overlooked. Their contributions – backbreaking labor under terrible circumstance – insured the survival of the colony. Colonies begun in the New England region in the 1700s did not survive without women. It was a close call, but I managed to finish the book in the quadricentennial year of the landing of the Mayflower on the New England coast. I am biased, of course.

I grew up in Plymouth and my parents volunteered me to portray various girls and young women in the Pilgrims’ Progress each week during the summer. In high school, I was chosen to be one of the first guides, now called re-enactors, at the newly built Plimoth Plantation, a recreation of the original village. I loved it! I guess it was a foretelling of what I would do for the rest of my life – teaching – because I got great satisfaction in telling the Pilgrim story and showing the visitors the houses to which I was assigned.

At some point I decided to write a book about the women and I came across the name of Mary Allerton Cushman, who was four years old when she and her parents sailed on the Mayflower. This remarkable woman lived to the end of the 17th century. She saw and experienced it all – the horrible voyage across the Atlantic, the winter of dying, the starvation and deprivation of the following year until the first crops came in, the interactions with the Native Americans, the wars, an earthquake, epidemics, and a monstrous hurricane.

The Last Pilgrim captures and celebrates the grit and struggle of the Pilgrim women, who stepped off the Mayflower in the winter of 1620 to an unknown world. The Plymouth Colony would not have survived without them.

Mary Allerton Cushman was the last surviving passenger of the Mayflower, dying at age 88 in 1699. Her unusually long life and her relationships with important men – her father, Isaac Allerton and her husband, Thomas Cushman – gave her a front row seat to the history of the Plymouth Colony from its beginnings as the first permanent settlement in New England to when it became part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.

Website/blog link: http://saylingaway.wordpress.com


Are you working on a new book? Have you won an award or a writing contest? Did you just update your website? Maybe you just want to tell readers about an experience you’ve had. Book Club Mom’s Author Update is a great way to share news and information about you and your books.

Email Book Club Mom at bvitelli2009@gmail.com for more information.

Open to all authors – self-published, indie, big-time and anything in between. Author submissions are limited to one per author in a six-month period.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!