Rereading ‘The Tiger’s Wife’ by Téa Obreht

Several days ago, I posted some ideas that a story happens in a place and can be revisited like any tourist destination. I especially like returning to places filled with magical realism since I often write in that genre. So it is that I decided to reread The Tiger’s Wife which NPR reviewed as Magical Realism Meets Big Cats.

I’m rereading the book now because I wanted to take another look at it before finally getting around to reading Inland, a novel set in the American Southwest.

NPR wrote that “The Tiger’s Wife rests securely in the genre of magical realism, inciting comparisons to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and even Kafka.” The reviewer thought that the ending was too abrupt. I didn’t in my April 2011 review: “The Tiger’s Wife is dark and deep and perfectly crafted, and if you allow yourself to be immersed in it, you will see the blazing eyes of Shere Khan.” The novel won the Orange Prize for Fiction and was a 2011 National Book Award finalist.

From the Publisher

Author’s Website

“Weaving a brilliant latticework of family legend, loss, and love, Téa Obreht, the youngest of The New Yorker’s twenty best American fiction writers under forty, has spun a timeless novel that will establish her as one of the most vibrant, original authors of her generation.

In a Balkan country mending from war, Natalia, a young doctor, is compelled to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. Searching for clues, she turns to his worn copy of The Jungle Book and the stories he told her of his encounters over the years with “the deathless man.” But most extraordinary of all is the story her grandfather never told her—the legend of the tiger’s wife.”

Téa Obreht was born Tea Bajraktarević in the autumn of 1985, in BelgradeSR SerbiaSFR Yugoslavia, the only child of a single mother, Maja Obreht, while her father, a Bosniak,[10] was “never part of the picture.” – Wikipedia .

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Eulalie and Washerwoman, magical realism set in the backwoods of the Florida Panhandle in the 1950s.

Rest in Peace, Hilary Mantel

“Hilary had a unique outlook on the world – she picked it apart and revealed how it works in both her contemporary and historical novels – every book an unforgettable weave of luminous sentences, unforgettable characters and remarkable insight. She seemed to know everything,” her editor Nicholas Pearson said. “For a long time she was critically admired, but the Wolf Hall trilogy found her the vast readership she long deserved.”The Guardian

Website Photo

I will miss her and her words, but then, I’m an expedient reader and so what I really miss is what her next novel might have been. I read a fair number of news stories about her death but don’t remember seeing whether or not she had a novel in progress.

Personally, I found the Wolf Hall Trilogy the best series of books I ever read. Everything about it was impeccable. And, as often happens with historical fiction, it clarified a lot of events and viewpoints that weren’t covered in our history classes unless we had a strong focus on Henry VIII.

Then, too, it (the universe) gives me a nudge when authors younger than I suddenly die. When I was young, I wasn’t alarmed when old writers died because, well, they were old. But now, I’m less casual about the notion of old authors who are here today and gone tomorrow.

I have a strange feeling that while she was a famous, respected, bestselling author, most readers wouldn’t recognize her name. When I said RIP Hilary Mantel on my Facebook profile, nobody responded. Not that I expect everyone out there to follow the Booker Prize; I do think everyone should recognize her name. Apparently not. Maybe that’s because she was British and outside the realm of the people, American audiences follow–not counting the royal family and rock stars.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Maybe someday a new novel will appear that was in progress when she died. That would be good.

Malcolm

Peter Straub (1943-2022) – Locus Online

“Author Peter Straub, 79, died September 4, 2022 after a long illness. Straub was a celebrated, influential, and bestselling author of literary horror, dark fantasy, and psychological thrillers. Peter Francis Straub was born March 2, 1943 in Milwaukee WI. He earned a BA in English from the University of Wisconsin in 1965, an MA from Columbia University in 1966, then returned to Wisconsin to teach English at his former prep school for three years. In 1969 he moved to Ireland and began work on a PhD at University College in Dublin, but did not finish. He published two books of poetry in 1972, Ishmael and Open Air, and his first mainstream novel, Marriages, in 1973.”

Source: Peter Straub (1943-2022) – Locus Online

Sad news for fans of Straub’s gothic and other dark fiction. Here are his novels, compliments of Wikipeia:

Novels[

We will miss his dark words.

–Malcolm

BRUTAL ATTACK ON SALMAN RUSHDIE

Pen America – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(NEW YORK)–Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, issued the following statement in response to the attack on author Salman Rushdie:

“PEN America is reeling from shock and horror at word of a brutal, premeditated attack on our former President and stalwart ally, Salman Rushdie, who was reportedly stabbed multiple times while on stage speaking at the Chautauqua Institute in upstate New York.  We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil.  Just hours before the attack, on Friday morning, Salman had emailed me to help with placements for Ukrainian writers in need of safe refuge from the grave perils they face.  Salman Rushdie has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered.  He has devoted tireless energy to assisting others who are vulnerable and menaced.  While we do not know the origins or motives of this attack, all those around the world who have met words with violence or called for the same are culpable for legitimizing this assault on a writer while he was engaged in his essential work of connecting to readers.  Our thoughts and passions now lie with our dauntless Salman, wishing him a full and speedy recovery.  We hope and believe fervently that his essential voice cannot and will not be silenced.”

The most recent report I saw was that he was in surgery. A suspect is in custody.

So long, David McCullough, and thanks for all the books

“David McCullough, a towering force in American literature and biography, winner of the President’s Medal of Freedom, two Pulitzer Prizes and two National Book Awards, died on August 7. He was 89 years old.

“He died of natural causes at home in Hingham, the family confirmed, where he had lived for the past few years, with all five children by his side.

“Mr. McCullough devoted his writing life to telling the American story, beginning with his first book about the Johnstown Flood, published in 1968, and continuing to chronicle events, politicians and structures that made up the American experience. He followed up his debut with a book about building the Brooklyn Bridge, then headed to the creation of the Panama Canal (his first National Book Award). A book about Teddy Roosevelt followed (his second National Book Award) and then books on Harry S. Truman and John Adams, both of which won the Pulitzer Prize.” – Bill Eville in The Vineyard Gazette

In his story, Eville notes that everything McCullough wrote began on a 1940 Royal Typewriter that he bought second-hand in 1965 for $25. It works fine after all those words. In a 2011 interview, McCullough said that sometimes he thought that Royal was writing the books.

The subhead in the New York Times story said, “His research — on Adams, Truman and so much more — was deep, his writing was lively, and his narrator’s voice in documentary films was familiar to millions.”

The books found large audiences and spent weeks on the bestseller lists in part because readers who seldom read history read what McCullough and/or that old Royal typewriter wrote. My wife and I have most of his books, not because they look good on our shelves, but because we like them and respect his approach.

It’s hard to pick a favorite, but my long-time fascination with Teddy Roosevelt prompts me to say I like Mornings on Horseback, the 1981 biography of Roosevelt, the best. Kirkus began its review, “The biographer of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal has written a marvelous book, now, about the making of an exceptional being—and nothing that has appeared before, including Edmund Morris’ recent The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, diminishes its interest or freshness or emotional force.”

The New York Times wrote, “Mr. McCullough tells his busy, interlocking story without ever losing track of his hero. Always at the center of things is T.R., evolving from a shrill semi-invalid into the robust warrior who would become the dominant figure of turn-of-the-century America. But though he writes with a novelist’s skill, Mr. McCullough never resorts to the novelist’s license to invent, never draws a conclusion not backed by hard facts. The result brings us as close as anyone will ever get to understanding the unique alchemy of the Roosevelt family – and its power to help and hinder Theodore in his rise.”

McCullough’s books on the Johnstown flood, the Brooklyn Bridge, Presidents Truman and Adams, and 1776 (among others) drew similar praise. McCullough’s narrations include the 2003 film “Seabiscuit” and multiple films by Ken Burns including “The Civil War” (1990).

I think it’s fair to say that McCullough’s words will be with us forever, if not longer.

Malcolm

Enjoying another Robert Galbraith Novel

Troubled Blood (2020), at over 900 pages, will take me a while to finish. But that’s good. I enjoy the series about an old-style private detective who doesn’t solve cases by hacking into traffic cams, bank accounts, or FBI databases. Instead, we have stakeouts, interviews, following suspects, and a lot of experience on the resume of British Detective Cormoran Strike. If you know the novels by Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and P. D. James, you’ll have an idea of how Strike works.

This is the fifth book in the series that began with The Cuckoo’s Calling in 2013 and that will continue this August with The Ink Black Heart. The books are long, well-written, and credible within the genre. By now, everyone who reads these books knows that Galbraith is J. K. Rowling’s pseudonym. She got panned for The Casual Vacancy in 2013, mainly because readers expected something magical like the Harry Potter series. I liked the novel a lot.

But after that experience, I can understand why she would want to start fresh–as she said with no expectations–with the Galbraith pen name for her detective series. Unfortunately, she didn’t get to do it because her lawyer’s office spilled the beans, although in what was supposed to be a private conversation. She sued and the lawyer was fined.

I’ve read all the books in the series but one. I plan to keep reading when the next installment comes out in August. Several of the books have become movies, though I haven’t seen them.

Publisher’s Description for Troubled Blood

Private Detective Cormoran Strike is visiting his family in Cornwall when he is approached by a woman asking for help finding her mother, Margot Bamborough—who went missing in mysterious circumstances in 1974.
 
Strike has never tackled a cold case before, let alone one forty years old. But despite the slim chance of success, he is intrigued and takes it on; adding to the long list of cases that he and his partner in the agency, Robin Ellacott, are currently working on. And Robin herself is also juggling a messy divorce and unwanted male attention, as well as battling her own feelings about Strike.
 
As Strike and Robin investigate Margot’s disappearance, they come up against a fiendishly complex case with leads that include tarot cards, a psychopathic serial killer and witnesses who cannot all be trusted. And they learn that even cases decades old can prove to be deadly . . .

Typical of Rowling, the Robert Galbraith website will tell you everything you want to know (and then some) about the series.

Malcolm

another guilty pleasure: Patterson and Parton

Little, Brown and Company has announced that internationally beloved entertainer Dolly Parton has teamed up with the world’s bestselling author, James Patterson, to write a new book. “Run, Rose, Run,” Dolly’s first-ever novel, will be published March 7, 2022. An album of the same name, consisting of twelve original songs by Dolly, will be released in conjunction with the book. The novel also includes lyrics to the songs, which are essential to the story. This dual release will mark the first time a #1 bestselling author and an entertainment icon who has sold well over 100 million albums worldwide have collaborated on a book and an album. – Dolly’s Website

Of course I’m going to read this. Then I’ll put it on my guilty pleasures bookshelf.

Shocked? Listen, I know you think I spend my days reading James Joyce, Virgina Woolf, Proust, and Baudelaire. I do, but never on Sunday.

I’m a fan of James Patteron’s Alex Cross series that began in 1993 with Along Came a Spider and continues with Patterson as the sole author for 29 books to Fear No Evil released in November of last year. According to Wikipedia, Alex Cross is an African American detective and psychologist based out of the Southeast quadrant of Washington, D.C. He started in the homicide division of the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPDC), but eventually becomes a Senior Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Cross returns to private psychology practice, but continues to work with the police as needed, ultimately rejoining the MPDC as a special consultant to the Major Case Squad.

If I were going to join the FBI, I would love a resume like that. And if I did join the FBI or the CIA, I would tell you that I didn’t.

There are some other guilty pleasure books hidden in my closet that I generically refer to as “grocery store books.” The angst of the plots and characters pulls me away from the angst of daily life and makes it much easier to do my own work without a lot of Xanax.

As for Run, Rose, Run, it will be fun because–up until my hearing disappeared, I was a Dolly Parton fan. Great voice and the nerve to say, “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.”

Malcolm

Today’s Depot Cafe Blog talks about my work in progress:

‘What a pity she’s quoted more than she’s read’

The headline writer for the 2015 article “From literary heavyweight to lifestyle brand: exploring the cult of Joan Didion” added the following subhead: “The pioneer of New Journalism is used to sell biker jackets and clutch bags. What a pity she’s quoted more than she’s read.”

The White Album: Essays by [Joan Didion]I  hope the subhead for her December 23rd obituary in The Guardian more accurately describes how she will be remembered: “Detached observer of American society and political life through her collections of journalism, novels and screenwriting.”

Yet, the fact that the proponent of the New Jounalism wrote more “I-was-there” nonfiction than fiction may be the reason I seldom saw any gushing statements on the social media from her fans about reading her latest article or book, or breathlessly waiting for her next one.

Even those who simply scanned her work and then quoted from it thought her prose–and the no-nonsence focus behind it–was the best in the business.

If you have neither read her nor quoted her, I hardly know where to start in recommending a place to start learning who she was. Perhaps, the novel A Book of Common Prayer and perhaps the collection of essays Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

If you truly get this quote from A Book of Common Prayer, then you understand (a fraction, perhaps) of herself and her focus: “You have to pick the places you don’t walk away from.”

But then I’m biased. I’ve followed her work from the day she started. If a cult surrounds her, I’m a member. And when I think of prose and want to show others examples of what prose can do, I turn to her books before all others.

Malcolm

Florida Folk Magic Stories: Novels 1-4 by [Malcolm R. Campbell]Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the four-book Florida Folk Magic Series, available in one Kindle, money-saving volume. It’s about the place I don’t walk away from.

Some authors are getting sloppy with their point of View, and the sad thing is, they don’t even know it

Third-Person Limited: This POV is characterized by the use of “he” or “she” and the character’s name, as in, “John hated math. He hated it immensely.” Unlike third-person omniscient, the third limited spends the entirety of the story in only one character’s perspective, sometimes as if looking over that character’s shoulder and sometimes going inside the character’s mind, and the events are filtered through that character’s perception (though less directly than first-person singular). – Jane Friedman

I write in third person restricted (limited) most of the time and tend to like novels that also use this POV. (Jane Friedman–in the link above–lists points of view, how the function, and the pros and cons of each.) I feel like I should e-mail this link to some of my favorite authors because they cheat, knowingly or unknowingly, when they write in third person restricted. I’m not sure how their editors miss it,

Fortunately–for those of us who are purists–these authors don’t include the thoughts of other characters (unless they alternate the POV chapter by chapter–which is okay). Usually it’s something small, done to keep the reader reading.

Let’s say the main character is named “Bob.” This means that if Bob doesn’t see it or hear it or learn about it from another person, readers can’t know about it.

What I see most often is something like this:

Bob closed and locked the front door to his house, fired up the fishing car he used when following bad guys, and drove down third street toward the waterfront. He didn’t see the dark figure standing in the woods across the street.

This is when I want to shout OBJECTION and hear the judge say SUSTAINED, followed by, “The reader will disregard the dark figure across the street.”

If Bob didn’t see the dark figure, s/he can’t be in the book. This is a cheap trick authors use to tip off the reader that the main character is being watched/followed.

I also see this:

Bob watched the Benton house on a dark night with a cold moon. They did normal Benton things, cooked hamburgers on their Weber grill, watched the TV news, and went to bed early. They didn’t know this was the last night of their lives.

Oh, so Bob is a psychic is he? Well, that should have been established earlier in the story. If he’s not a psychic, then this sentence can’t be in the book.

I want to shout OBJECTION, NO FOUNDATION and hear the judge say SUSTAINED, followed by, “The reader will disregard the motion that one or more of the Bentons is about to kick the bucket.”

Sure, we all know why the author did this. Even though we know, we also know that it’s unnecessary. It’s a cheap trick that’s supposed to ramp up the suspense by killing the suspense.

We need better editors.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Florida Folk Magic Series, featuring a cat, a conjure woman, and things that go bump in the night

 

 

the gods conspire

Many writers speak of the joy of writing, how the day is not complete unless they can sit down and work on their latest story, how they would write if nobody knew they wrote, how writing completes them like icing on a cake. Most writers also know that even on the best of days, the gods conspire to defeat their best efforts, or cause mischief, or add a few roadblocks where logic says there should be none.

The writer’s first duty is, perhaps, not getting so frustrated when the gods conspire that s/he comes to a point where s/he can no longer write. At the same time, it’s considered bad form for a writer to complain in public, so other than having a sympathetic and patient spouse, writers seldom have anyone willing to listen to their frustrations.

When I think of my own frustrations about major publishers and reviewers, I remember my college writing instructor Michael Shaara’s frustrations. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1974 novel The Killer Angels. Even so, most people never heard of it until after the movie based on the novel was released in 1993 five years after Shaara died of a heart attack at 59. Then reviewers started saying The Killer Angels was the best civil war book ever written. I can’t help but think how the gods conspire when he never heard that or saw that readers finally discovered his work.

But that’s not the half of it. His best novel The Rebel in Autumn, written prior to The Killer Angels, never found a publisher in his lifetime. Written about the protests of the 1960s, it was (perhaps) too current for publishers to accept. Like his baseball novel For The Love of the Game, which became a Kevin Costner film in 1999, Rebel was published through the influence of his children Jeff and Lila (both are authors) posthumously in 2013.

I doubt it does an author any good to have some close friend say, “You feel unappreciated now, but after you’re dead, people will love your work.” When the gods conspire, they love this scenario. Loners at Florida State University in the 1960s–myself included–were drawn to Shaara as a kindred spirit. We all felt out of place and we talked about this between classes at a spot that served decent coffee and didn’t mess with while you used to booth without paying rent. We all knew what the gods did and we all felt that one day our numbers would be up.

So, The Rebel in Autumn doesn’t surprise me as a novel (other than how good it is and how wrong the rejecting publishers were) because we talked about protest, the war, the establishment government, most people over 30, the political vicissitudes of a university, and the survival of the nation. The novel was and is about our shared experience, our common worries, and our frustrations with the absurdities of our daily lives.

I do not feel comfortable reviewing my mentor’s novel, but I can say that I share his frustrations about the lack of good sense of major agents and publishers. 

–Malcolm

Glacier Park Novel – Audiobook Edition

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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