Monthly Archives: October 2021

Coping with war

The Facts of Life by Graham Joyce

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I loved Graham Joyce‘s The Limits of Enchantment and was looking forward to reading more by him. This has a similar touch of supernatural grounded in what is essentially a literary novel about a family coping with the aftermath of World War II. Symbolically, the family’s struggles parallel and reflect those of the city they live in, Coventry.

The general approach of the novel is interesting, and there are some key scenes that are stellar, just beautifully written. But while I enjoyed the novel overall, the narrative focus is spread thin across a large cast of characters, and, as a result, I never found myself getting very involved. It comes across as a bit Dickensian at times, with some of the characters becoming almost cartoonish caricatures. I was particularly turned off by one with some sort of speech impediment who is depicted for much of the novel as just saying “Eeeeeeee…” and “Aeeeeee.” He eventually becomes an interesting character, so the undue stress on his inability to get through his sentences seemed incongruous with the rest of the novel. Maybe it was supposed to be a comic touch, but it just didn’t work for me.

If you have more of an affinity for large family sagas than I do, you might love the novel. I thought it was an interesting story with some creative supernatural elements. It called to mind Stella Benson’s classic “Living Alone” at one point, which I really enjoyed. But I just never got very involved with the characters and, in the end, although I was curious to see where it was all going, I never came to care all that much.

Also, this is a poor title, really describing nothing about the book, but it’s especially awful for Americans, as it plants the earworm of the theme song from the old TV show every time you look at it.

Not much light shining here

Solar by Ian McEwan

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I’ve enjoyed past novels I’ve read by Ian McEwan. I particularly loved Atonement and Saturday. But I just couldn’t get through Solar. In it, McEwan indulges his worst instincts, with utterly despicable characters that he moves around on a chess board to teach readers the desired lesson. I could write more about it, but I found a review that perfectly summarized my thoughts. Here is Walter Kirn, writing in the New York Times:

“McEwan’s novel of Decline and Fall becomes a case study in Decline and Stall, lapsing into a display of his finesse as a spinner of silken sentences and composer of sonatalike paragraphs. The performance is an exquisite bore, with all the overchoreographed dullness of a touring ice ballet cast with off-season Olympic skaters.”

The review is actually pretty amusing overall. You can read it here:

Poems published at ONE ART!

I’m very excited that three of my poems were published today in the online journal ONE ART: a journal of poetry: “My Aunt When She Drank Scotch,” “Memory of My Grandfather,” and “My Mother Loses Me at the Department Store.”

As proud as I am to see these poems in such a fine journal, alongside poet laureates and other poets much more accomplished than I, I’m a little uneasy at their publication, as I know from past experience that people will inevitably ask me whether they are “true,” if these events really happened as I depicted.

The poems grew from my work with the marvelous poet Judith Harris, who I first met when I took her workshop at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. She encouraged us to mine the past—not to document it but to find feelings and perceptions that could be crafted into poems that others could relate to. So they began with memories and impressions, but shouldn’t be taken as a chronicle of the past. This isn’t memoir; it’s poetry. But there is truth to them, and hopefully they feel true to you. I hope you enjoy them.

You can find them here: