mini-review · stuff I read

Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro

35412371Summary from Goodreads:
Married twenty years to Thomas and living in Nashville with their two children, Maggie is drawn ineluctably into a passionate affair while still fiercely committed to her husband and family. What begins as a platonic intellectual and spiritual exchange between writer Maggie and poet James, gradually transforms into an emotional and erotically charged bond that challenges Maggie’s sense of loyalty and morality, drawing her deeper into the darkness of desire.

If you like your protagonists deeply flawed with conflicting motivations, get yourself a copy of Fire Sermon. Maggie is a woman struggling to reconcile her faith with her desires. To be a good wife and mother, a poet, a teacher. She loves her husband, yet he is not intellectually stimulating and her sexual desire for him grinds to a halt (their sex scenes together are the most affecting, and possibly disturbing, of the book and so deftly crafted). When she writes an appreciative email to a fellow poet, the relationship becomes a lifeline for her, challenging her as a writer, a thinker, a human. Quatro has given us a deep meditation on temptation, marriage, and partnership told in a non-linear fashion through emails, therapy sessions, letters, diary entries, and scenes from an omniscient narrator to mark the passage of time. One of those books that is very quiet but manages to bowl you over with its sentences.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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mini-review · stuff I read

As Lie Is To Grin by Simeon Marsalis

34146663Summary from Goodreads:
David, the narrator of Simeon Marsalis’s singular first novel, is a freshman at the University of Vermont who is struggling to define himself against the white backdrop of his school. He is also mourning the loss of his New York girlfriend, Melody, whose grandfather’s alma mater he has chosen to attend. When David met Melody, he told her he lived with his drug-addicted single mother in Harlem, a more intriguing story than his own. This lie haunts and almost unhinges him as he attempts to find his true voice and identity.

On campus in Vermont, David imagines encounters with a student from the past who might represent either Melody’s grandfather or Jean Toomer, the author of the acclaimed Harlem Renaissance novel, Cane (1923). He becomes obsessed with the varieties of American architecture -upon land that was stolen, – and with the university’s past and attitudes as recorded in its newspaper, The Cynic. And he is frustrated with the way the Internet and libraries are curated, making it difficult to find the information he needs to make connections between the university’s history, African-American history, and his own life.

In New York, the previous year, Melody confides a shocking secret about her grandfather’s student days at the University of Vermont. When she and her father collude with the intent to meet David’s mother in Harlem–craving what they consider an authentic experience of the black world–their plan ends explosively.

The title of this impressive and emotionally powerful novel is inspired by Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem -We Wear the Mask- (1896): -We wear the mask that grins and lies. . . .

As Lie is to Grin is a strange short novel, not quite plotless but the plot is almost secondary to the narrator’s exploration of race, cultural appropriation, passing, and the performance (or not) of “blackness”. There are many trans-fictional elements involving the architecture of the University of Vermont and of Harlem (this is a very “New York” novel, if you know your way around the metropolitan area). If you haven’t read Jean Toomer’s Cane, that is a major touch point for the narrator and you should read it anyways bc it’s good.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.