Book Review – Life Drawing by Robin Black

Life DrawingLife Drawing by Robin Black

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Life Drawing is the story of Gus and Owen, a couple still recovering from Gus’s infidelity, and Alison, the woman who moves in next door. When Alison’s daughter arrives, things get far more complicated.

Gus is an artist struggling to complete a series of paintings on long dead soldiers superimposed into modern settings. Owen is a writer who can’t seem to get anything written. The theme of disconnection with time and place runs through the novel and adds depth to the relationships between Gus and Owen, Gus and Alison, and Gus and her aging father. Some of the most poignant moments in the novel take place between Gus and her father, whom is quickly losing touch with his surroundings due to Alzheimers.

Although Life Drawing falls squarely under the ‘literary fiction’ umbrella, Robin Black uses suspense and pacing like a veteran author of thrillers. We are told in the first paragraphs that Owen dies, yet I was still surprised by the ending. Once I got to the middle of the story and could see where the plot was going, I could not stop reading. When I got to the end, it was tempted to go back and start reading again to see how Black lined up all the dominos that get knocked down in the final few chapters.

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On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened – review

Last week I introduced you to Lori Schafer when she guest posted here. Today, I’d like to talk about how much I enjoyed her touching memoir. On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened is a raw unsentimental memoir of a young life shattered by her mother’s mental illness. It is the tale of the loneliness and emptiness inherent in having a mentally ill parent. Schafer obviously felt compassion for her mom and could remember when the family had happier times.

Lori Schafer does not indulge in blaming or go on angry tirades, although she had much to be angry about. She tells the story of how ‘Judy Green Hair’ became increasingly paranoid and unpredictable throughout her adolescence and her eventual escape from her family situation in a straightforward style that broke my heart with its poignance. In the end, Lori Schafer’s story is a tale of resilience and strength in the face of overwhelming odds.

There were several times while I was reading this book that I wanted to go to Lori and give her a hug. I wished I could have comforted teenaged Lori and found a way to help young adult Lori when she was all alone in the world. The sections about Lori’s life in Berkeley were difficult to read because they made me weep for a young woman so alone in the world. It helped to see glimpses of the strong adult Lori would eventually become throughout the narrative.

On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened is a remarkably fast read. I read it in one sitting. Schafer breaks up the narrative of her life with short stories and essays that mirror her own experience. They felt a bit discordant at first, but I quickly saw how the short interruptions in Lori’s story were like the digressions of an unwell mind – slightly ajar yet completely relevant.


Mother's Death Front Flyer

On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness

It was the spring of 1989. I was sixteen years old, a junior in high school and an honors student. I had what every teenager wants: a stable family, a nice home in the suburbs, a great group of friends, big plans for my future, and no reason to believe that any of that would ever change. Then came my mother’s psychosis. I experienced first-hand the terror of watching someone I loved transform into a monster, the terror of discovering that I was to be her primary victim. For years I’ve lived with the sadness of knowing that she, too, was a helpless victim – a victim of a terrible disease that consumed and destroyed the strong and caring woman I had once called Mom. My mother’s illness took everything. My family, my home, my friends, my future. A year and a half later I would be living alone on the street on the other side of the country, wondering whether I could even survive on my own. But I did. That was how my mother – my real mother – raised me. To survive. She, too, was a survivor. It wasn’t until last year that I learned that she had died – in 2007. No one will ever know her side of the story now. But perhaps, at last, it’s time for me to tell mine. On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened is now available in eBook and paperback from Amazon. The audiobook, which Lori narrated, is also forthcoming.

???????????????????????????????Author Bio Lori Schafer’s flash fiction, short stories, and essays have appeared in numerous print and online publications, and her first two books were published this November. On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness commemorates Lori’s terrifying adolescent experience of her mother’s psychosis, while Stories from My Memory-Shelf: Fiction and Essays from My Past is an autobiographical collection featuring stories and essays inspired by other events from Lori’s own life. In the summer of 2014, Lori began work on a second memoir, The Long Road Home, during the course of a solo two-month-long journey across the United States and Canada. She anticipates that it will be ready for publication late in 2015. When she isn’t writing (which isn’t often), Lori enjoys playing ice hockey, attending beer festivals, and spending long afternoons reading at the beach in the sunshine. For further information on Lori’s upcoming projects, please visit her website at http://lorilschafer.com/.


On a personal note – I am heading out on a short book tour this week. If you are in MA or VA, drop by one of the events and introduce yourself. I would love to chat.

  • November 16, 1:00-3:00, Tatnuck Bookseller, 18 Lyman St, Westborough, MA
  • November 18, 7:00-8:00, Shrewsbury Public Library, 214 Lake Street, Shrewsbury, MA
  • November 18, 2:00-8:00, Women’s Fiction Writers Association book launch celebration, online
  • November 22, 3:30-5:00, Fountain Bookstore, 1312 E. Cary Street Shockoe Slip, Richmond, VA

Book Review – The Undertaking by Audrey Magee

The UndertakingThe Undertaking by Audrey Magee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 

Book Blurb:

Desperate to escape the Eastern front, Peter Faber, an ordinary German soldier, marries Katharina Spinell, a woman he has never met; it is a marriage of convenience that promises ‘honeymoon’ leave for him and a pension for her should he die on the front. With ten days’ leave secured, Peter visits his new wife in Berlin; both are surprised by the attraction that develops between them.

When Peter returns to the horror of the front, it is only the dream of Katharina that sustains him as he approaches Stalingrad. Back in Berlin, Katharina, goaded on by her desperate and delusional parents, ruthlessly works her way into the Nazi party hierarchy, wedding herself, her young husband and their unborn child to the regime. But when the tide of war turns and Berlin falls, Peter and Katharina, ordinary people stained with their small share of an extraordinary guilt, find their simple dream of family increasingly hard to hold on to…

My Review:

The Undertaking explores how an ordinary German family gets through the day-to-day struggles of living in wartime without unnecessary sentiment. Audrey Magee’s spare prose pulls you through Peter and Katharina Faber’s horrifying experiences and leaves you altered at the end. This is the type of book that you think about long after you’ve read the last page.

The story revolves around Peter and Katharina who are married so Peter can get honeymoon leave. Katharina lives with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Spinell, who are connected to some important people in the German government that can offer them favors for being loyal citizens. The Spinell family face food shortages in Berlin, as well as the threat of bombings. After their short honeymoon, Peter is sent back to the Eastern front and the horrors of war.

Unlike any of the other books I have read that deal with the Holocaust and Germany during WWII, Audrey Magee follows Katharina and Peter through the war and the years directly after the war with a journalist’s detachment. At one point in the novel, I paused to reflect on how pragmatically the characters discuss the atrocities going on around them. For instance, Peter is asked to help round up Jewish families in Berlin while he is on honeymoon leave, then Katharina and her parents move into a larger, more luxurious apartment that had belonged to a Jewish family. They knew that the former residents had been carted away to camps, but they didn’t give them a second thought. Peter was following orders and the Spinell’s needed a nicer apartment with more room and better amenities. A different author with different sensibilities may have lingered and expanded on these acts with pages of internal dialogue or description. Ms. Magee relates the events without additional pathos or explanation. The reader understands the significance of what Katharina and her family are experiencing. I was struck by how often both Katharina and Peter are told that the war would be over any day, yet it went on for years with new terrors each year.

I received a complimentary ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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I was intrigued by Audrey Magee and wanted to learn a bit more about her. She has a journalistic background and spent some time in Germany as a young woman. I found this lovely interview she did about the book, and thought you might enjoy it as well.

The Undertaking was shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize for Women. It will be released in the United States on September 2nd.

The Heron’s Flood

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A personal story of how a battered woman gets to the point in her life that she is capable of killing her abusive husband. The novel opens just after Norah Breslin has killed her husband. With the help of her distant cousin Sinead, Norah comes to terms with what she’s done.

In compelling unselfconscious prose, Evelyn Walsh shows remarkable insight into the psychological pitfalls of an abusive relationship. I found Norah a sympathetic character with human strengths and weaknesses. Both Norah and Sinead have to overcome their personal demons by leaning on the people they love.