Smorgasbord Book Review – #Ireland #Music #Romance – Dancing to an Irish Reel by Claire Fullerton

Thank you to the inimitable Sally Cronin!

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Having read and enjoyed two more recent books by Claire Fullerton, I am now exploring her earlier books and this week my review is for a delightful book set in Ireland, Dancing to an Irish Reel.

Dancing to an Irish Reel by [Claire Fullerton]About the book

While on sabbatical from her job in the Los Angeles record business, twenty-five-year old Hailey Crossan takes a trip to the west coast of Ireland , where she walks into the Galway Music Center and is offered a job too good to turn down. Friendships are formed quickly with her fellow, Irish employees, and Hailey lives thirteen miles “up the road” in the wind-swept, seaside area of Connemara, a land steeped in traditional music, where Irish is the first language.

When Hailey meets a famous local musician named Liam Hennessey, a confusing relationship begins, which Hailey thinks may be the result of differing cultures, for Liam is married to…

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River, Sing Out by James Wade: Book Review

In the captivating River, Sing Out, author James Wade weaves lyrical prose and character driven regional dialect against a hardscrabble backdrop along the East Texas Neches River. 

Thirteen-year-old Jonah Hargrove lives in a trailer beside the river that “sat clumsy and diagonal, and faced the small clearing, looking out at the world as if someone had left it there and never returned.” Motherless and at the mercy of a hard-drinking, abusive father only at home part time, Jonah is a friendless, social outcast left to his own devises. When he finds a secretive, seventeen-year-old girl on the run in the woods, his life is upturned when he nurses her to health and helps her search for the lost backpack holding the meth she stole from shady John Curtis, which she plans to sell, in hopes of starting her life over.  

John Curtis is not a man with whom to trifle. Wiley, quick-witted, and ambitious, he runs an East Texas drug operation, and is regionally feared. When Dakota Cade, Curtis’s muscle-bound, right-hand man, asks about the secret to Curtis’s success, Curtis replies, “If it weren’t for the rage inside of me, I don’t believe I’d be able to take another breath. Wasn’t always like that, of course. I used to think there was something wrong with me. Something missing, maybe. But the older I got, the more I understood what I had was a gift.” 

When Jonah asks the girl he found to tell him her name, she casts her covert eyes to the water and says, “Call me River,” and with literary existential sleight of hand, author James Wade metaphorically writes, “The river flowed and the world turned, cutting paths both new and old, overwhelming those things which came before but could not adapt to the constant movement, the everlasting change. The river and the world together, and both giving life and both swallowing it whole, and neither caring which, and neither having a say in the matter. The boy watched both passing by, his choice and his path each belonging to some current long set in motion.” 

Jonah and River are wary misfits, each without the skills to humanly connect even as they fall into collusion in their mutual flight from the pursuit of the determined John Curtis. With riveting pacing, a heart tugging relationship grows between the youths in fits and starts, “But such solace in those first days was rarely more than a whisper, fading so quickly and completely, the girl was left to question whether it had been there at all.” As the two wade together in the Neche River, their relationship dares to take root, “And somewhere in the beyond, a single fate was selected from a row of fates, no one more certain than the other, yet each bound to the world by threads of choice and circumstance.” 

A sense of page-turning urgency drives River, Sing Out. It’s a high stakes story in flight by a babe in the woods who helps the first love of his life run from a criminal so cleverly sinister as to be oddly likable. Action packed and visually drawn with dire cliff-hanging crafting, River, Sing Out has the extraordinary one-two punch of fascinating high drama written in deep-thinking, elegant prose.     

https://www.jameswadewriter.com/

James Wade author headshot

“An extraordinary piece, exemplifying wonderful positive restraint by letting the narrative solve the condition. Just very well done. No wasted words.”

–Paul Roth, editor, The Bitter Oleander

ABOUT JAMES

James Wade is an award-winning fiction author with twenty short stories published in various literary journals and magazines. His debut novel, ALL THINGS LEFT WILD, was released June 16, 2020 from Blackstone Publishing. His second novel, RIVER, SING OUT, also from Blackstone Publishing, was released June 8, 2021. He has 6 additional novels forthcoming from Blackstone Publishing.

James spent five years as a journalist, before serving as a legislative director at the Texas State Capitol during the 83rd Legislative Session. He also worked as a lobbyist on behalf of water conservation in Texas. 

James lives in the Texas Hill Country, with his wife and daughter. He is an active member of the Writers’ League of Texas.

Represented by Mark Gottlieb with Trident Media Group

Awards and Honors:

Winner of the 2021 Reading the West Award for Best Debut Novel (ALL THINGS LEFT WILD)

Winner of the 2021 Spur Award for Best Historical Fiction (ALL THINGS LEFT WILD)
A winner of the 2016 Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest (Historical Fiction)
A finalist of the 2016 Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest (Thriller)
A finalist of the 2016 Tethered By Letters Short Story Contest
Honorable mention in the 2016 Texas Observer Short Story Contest

Honorable mention in the 2015 Texas Observer Short Story Contest

Work by James can be found in the following Publications and Anthologies:
The Bitter Oleander | Skylark Review (Little Lantern Press) | Tall…ish (Pure Slush Books) | Intrinsick Magazine | Dime Show Review | Bartleby Snopes | Jersey Devil Press | Typehouse Magazine | After the Pause Journal | J.J. Outre Review | Potluck Magazine | Yellow Chair Review | Through the Gaps | Eunoia Review 
 

FOLLOW JAMES

Instagram
James Wade Writer Facebook
James Wade Writer Twitter
James Wade Writer LinkedIn

Recommendation for a Fantastic Writer’s Workshop!

May be an image of 1 person and text that says 'ialjeng The Path to Publication: the Query Letter and the Synopsis Workshop Byoи ApoeldMhsdhen0 Tuesdays January 25 and February 1, 2022 7:00 p.m. CST Johnnie Bernhard Instructor CATHOLIG LITERARY ARTS Where Nrite Spirit Register at www.catholicliteraryarts.org'
Johnnie Bernhard

Register Here! https://www.catholicliteraryarts.org/Johnnie Bernhard

Johnnie Bernhard

A former teacher and journalist, Johnnie Bernhard’s passion is reading and writing. Her work(s) have appeared in national and international publications, including: University of Michigan Graduate Studies Publications, Southern Literary Review, Houston Style Magazine, The Mississippi Press, the international Word Among Us, and the Cowbird-NPR production on small town America. Her entry, “The Last Mayberry,” received over 7,500 views, nationally and internationally. Her first novel, A Good Girl, is a 2017 finalist in the national Kindle Book Awards, a Pen/Bingham nominee, and shortlisted for the 2015 Wisdom-Faulkner international Writing Competition. It was chosen for panel discussion at both the 2017 Louisiana and Mississippi Book Festivals. In 2018, A Good Girl was nominated by the Institute of Mississippi Arts and Letters for Fiction of the Year and accepted into the Texas Center for the Book permanent collection. Her second novel, How We Came to Be, was released in 2018. It is a finalist in the 2017 Wisdom-Faulkner international Writing Competition. Chosen for panel discussion by the 2018 Louisiana Book Festival and the Mississippi Book Festival, it has received stellar reviews, including being named a “Must Read” by Southern Writers Magazine and listed as a 2018 Summer Reading List choice by Deep South Magazine. It was awarded the Summerall Book Prize by Lamar University in 2019. Johnnie’s third novel, Sister of the Undertow was named a book of the month by the international book club, The Pulpwood Queens. It was a featured novel for panel discussion at the 2020 AWP and chosen as Best of the University Presses, 100 Books by Literary Hub and the Association of University Presses. Johnnie was selected to be a speaker for the TEDWomen 2020: Fearless series. 

Johnnie Bernhard
AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR
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SISTERS OF THE UNDERTOW

“Johnnie Bernhard pierces the soul of sisterhood, revealing the poignant paradox that familial love does not always come naturally, but it always comes. Sisters is a heart-wrenching yet triumphant story about conquering your fate and learning to play the cards you were dealt.” 
Galveston Monthly

“Johnnie Bernhard has become one of the South’s finest writers. Sisters of the Undertow is a book you can’t and won’t put down, a story of sisterhood, love, and loss.” 
–Allen Mendenhall, Southern Literary Review

HOW WE CAME TO BE

“In How We Came to Be, Bernhard delivers a poignant exploration of life as a modern American woman. This complex story examines the many emotional layers of relationships, mothering, sisterhood, and the eternal search for self-worth in a society obsessed with the superficial. Within these pages, readers will experience love and loss, grace and redemption, forgiveness and faith. A heartwarming read that proves family comes in many forms.” 

–Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA TODAY Bestselling Author of Perennials

A GOOD GIRL

“One of the great pleasures of reviewing books is that of discovering rare jewels, especially those written by up-and-coming Mississippi writers. One of 2017’s best will surely be A Good Girl by author Johnnie Bernhard, who as much as any writer since Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy, offers a breathtaking tour of the human heart in conflict with itself, desperately searching for grace and redemption in the face of unremitting loss.” 

–Jim Frazier, The Sun Herald

A Good Girl is a raw, real and relatable gift to the soul on every level. Ms. Bernhard’s writing is so descriptive, reading this book is truly a visceral experience. One can not help but reflect on their own family legacy and life journey. Prepare to be rivetted by this heart- breaking, yet healing story about family, self discovery and learning how to love.” 

–Eva Steortz, Vita Creative and The Walt Disney Company

The Best Southern Books

As it appears on Shepherd: Best Books

https://shepherd.com/best-books/southern-books

Claire Fullerton Author Of Mourning DoveBy Claire Fullerton

Who am I?

I’m the multiple, award-winning author of 4 novels and one novella, raised in Memphis, Tennessee, and now living in Southern California. The geographical distance gives me a laser-sharp, appreciative perspective of the South, and I celebrate the literary greats from the region. The South is known as the last romantic place in America, and I believe this to be true. The South’s culture, history, and social mores are part and parcel to its fascinating characters, and nothing is more important in the South than the telling of a good story. As a writer, I’m in love with language. I love Southern turns of phrase and applaud those writers who capture Southern nuance. It is well worth writing about Southern sensibilities.


I wrote…

Mourning Dove

By Claire Fullerton

Mourning Dove

What is my book about?

An accurate and heart-wrenching picture of the sensibilities of the American South. Millie and Finley Crossan move from Minnesota to their mother’s genteel world of 1970’s Memphis and learn to navigate the social mores of the Deep South, where all that glitters is not gold. Southern nuance, charismatic characters, a sibling relationship, and an opulent setting underlie this 13-time book award winner that asks how it is that two siblings who share the same history can turn out so differently. 

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The Books I Picked & Why

The Prince of Tides

By Pat Conroy

The Prince of Tides

Why this book?

A resounding Southern family saga. A sins-of-the-father story told in the first person by one of the South’s most revered authors. The Prince of Tides is set on a barrier island off the coast of South Carolina and depicts the haunting secrets of the working class Wingo family in a multi-generational story rife with Southern nuance and now considered a literary classic. The story opens when narrator Tom Wingo flies from the South to New York to meet with his sister’s psychiatrist, and the astounding family saga unfolds from there. 


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Peachtree Road

By Anne Rivers Siddons

Peachtree Road

Why this book?

Peachtree Road is considered a modern-day Gone with The Wind, in that it is set in the pivotal, changing times of 1960’s Atlanta, and concerns the opulent area of Buckhead, where the privileged who built modern-day Atlanta live. The story is narrated in lyrical language by Shep Bondurant, an insightful young man born to privilege, who tells the coming-of-age story of Southern traditions and hypocrisy, and the impact of growing up alongside his troubled cousin, Lucy. A deeply probing story on multiple levels concerning society and the impact of family. 


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Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories

By Ron Rash

Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories

Why this book?

Ron Rash is a national, literary treasure. The author of multiple award-winning novels, this book is an assembly of 34 short stories, most set in Appalachia, and depicting the social nuances and landscape of the American rural South. I recommend this because it will provide a great introduction to the incomparable author known as The Appalachian Shakespeare. As a writer, Ron Rash epitomizes the idea of landscape as destiny, and his well-drawn characters come to life from his flawless use of regional language. 


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All Over But the Shoutin’

By Rick Bragg

All Over But the Shoutin'

Why this book?

Pulitzer prize-winning and best-selling author Rick Bragg depicts hardscrabble, family life in rural Alabama, with a bad-tempered, hard-drinking father and a mother who won’t see her children go without. Bragg’s honest voice is immediate and compelling, and the visceral feel of the setting is the perfect backdrop for this rags to riches story of a man who triumphs over adversity to become a widely acclaimed writer. Bragg’s use of Southern vernacular is what makes this story. 


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The Fighter

By Michael Farris Smith

The Fighter

Why this book?

The Fighter is Southern noir at its best, and the spare, economic voice of the narrator adds to the guttural bleakness of a man down on his luck but willing to persevere against all odds. Set in the sultry Delta, Jack Boucher has put behind him 25 years of bare-knuckle fighting but is given cause to step into the ring one more time. A dark desperation colors this popular novel, and readers will be shown why Michael Farris Smith is considered one of the finest writers now on the American literary landscape.   


https://shepherd.com/best-books/southern-books

The Butterfly Bruises by Palmer Smith

ABOUT THE BUTTERFLY BRUISES 

Smith’s debut collection consists of 80 poems and several short stories. It is a meditation on miscommunication, childhood, Northeastern vs. Southern American culture, family, nature vs. technology, and the imagination of the introvert.

“From sonnets to somnambulance, from algae to oxytocin, from manatees to Manhattan, Smith rides the riptides of memory’s fictions and frictions in this prolific debut. The Butterfly Bruises is a gem mine of poems and stories that write through grief and growing up, personal and planetary survival, with words rugged and glistening like seashell shards.”

-Poetry Critic and Scholar, Professor Robert Dewhurst 

Meet the Author

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Having grown up in NYC and the Southeast, Palmer is presently an MA student at The University of Virginia. Read More

Claire Fullerton’s Reviews > The Butterfly Bruises

The Butterfly Bruises by Palmer Smith

The Butterfly Bruises
by Palmer Smith (Goodreads Author)
Claire Fullerton‘s review  

An assembly of deep probing, masterfully crafted prose and poetry for the discerning reader. The tone is insightful, the use of language impressively beyond the pale. Thought provoking and at times seemingly personal and confessional, the contents of Palmer Smith’s The Butterfly Bruises is breathtaking as her subjects range from a mirror reflection to the death of the family dog to musings on how butterflies survive in winter. This is a book to savor; extraordinary, creative writing that reads as a series of vignettes written from a fresh perspective. A list of eleven discussion questions at the book’s end for book clubs and readers will prompt your powers of reflection, and there is much to reflect upon in this resonant, meditative book! I thoroughly enjoyed it and will certainly revisit its pages.

Meet Palmer Smith

Passionate about writing and poetry, Palmer 

is a current English MA student.

Her poetry and short stories have appeared in:

Refresh Magazine

The Crime Yard

Newark Library Literary Journal

The Online Journal for Person-Centered Dermatology

Ninshar Arts

Opal Literary

Sea Maven Magazine 

Soul Talk Magazine 
Calm Down Magazine 

For Women Who Roar

A New Ullster Magazine

Poethead: The Irish Poetry Journal

Potted Purple Magazine 

Push Up Daisies Magazine

Level: deepsouth 

The Remington Review

The Scissortail Quarterly… amongst many others.

Her poetry was recently praised by the CFO of Garden and Gun Magazine. 

The Butterfly Bruises is her first published collection of work.

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Butterfly Bruises

https://www.thebutterflybruisesbook.com/

All About The Pulpwood Queens Book Club! Virtual Weekend begins Online Tomorrow!

This is the extraordinary camaraderie of The Pulpwood Queens Book Club, whose Virtual Weekend starts tomorrow! I’ll tell you about the Free for Readers online conference next on this post, but for now, this morning I spied this Facebook post by fellow Pulpwood Queen author, Ruthie Landis, who has been championing the contributors to the recently released assembly of Works in Progress by featured authors of @thepulpwoodqueen #bookclub. The book is fun reading, as it’s 59 excerpts from various authors in one book! It’s published by and can be procured at https://threedogswritepress.com/ and can also be found on Amazon under the name of editor, Mandy Haynes.

CALL-FOR-SUBMISSIONS-WORK-IN-PROGRESS-23-1

WORK IN PROGRESS

Have you ever finished a book and wondered, “What made the author think of that?” Or wondered if there was a chapter in the original manuscript that didn’t make it through the final edits? Maybe you’d like to get a sneak peek at what an author is currently working on. Work In Progress includes sixty excerpts from some talented authors’ works in progress in different stages of the writing process, followed up with the story behind the story of the piece, and the story behind the author who wrote it. Where did the idea come from? What were they thinking during the writing process? Why did they delete a chapter, or change a character? Find out the answers to these questions and more inside – 546 pages filled with great stories!

Now, on the Pulpwood Queens Virtual Party!

I hope to #seeyou beginning tomorrow at the Pulpwood Queens #weeklong, #virtualevent where #readers gain free admittance!

2022 International Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Virtual Online Zoomathon

Get Your Package for the 2022 International Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Week Long Online Virtual Book Club!

Readers join FREE!

Contact: Kathy L. Murphy, CEO and Founder of The International Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Club Reading Nation and Girlfriend Weekend

Email: thepulpwoodqueen@gmail.com Website: www.thepulpwoodqueens.com

This weeklong Book club event is not to be missed! It’s a great opportunity to meet multiple authors!

Dead of Winter: A Christmas short story from Cork writer Billy O’Callaghan

The Best Christmas Gift: A gorgeous Short Story from Irish author, Billy O’Callaghan!

Dead of Winter: A Christmas short story from Cork writer Billy O'Callaghan

The Cork author writes exclusively for Irish Examiner readers, evoking a harsh winter on the farm, and the warmth of love and longing.

Link Below!

https://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/artsandculture/arid-40770669.html

Billy O'Callaghan: evokes a harsh winter on the farm, and the warmth of love and longing

Sugar Baby and Other Stories by River Jordan

The art of the short story at its finest. Southern to the core and resounding !

Sugar Baby Endorsements:

“This is storytelling of the highest order, plucking up the reader and transporting us to a world of mystery, spirituality, violence, love, and everything in between.  

Sugar Baby is like River Jordan herself: thrilling, tender, tough, and shot through with light.”

Silas House, author, Southernmost

“River Jordan writes with the lyricism and grace of a gospel hymn, and the tales that weave through Sugar Baby ring like the chorus of a choir, rising and falling and then rising again, like all good sinners do.” 

                        Michael Farris Smith, author of Nick and Blackwood

“River Jordan writes to the bone, over and over. Take this book to bed, and expect to stay up late.”

         Clyde Edgerton, author, The Night Train, Killer Diller

“Southern Gothic indeed. SPLENDID, Beautiful, haunting, and ultimately a family story that operates on tribal loyalty, devotion, acceptance – it’s ALL there. Unique, suspenseful with an air of mystery.

                                          Claire Fullerton, author, Little Tea

“River Jordan is a holy truth-teller who can make even the bad things in life seem as sweet as sugar. The stories in

Sugar Baby and Other Stories are as real as life itself, but the language River uses to coat the pain is something from another world. Writer, storyteller, heart healer.

River Jordan is simply the best.” 

                                      Wiley Cash, author, The Last Ballad 

“River Jordan is the torchbearer for Southern Gothic literature. Her sublime writing conjures up vivid characters of the rural South, their hardscrabble landscape and the determination to persevere. Sugar Baby is a beautiful collection of short stories that will linger in the imagination long after the last page has been turned.”
Michael Morris, author, Man in the Blue Moon

This collection of short stories is not to be missed!

River Jordan is a holy truth-teller who can make even the bad things in life seem as sweet as sugar. The stories in Sugar Baby and Other Stories are as real as life itself, but the language River uses to coat the pain is something from another world. Writer, storyteller, heart healer. River Jordan is simply the best.” Wiley Cash, author, The Last Ballad

May be an image of 2 people, book and text that says 'Sugar Baby is like River Jordan herself: thrilling, tender, tough, and shot through with light. Silas House, author, Southernmost SUGAR BABY AND OTHER STORIES RIVER IORDAN'
A Creative picture by Kathy L. Murphy, the rallying point of the biggest Book Club in the World: The International Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Club, of which there are 800 chapters!

Sugar Baby Description:

A union soldier who deserted, a scared girl in an abandoned, antebellum home, a gravedigger looking for a wife, seven sisters who will kill to protect each other, a stake-out at a rundown hotel, a Spanish priest trying to save his people from the Spanish flu, a young girl sneaking off with an encyclopedia salesman, an old woman aiming to use her last bullet. a woman framed for murder on All Saints Day, a one-eyed outcast who lives down by the river.

The characters in Short Baby and Other Stories are infused by desire, touched by love, and seeking retribution and redemption at every turn. Sugar Baby is storytelling of the highest order, plucking up the reader and transporting them to a world of mystery, spirituality, violence, love, and everything in between.”

Author River Jordan:

RiverJordan-8644_edited_edited.jpg

https://www.riverjordanink.com/

https://www.instagram.com/riverjordanink/

Available on Amazon!

Book Review: Fugitive by David Butler

As it appears in The New York Journal of Books:

Fugitive: Short Stories

Image of Fugitive
Publisher ‏ : ‎ Arlen House (December 15, 2021)

Reviewed by: Claire Fullerton

“At times uproariously funny, uncannily accurate, and glaringly insightful, David Butler’s Fugitive is a collective exposé on human nature delivered in entertaining snippets with such clever finesse it will reaffirm your enjoyment of the art of the short story.”

Award-winning novelist, poet, short story writer, and playwright David Butler’s second collection of short stories, Fugitive, is a delightful assembly of character-driven stories that, when pieced together, give the reader great insight into modern-day Ireland, while simultaneously depicting universal themes. These are swaggering, anecdotal stories, everyday slices of life made significant, visual as staged plays rollicking in pitch-perfect Irish vernacular, each with a pithy conclusion like a moral to the story.

The 21 short stories that make up Fugitive are primarily short in length and deeply human. Butler’s talent is the ability to set the stage in medias res, dropping the reader into the story with an immediate sense of familiarity. His narrative is direct and conversational, as in the case of the wildly surprising, hitch-hiking story gone wrong as two youths traverse the country. The story, “Taylor Keith,” opens with, “The mist rolling off the mountain was threatening rain, otherwise we’d never have taken that lift.” The journey from Dublin to Galway with a dubious stranger becomes a nerve-wracking misadventure when one odd shock follows another, until the narrator concludes of his driver, “By Jaysus, he was some cute hoor all the same.”  

In “The Lie,” Butler posits the dilemma of Jack as he weighs the question of loyalty to a deceased friend named Ronnie to whom he’d served as best man at his wedding. Beside the casket, Ronnie’s widow asks him what really happened on that stag night long ago, remarking that ever after, Ronnie significantly changed until his life ended in suicide. Jack guards the hidden facts: “Ronnie’d had what they term ‘history.’ But what autopsy can disclose a state of mind?”

In “The Tailor’s Shears,” Butler weaves two subjects: the plight of a divorced woman past childbearing years and the frustrating unpredictability of the publishing world. After seven years of marriage, Emily Brooks wonders what to do with her life. “Spinster is a cruel word. A male word. As she examined the fissured puffiness about those eyes with a detachment that surprised her, Emily decided she would not endure the humiliation of placing herself back on the market. On the reduced to clear shelf.” When chance presents Emily with a local writing group, “It was as if a light had come on inside her head,” and the reader is taken through 25 erratic years of Emily pursuing the publication of her short story collection, in a one step forward, two steps back manner that renders the superb ending comical.

The spot-on use of Irish colloquialism throughout Fugitive animates each lively story. In “First Time,” the teammate of a deceased 16 year old meets his dead friend’s mother at the funeral and, after volunteering to help her around the yard, an improper relationship develops to dangerous proportions. The narrator says of himself, “OK, I can be a bit of a headbanger on the rugby pitch, but I’ve never been any use with the girls,” and “I’d never so much as snogged a girl.” After the illicit affair is discovered, the young man wonders, “I would love to know who dobbed us in. One of the neighbors, was it? Can you not?”

Tipping its hat to the sign of the times, the witty “Distancing” portrays the unintended consequences of social distancing when the anxious Emily calls her neighbor, in that short window of time while her husband walks the dog, to ask that her skimpily clad, 18-year-old Brazilian au pair be kept from her husband’s line of view. Nervous at being caught out by her husband, upon his return, Emily composes a smile, “the smile that, ever since the lockdown started, seemed only to put Frankie on edge.”  

At times uproariously funny, uncannily accurate, and glaringly insightful, David Butler’s Fugitive is a collective exposé on human nature delivered in entertaining snippets with such clever finesse it will reaffirm your enjoyment of the art of the short story.  

Claire Fullerton’s most recent novels are Little Tea and multiple award winner, Mourning Dove. Honors include the Independent Book Publishers Book Award Silver Medal for Regional Fiction, the Reader’s Favorite for Southern Fiction Bronze Medal and various other literary awards.

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David Butler is a multi-award winning novelist, poet, short-story writer and playwright. The most recent of his three published novels, City of Dis (New Island) was shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year, 2015. His poetry collections All the Barbaric Glass (2017) and Liffey Sequence (2021) are published by, and available from, Doire Press. His 11 poem cycle ‘Blackrock Sequence’, a Per Cent Literary Arts Commission illustrated by his brother Jim, won the World Illustrators Award 2018 (books, professional section). Arlen House is to bring out his second short story collection, Fugitive, in 2021. Literary prizes include the Maria Edgeworth (twice), ITT/Red Line and Fish International Award for the short story; the Scottish Community Drama, Cork Arts Theatre and British Theatre Challenge awards; and the Féile Filíochta, Ted McNulty, Brendan Kennelly and Poetry Ireland/Trocaire awards for poetry. His radio play ‘Vigil’ was shortlisted for a ZeBBie 2018. David tutors regularly at the Irish Writers Centre.

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett

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This Review first appeared in The New York Journal of Books: https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/these-precious-days-essays-0

It takes a writer with supernatural depth of field to remind us that life’s seeming trivialities matter. In the aptly named, These Precious Days, author Ann Patchett brings a sense of the sacred to twenty-three, deeply introspective vignettes that shed light on her uncommon life even as they entertain. Each essay is a slice-of-life meditation in topics ranging from family to knitting to the incremental growth of the author’s career. In equal measure, the engaging essays are uniquely personal and resoundingly universal.

Beginning with Three Fathers, Patchett examines the oddity of her paternal background, and reflects upon the individual influences of her mother’s three husbands by noting, “Marriage has always proven irresistible to my family. We try and fail and try again, somehow maintaining our belief in an institution that has made fools of us all.” With full disclosure, Patchett adds, “My problems were never ones of scarcity. I suffered from abundance, too much and too many. There are worse problems to have.”

In The First Thanksgiving, Patchett tells the story of learning to cook as a freshman away from home for the holiday and ties it into a life lesson: “On that freezing holiday weekend when my adult life began, I not only learned how to cook, I learned to read,” and “I then went on to use this newfound understanding to great advantage for the rest of my life. Books were not just my education and my entertainment; they were my partners.”

With regard to the beginning stages of her writing career, in the essay, To the Doghouse, Patchett writes about the mysterious powers of childhood influence: “Influence is a combination of circumstance and luck: what we are shown and what we stumble upon in those brief years when our hearts and minds are fully open.” Just as the reader prepares for something erudite coming, Patchett waxes rhapsody on the dog, Snoopy, from the Charlie Brown comic strip. “Did I become a novelist because I was a loser kid who wanted to be more like the cartoon dog I admired, the confident dog I associated with the happiest days of my otherwise haphazard youth? Or did I have some nascent sense that I would be a writer, and so gravitated toward Snoopy the dog novelist?”

Going deeper into the topic of her writing career, in A Talk to the Association of Graduate School Deans in the Humanities, Patchett shares, “I went to Sarah Lawrence College in 1981 and had as good an undergraduate experience as any writer could dream up,” then goes on to depict her two-year experience at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, in which she studied with visiting faculty while teaching literature. Patchette writes, “What I learned in those two years of graduate school came not from being taught but from teaching.” “Teaching made me a better reader and a better thinker. I became more conscious about how I expressed myself, which in turn made me a better writer.”

On friendship, the essay, Tavia, depicts a life-long friendship beginning in the second grade, in which Patchette writes, “Insofar as life is a game show, Tavia Cathcart is my lifeline.” But it is in the book’s eponymous essay, These Precious Days, that Patchett dives deepest while recounting the incremental stages of a significant friendship formed later in life. Of These Precious Days, Patchett writes in the book’s introduction, “It wasn’t until I wrote the title essay, These Precious Days, that I realized I would have to put a book together. That essay was so important to me that I wanted to build a solid shelter for it.” And Patchett did. The introspective essays that lead to the book’s focus catalogue life’s vagaries in such a way as to place your own powers of observation beneath the lens of scrutiny.

In the essay, These Precious Days, Patchett tells of the chance events that aligned to bring one Sookie Raphael into her orbit. An invitation to interview Tom Hanks on stage started a series of email correspondence with Sookie, Tom Hanks’ assistant, and the seeds of friendship planted between Ann and Sookie take root at Ann’s home in Nashville. Under uncannily coincidental circumstances having to do with sheltering Sookie during the treatment of her dire medical prognosis, the women create a dynamic bond that now reads like fate. It is a heartbreaking essay, but in the hands of Patchett it is poignant, life-affirming, and testimony to the power of friendship. In the open-ended conclusion, Patchette writes, “As it turned out, Sookie and I needed the same thing: to find someone who could see us as our best and most complete selves.”

Two more essays lead to These Precious Days epilogue, serving, by turn, as an opportunity to revisit Ann’s writing career and the subject of her biological father. At this juncture, the reader is intimately familiar with the voice of the author. They’ve been given the great largess of looking beneath the hood of a world-famous writer’s life, and the reprieve given is a chance to regroup before the last essay, A Day at the Beach, in which comes the end of the story of Patchett’s dear friend, Sookie Raphael, the vividly drawn inspiration behind the collection’s title essay.

Like a foray into the heartbeat of a widely beloved author, These Precious Days by Ann Patchett is a powerful essay collection, wonderfully executed and deeply human.

Ann Patchett is the author of six novels, including Bel Canto, which won the Orange Prize for Fiction. She writes for the New York Times Magazine, Elle, GQ, the Financial Times, the Paris Review and Vogue. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

Author photo by Heidi Ross

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