In the Woods of Memory tells of the rape of a teenage girl during the American occupation after the Battle of Okinawa and the subsequent attack on an American soldier by a young Japanese fisherman. Though the novel begins in 1945, most of it takes place sixty years later as Medoruma places us in the perspectives of nine Japanese and American characters, bridging the events across time. The novel’s real power unfolds as readers merge its events together on their own, pinnacling in the stream-of-consciousness Seiji chapter (originally written using Okinawan dialect) that evokes the most powerful modernist fiction.
In the Woods of Memory at Stone Bridge Press
Johnson’s poems hit that sweet spot of being approachable yet challenging, not too simple, yet not too arcane. The opening section was written during her walking trek through France in the days leading up to the 2015 Paris attacks and captures both the country’s historic character and the ideological ugliness behind ISIS, including its abominable treatment of women (which tends not to get as much coverage). The collection’s other poems convey images of loss, humiliation, and conflicts with loved ones in moments that quietly ask for our reflections, along with a few plays on words to break the rhythm.
Jill McCabe Johnson’s website
Revolutions We’d Hoped We’d Outgrown at Finishing Line Press
An aging butler in 1950s Britain goes on a road trip and reflects on the glory days of the British aristocracy that turn out to be not so glorious. This novel works so incredibly because of its narrator, who speaks in a voice that’s both dignified and easy to read, reeking of unreliability and dry humor as he encounters the common folk. Greater stakes, however, lie in its backstory of what democracy really means and how an entire working class could trade their independence for service to the upper classes—who are prone to more than a few shortcomings.
Anne Sterling’s memoir/biography of her father, Twilight Zone host, creator, and writer Rod Sterling, does twofold duty: on the one hand, Anne shows her father the writer, social activist, and continual innovator, while on the other she shows his decidedly human, funny, fatherly side through anecdotes and the many jokes they shared. While I found myself most interested in Sterling’s early struggles to earn money for his writing and wrest creative control from the TV censors (and wish there was more to this section), Anne’s difficulties after her father’s untimely death also form a solid, more personal story arc.
In 1935 Britain, a thirteen-year-old girl’s overactive imagination and accidental brush with the c-word lead her to send an innocent man to prison for a sex crime. While the first half covers the misunderstanding, the second deals with the grim early days of World War II, both on the French front and in the hospitals. Everything about this book feels like it shouldn’t work (historical fiction, child narrator, loaded politics) but it does, which speaks to McEwan’s skill as a storyteller. Though the prose is often slow, there are enough hard-hitting dramatic moments to make this an intense read.
Where I Got It
From a friend who was getting rid of books in the summer of 2015. I have mixed feelings about movie cover tie-ins, but this one pulls it off quite well.
Like every Tom Robbins novel, this one starts out with a chaotic bang: a large-scrotumed talking tanuki parachutes into nineteenth century Japan to drink sake and sleep with girls; meanwhile a band of ex-GIs in southeast Asia panics when their drug-smuggling comrade gets caught in the act. Robbins takes a while to tie his scattered opening together, but when he does, the plot feels surprisingly coherent. We also go along with his writing because it’s devilishly funny and wittily intelligent as we fall into his bizarre world where we never quite know what’s coming, but feel okay with that.
Where I Got It
From a friend in spring 2015 who thought my writing reminded him of Tom Robbins’s. He gave me this one along with Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, which I read last year before I started this book blog.
I found Mrs. Dalloway more accessible than other Virginia Woolf novels I’ve read, possibly because it’s also shorter. The stream-of-consciousness novel shows a day in the life of a fiftysomething socialite reflecting on the mundanity of her married life, the passionate love of her youth, and her deeply hidden feelings for a female friend. My favorite scenes, though, were the surreal and hard-hitting takes on WWI shell shock in the hallucinatory ramblings of ex-soldier Septimus Warren Smith.
There’s a lot to like here, but it’s still high modernism and can get…dense.
Where I Got It
From a grad school friend who had two copies, Summer 2015.
Virginia Woolf on Wikipedia
Virginia Woolf Was More Than Just a Women’s Writer (essay)