"All stories are in conversation with other stories."
Behind the Beautiful Forevers was the first selection for a book club I attended briefly. It was hand picked by a member who has traveled to India and seen the beautiful and the antithesis first hand. Normally, I would never pick up a book like this. It's a harrowing non-fiction tale of the inhabitants of the Annawadi slum. Trust me. If it was fiction, it would be easier to absorb. Unfortunately, it is disturbingly true. But, that being said, it is beautifully written and enlightening. As an aspiring writer, I'll never forget how the author describes little yellow flowers as the open beaks of baby birds. Dazzling imagery. There is so much ingenuity in almost all of the characters. Like teenage Abdul. His talent is foraging for recyclables. He digs, sorts and scrapes together a meager existence for his entire family. In fact, exceeding their income far above others in their slum. And then there's Asha, clawing her way to the top by utilizing every means available to her. Rarely an honest mean is ever selected. In fact, Angela, from my book club, described honesty as a luxury in Annawadi. There's no truer statement.
The most powerful character for me was Fatima the one leg. Her plight becomes a main plot point as the book progresses.
You'll never forget the fighting spirit of these unforgettable, real life characters.
I'm just starting to admit to people that I'm writing a novel. After telling my cousin Jane about my story, she noticed definite similarities between my novel and the one she had just finished. So she handed me Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger and told me to read it. She said she could barely put it down. She said that for awhile, it had been her go to book for nocturnal reading sessions. So I dove right in. Research, right? During the day, mind you.
The voice of teenage Frank narrates the novel. He's the son of a Methodist minister. Unfortunately, the life of Frank and his family become awash in un-ordinary deaths. A literal laundry list of his neighbors and even sadder still, people much closer to him. The small town scene comes to life visually. The train takes off and doesn't stop. And the characters are real citizens of the time. My favorite character was Gus. He was living in the basement of the church across the street from the central family. And plenty of mischief ensues from that simple fact. There's a bonus for us Minnesotans too. It's set here.
Being of devious mind, I guessed what the mystery revealed in the end. But it didn't matter. It was still a great book.
"Our son will be your son now."
The diminutive sentence above is the heart and soul of the haunting book LaRose by Louise Erdrich. It is an affecting story of loss, love and the lore of a whole culture of people in North Dakota.
I learned about Native American life in the book. The good and the bad. The old and the new. There were so many well drawn characters. Like the wise beyond his years LaRose. The 5 year old boy at the center of the story. But there are many namesake LaRose's hanging from the family tree like beautiful wind songs. We meet all of them in the book. The mystical backstory of the first LaRose was my favorite part.
The conflict occurs when Landreaux, LaRose's father, accidentally kills his neighbor's child while deer hunting. The lives of all of the central characters are subsequently torn apart. Landreaux resorts to the old ways for guidance. He visits a sweat lodge and is compelled to give away his son, to make amends for the one he killed.
I wish I would have purchased this book at our local Minneapolis book store, Birchbark Books, owned by the author. Because then I could have acquired a signed copy. It was so good.
Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Stephen King