My pals over at Wunderkind PR sent me a copy of today's book and asked that I give an honest review. Spoiler alert: I said yes. :-)
How to Love the Empty Air by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz is a collection of poetry which primarily focuses on her relationship with her mother (also a writer) and the grief she experienced after her death. Please don't think it's all doom and gloom and buckets of tears (although there is that too) because she also delves into the pockets of happiness that can be found amidst the overwhelming sadness of losing someone so dear. Cristin speaks to that part of the heart that is attuned to the people in our lives who get us so completely that even the idea that they might not be there pulls the air from one's lungs. From her poem "O Laughter" comes this gem: Sometimes the pain bursts out of me like a flock of starlings. Perfection! If I had to express this book in graph form it would be a steep incline immediately followed by a steep decline and finished off with a steady incline that disappears off the side of the page. Simply put, this is an absolutely lovely little book with beautiful prose and if it doesn't stir your heart I wonder if you even have one. 10/10
PS I'd also like to note that 1. I loved the finish on this book. It's like that velvety feeling that some books have and it was an absolute treat to hold it. 2. I enjoyed Cristin's book so much that I'm actively looking to read her other works (including a nonfiction book).
STIRRING THE SHEETS is a novella by Chad Lutzke that left me wrung out on the floor, but in a good way!
When Emmett loses his wife of 50 years, he has a hard time getting over his grief. He seems fine to most of the outside world-he's eating, he goes to work at the mortuary and he talks to his neighbors, both the nice one and the not so nice one. His neighbors don't know that Emmett hasn't touched the sheets on his bed since his wife passed, instead he sleeps on the couch. There are a few other things they don't know as well, but the author has to tell you those himself.
The grief in this book is palpable. I felt like I could reach out and touch it. (In this way, STIRRING THE SHEETS brought to mind the grief I felt when reading OF FOSTER HOMES AND FLIES last year.) I've been married for almost 33 years now and I can't imagine losing my spouse after such a long time. The things that people do when overcome by grief can be terrible and hard to understand. I think I understand Emmett and what he did, though. I wonder if you can?
Over the past several years I've developed a fondness for both Chad Lutzke and John Boden, (John wrote the touching and heartfelt introduction for this book). They have a writing style all their own, both completely individual but recognizable. This novella is all Chad's. All the grief, all the poignancy, and that little bit of hope? They're all Chad's.
My highest recommendation to any fan of dark fiction!
Available on Friday the 13th or pre-order here:Stirring the Sheets
*I was provided an e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it.*
Yejide and Akin fell in love at a political event while at University and married. They are young, upper-middle class, educated professionals with one foot in the future and one firmly rooted in their traditional Yoruba culture. They've been married for four years with no children, so to remedy this, in walks Akin's mother and the extended female family for what has become a regular visit to discuss this personal matter which is taken on by the larger community. This time, however, they brought a pretty young woman with them - a stranger. It seems that since Yejide can't or won't bear a child (preferably a son,) it's time to add a wife to the household, and she's here now.
Yejide at first assumes this is impossible. She and Akin had discussed their modern view of monogamous marriage. Before long, though, it becomes clear that Akin has assented to his mother's wishes for new woman entering their lives. Yejide is beyond distraught. So as Nigeria is ripped apart by political lies, unkept promises, and things that look different than they seem, so is the marriage. Against a backdrop of political unrest, we watch a marriage go through its own unrest.
The outside pressure brought to bear on both the individuals and the marriage lead both to multiple extremes. Nobody is a hero here. Everyone is supremely human and flawed, each with his or her own rationale for acting the way they do. Nonetheless, love cannot win out when truth falls victim to perception. Akin wants to be perceived as virile. Akin's mother wants that too. Yejide wants desperately to be loved, but when that seems impossible, she throws away nearly everything.
Something that has cropped up repeatedly for me over the past few years is the way machismo is enforced by women -- be it in fiction or in reality. Akin's mother is a perfect example of this. She wants certain esteem, and her son is the way to get that -- who cares about this woman he loves?
There is an intricate dance done in the writing where things happen and we only find out the hows and whys later. The balancing act of a disintegrating family within a disintegrating society is nimbly handled. Adebayo covers the family's struggles and torments with a skillful style that takes them from the personal to the universal.