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review 2018-04-17 18:29
How to awaken the heart: an instruction manual
How to Love the Empty Air - Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz

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).

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-04-09 18:45
Stirring the Sheets by Chad Lutzke
Stirring the Sheets - Chad Lutzke

 

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.*

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review 2018-04-02 08:15
Lily and the Octopus -- a love story
Lily and the Octopus - Steven Rowley I can't even... This is a love story. About a man and his dog. And it's not a completely sad story, but it's emotional and made me cry. It's the story of a man and his best friend and an octopus and falling out of love and in love and finding each other and losing each other. It's the story of grief and of life and most of all of love. I can't tell you more, or I'd give away the beauty. It is a worthwhile read.
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review 2018-03-30 18:08
Stay With Me -- A nation and a marriage full of turbulence
Stay with Me: A novel - Adebayo Ayobami

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.

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review 2018-03-23 21:15
In Every Moment We Are Still Alive -- from tragedy comes poetry
In Every Moment We Are Still Alive - Tom Malmquist,Henning Koch

The first page opens in an ER trauma room where Tom's pregnant partner Karin's clothes are being cut off and her vital stats are being called out. Anyone who's ever been in one of those rooms will instantly feel the claustrophobia, confusion and terror.

The crisis never ends. It gathers new crises to attach to itself, and in the midst of it all is a young man desperately trying to keep himself together and put one foot in front of the other. Karin had a rare and aggressive form of leukemia. Beneath a breathing mask, she tells Tom she wants to call the baby Livia, and her health (which was great days earlier) deteriorates rapidly. Very soon they induce a coma, transfer hospitals in order to get cutting-edge care, deliver her baby and perform multiple interventions to no avail. Soon she is gone and Tom is left alone with Livia. Tom, who has been living a rather charmed life becomes a widower and the single father of a premature infant in the span of days.

Tom Malmquist went through this exact same thing, and as such, it's very hard to read this as fiction and impossible to be dispassionate about the book. It's a fictionalized autobiography. I have no idea which parts are which beyond the broad strokes. There is nothing maudlin, some absurdity (ie, the baby has to bring a legal suit against Tom to become his daughter because Tom and Karin weren't married. They lived together for a decade. He'd had a DNA test, but the baby is not automatically his, despite the fact that he is the one caring for her. I would say "only in America" but apparently not.) We go from the main story to flashbacks of when Karin was alive. It feels real - that at these moments, Tom the character is remembering Karin, so the flashbacks of her work well. There are others of his father, who is also dying when the book opens, and the main timeline is straightforward but there are many branches on this tree, all culminating in the sketch of a life from childhood to present. 

The final chapter is gorgeous and brims with love. It's set apart from the acute stages of the rest of the book and moves quickly through Livia's early years to her first days of staying alone at school. Tom has learned how to parent and while he says he feels like a bad parent, it's clear he is not. It's a compelling and tear-inducing final chapter full of poetry and hope.

Malmquist is a poet for real. Prose is a newer endeavor., and this story had to be prose. The book is in translation, and the translation feels very clunky at times. I can feel the poetry trying to break free, but it fails to do so, especially in dialogue. The writing doesn't always employ typical dialogue signifiers like breaks or quotation marks. This works extremely well when Tom is stressed and too much information is coming at him. But in the midst of something that could've worked well comes what may be an overly-literal translation. So everything is conveyed, but not always in the best of ways. When dialogue isn't being overly literal, the translation doesn't get in the way, but this is yet another book I would love to read in its original language. 

No matter the translation, this is a universal story that works despite moments of clunky dialogue. Well worth keeping an eye out for anything else to come from Tom Malmquist.

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