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Cynthia Newberry Martin has commented on (11) products.

Wrecker by Summer Wood

Cynthia Newberry Martin, April 13, 2011

Wrecker--what a great name for a little boy. And for the title of Summer Wood’s second novel from Bloomsbury.

Chapter One begins with these two sentences: "It was the middle of the afternoon, January 1969, and a half-hearted rain dampened San Francisco and cast a gloomy pall over the hallways of the Social Welfare building." And then, "Len stood waiting for his life to change."

On page 13, there’s a space break, and the reader thinks now we’re going to move in close to Wrecker, but no, we ricochet off him. "They thought of him as a puppy and took him in." Like those at Bow Farm, we circle him. He’s apt to run off, and we try not to lose him. It turns out the book is less about Wrecker than it is about how Wrecker affects the lives of those around him. "Len, Meg, Melody, Ruth, Willow, and Johnny Appleseed. And that narrative approach couldn’t be more fitting for a story about a little boy named Wrecker: Who at 3 “seemed to need to feel his body collide with the physical world to know he existed.” And at 8 “still harbored that same dangerous mix of curiosity and enthusiasm and utter lack of caution that he’d come with.”

On page 92, Willow says to Melody about raising a child:
“It’s no walk in the park.”
“I don’t expect it to be easy.”
“Easy?” Willow gave a little laugh. “Easy’s not even on the spectrum. Try all-consuming. Try heart-breaking. You might start by giving up everything you ever wanted just to do this one thing…”

An engaging story. Lovely writing. Soft, recycled pages “made from wood grown in well-managed forests.”
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If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This: Stories by Robin Black
If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This: Stories

Cynthia Newberry Martin, April 30, 2010

When I heard that Robin Black was going to be the Sirenland Fellow for 2009 and that she had published a story in One Story, I moved quickly to my back issues and began to thumb through. I only save the stories I love and pass the others forward. Of course I'd saved her story. She writes the kind of stories I love.

Ten stories, including "Harriett Elliot," first published in One Story, make up this collection. [no spoilers here] These stories catch the ordinary moments in life-a new girl at school, a neighbor building a fence, a father taking a daughter to meet her first seeing-eye dog: "As Jack scans the road for signs, Lila is proclaiming to him in those certain tones of hers that if it weren't for being quite so blind and having to have one, she'd definitely never get a dog. Never. Never ever."

Although I don't have a favorite story, I do have a favorite first sentence. It comes in "A Country Where You Once Lived:""It isn't even a two-hour train ride out from London to the village where Jeremy's daughter and her husband-a man Jeremy has never met-have lived for the past three years, but it's one of those trips that seem to carry you much farther than the time might imply."

Trees, like guides, have two sides to them. In "Tableau Vivant," Jean walks her daughter Brooke to her car. "The roof, sunroof, hood were all splattered with bird droppings. `Stupid,' Brooke said. `Acres of open field, and I park under a tree. I was thinking shade, when I should have been thinking bird.'"

The stories in this collection slow the ordinary moments down so that you feel their underside; there's a pause, and then they expand with wonder. From the third story in the collection, "Immortalizing John Parker:" "A streetlight comes on. Clara waits to see how long it will take another to join it. A minute passes, two minutes. Nothing. They must have different levels of sensitivity, she thinks. They must believe different things about what darkness is."

In "The History of the World," the last and longest story and the only story with more than one point-of-view character, this is from Kate: "She has been many women, she understands, has slipped surefooted through the years from one identity to the next. Daughter, sister, wife, mother. And now to be this-to be a woman without even the illusion of knowing herself. The sensation is like flight."

These are the stories of our lives. They are the kind of stories that will crack your heart open. They will remind you, you have a heart, in case you've forgotten."The idea that as loved as we may be, we may also be forgotten. If only for a day here and there."

In each of these stories, worlds seem as if they're about to collide, but instead, they hover-one world on top of another for just a moment so that the light all around changes. Like in an eclipse. And it's that moment that causes these stories to expand before your eyes.
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Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk
Arlington Park

Cynthia Newberry Martin, January 25, 2009

Arlington Park is well written and digs deep into truth. It's about women-real and flawed. It's about marriage. It's about not only the lives we plan to live and choose to live, but the lives we end up living. In an article written in 2005, Cusk said, "I remain fascinated by where you go as a woman once you are a mother, and if you ever come back." Arlington Park was one of the best books I read in 2008, and a new addition to my all-time favorite books. It was so good, in fact, that I read it again in December--twice in one year.

The first sentence: "All night the rain fell on Arlington Park." The falling of rain appears like a refrain throughout the book. The rain falls on everyone in Arlington Park. It falls on all of us.

The novel is divided into ten unmarked sections: 1-the rain fell; 2-Juliet; 3-Amanda; 4-Christine, Maisie and Stephanie at the mall; 5-Solly; 6-in the park/the rain had stopped; 7-Juliet; 8-Maisie; 9-Christine; and 10-party at Christine's with Juliet, Maisie, and Maggie.

The first time I read it, I was so taken with Juliet that I didn't want to leave her to switch to Amanda. This time, it did not feel like a brusque change, but felt right. Because it's not just about one of us; it's about all of us.

Here's a little flavor of what you have to look forward to:
-Juliet about a recording of a song by Ravel: "The sound of it brought tears to Juliet's eyes. It was the voice, that woman's voice, so solitary and powerful, so-transcendent. It made Juliet think she could transcend it all, this little house with its stained carpets, its shopping, its flawed people, transcend the grey, rain-sodden distances of Arlington Park; transcend, even her own body, where bitterness lay like lead in the veins. She could open somewhere like a out all the petals packed inside her."
-Solly about her inability to communicate with a Japanese student renting out their extra room: "...she became aware of how much of her lay shrouded in this inarticulable darkness."
-Solly: "Suddenly she saw her life as a breeding ground, a community under a rock...There was a lack of light, a lack of higher purpose to it all. How could she have forgotten to find out what else there was? How could she have stayed there, under her rock, down in the mulch, and forgotten to take a look outside and see what was going on? All at once she didn't know what she'd been thinking of."
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In the Fold by Rachel Cusk
In the Fold

Cynthia Newberry Martin, January 25, 2009

Although I have enjoyed many of Rachel Cusk’s books, this one I didn’t want to finish. There are other opinions: it was long listed for the 2005 Booker Prize.

In the Fold is narrated by a man and full of dialogue. Perhaps an important step in a writer’s development is to try something different. It gives you a reference point: You do that better than this. And then you can go boldly forth.

My favorite thing about the book is the name of the country home where most of the action takes place. It’s called Egypt–no explanation given. My favorite line refers to Egypt: “This is our home. It’s the place that matters, not the people in it.”
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A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother by Rachel Cusk
A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother

Cynthia Newberry Martin, January 25, 2009

A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother is Rachel Cusk’s fourth book. My favorite line, because of the unwritten premise, comes in the Introduction, where she writes, “…so it would be a contradiction to write a book about motherhood without explaining to some degree how I found the time to write it.”

The answer is that her partner quit his job to take care of the children “while Rachel writes her book about looking after the children.”

In the author’s words, this book “describes a period in which time seemed to go round in circles rather than in any chronological order.” Very quickly, the baby develops colic. Surely, Cusk writes, there is a better word for this, some sort of German word meaning lifegrief.

At the end of three months: “I see that she has become somebody. I realize, too, that the crying has stopped, that she has survived the first pain of existence and out of it wrought herself. And she has wrought me, too, because although I have not helped or understood, I have been there all along and this, I suddenly and certainly know, is motherhood; this mere sufficiency, this presence.”

My only quarrel with the memoir is that perhaps a better title would have been simply On Becoming a Mother, as these pages are limited to the initial weeks and months after the baby is born, to this transition time of becoming a mother, which the author so clearly does.

A book to read before you get pregnant, as well as afterwards (if you can stay awake long enough to read.) And don’t forget Anne Lamott’s, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year. Two books that speak the truth.

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