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Mary Akers has commented on (22) products.

The Understory by Pamela Erens
The Understory

Mary Akers, May 13, 2015

Jack Gorse is a complicated man. The particularity of his nature is revealed in the book’s opening paragraph as he describes an episode of curdled cream in his self-serve coffee--an episode that led him forever after to drink his coffee black and obsessively double check each time he fills his cup.

We soon learn that he is also facing eviction from a rent-controlled apartment in New York City, an apartment he has illegally inhabited for years following the death of a similarly named uncle. The slow, cold war of attrition that ensues leaves Jack the only remaining tenant, and the architect hired to oversee the project his only human contact.

The ever unfolding layers of Jack’s personality reveal a man both intelligent and oddly naïve, shy and slyly voyeuristic, cunning and emotionally guileless. He is a fascinating man. He is also a quiet man, but even though this story is a first-person narrative, I would hesitate to label it a quiet book. The Understory crackles with the energy of compulsion and unrequited obsession that is slowly and meticulously revealed in a way that could be called meditative (for its gradually deepening understanding), except for the fact that Jack fails miserably at meditation. No, the true genius in the storytelling here is that Jack reveals his deepest self, without actually revealing his deepest self. He simply recounts, while we see what he cannot.

In fact, it’s this continual dichotomous tendency that serves up the book’s delicious tension. Gorse is beset by a stubborn ennui that plays against a dramatic narrative backdrop of eviction notices, narrowly escaped fires, and a culminating scene of violence that is as sudden and unexpected as it is dramatically right.

The Understory is a book that relentlessly and incrementally pulls you forward on intelligent tenterhooks; its dramatic conclusion resonates long after the turning of the final page.
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What the Zhang Boys Know by Clifford Garstang
What the Zhang Boys Know

Mary Akers, April 30, 2013

Nanking Mansion is a sprawling subdivided house located in an (almost gentrified) area of Washington DC and populated by a host of fascinating multicultural characters whose lives intersect by virtue of their shared space. WHAT THE ZHANG BOYS KNOW gives us a glimpse into these lives, each one more enticing than the last, as the stories accumulate to tell an intricate and multilayered tale of love and loss and the lingering effects of both. The enticing narrative pull of these stories left me feeling as if I were observing the mansion in a thunderstorm, each story a flash of lightning that briefly and brilliantly illuminates the fascinating lives behind its windows, with the final, climactic story its great crescendo.
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Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Jr Currie
Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles

Mary Akers, April 14, 2013

A father's messy death, the Singularity, a perfect, violent love, and capital-T Truth. Why is it that a book that makes me think so hard and feel so much is impossible to describe? Ron Currie manages to accomplish things on the page (gymnastic feats of logic, associative speculation, alienation, abject confession, contrition, enduring love, aching loss) that I can only manage in my mind--and sometimes not even there. The best thing about Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles is that the author takes you along with him on his wild flights of the mind, but always comes back to his comforting touchstones whenever he gets too close to the sun. Reading Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles not only makes makes you feel, quite beautifully, makes you FEEL.
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Arcadia by Lauren Groff

Mary Akers, January 31, 2013

I adored this book and sweeping narrative that spans five decades and yet remains grounded by the clever and kind Bit Stone, the first child to be born on an upstate New York commune the residents call Arcadia. Lauren Groff's prose lifts the story off the page, moving even the tiniest of details into the realm of beauty. It was my favorite book of 2012, by far.
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Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung
Forgotten Country

Mary Akers, January 31, 2013

I first encountered Catherine Chung's wonderful novel Forgotten Country at an artist's colony. It was on a table in the center library and I picked it up and started (idly) to read the first chapter. Time compressed and before I knew it, I had to leave the book behind and return to my duties, but I knew I was hooked and had to finish it. As soon as I returned home, I picked up my own copy and devoured Forgotten Country. The writing is elegant and spare and unflinchingly honest. Themes explored are sisterhood, loyalty, belonging, family, and identity.

When main character Jeehyn's sister Haejin (the girls are renamed Janie and Hannah by the American public school system) goes missing, Jeehyn is tasked with finding her and bringing her home, a task that becomes even more urgent after their father falls ill. This is a story that explores the conflicts between dreams and desires, duty and freedom, family and love. Chung also delightfully weaves Korean folklore and history throughout.

Forgotten Country is a touching, thoughtful, important story that left me emotionally wrecked--in the very best sort of way--the way that only the most beautiful of books can.
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