Anne Morris

Last year, Jennifer Haigh impressed readers with her brilliant debut, Mrs. Kimble. With her second novel, Haigh does it again differently, but just as well. Baker Towers focuses on an immigrant family from the company coal town of Bakerton, Pennsylvania. The mines were not named for Bakerton; Bakerton was named for the mines, Haigh writes. This is an important distinction. It explains the order of things. Her characters at first appear to be stereotypes, but soon display their uniqueness. The mother, Rose, is Italian-American and forever cooking pasta and having babies. Yet she had the courage to marry Stanley and become the only Italian wife living on Polish Hill. Even more unexpected is their quiet, studious daughter Joyce's ardent desire to join the Women's Air Force.

Stanley's untimely death in early 1944 leaves Rose a widow with five children. Georgie, the oldest, is serving in the South Pacific; Lucy, the youngest, is a baby on the hip. In between are Dorothy, Joyce and good-looking little Sandy. How the family manages the life they inherit is the story Haigh tells so compellingly, demonstrating how a small town can both smother people and give them comfort. The female characters in Baker Towers prove especially interesting as they meet the challenges of changing mores. Dorothy finds that her true path has little to do with the straight and narrow; Lucy discovers that education and a career can take her away, but will also serve her well if she decides to go back home. The towers in the title describes tall pillars of smoldering coal. They seem a permanent part of the landscape, yet, in the end, Haigh shows that permanence lies not in the mine, but in the impression made on the rich mix of people who grew up in old Bakerton. Anne Morris writes from Austin, Texas.

Last year, Jennifer Haigh impressed readers with her brilliant debut, Mrs. Kimble. With her second novel, Haigh does it again differently, but just as well. Baker Towers focuses on an immigrant family from the company coal town of Bakerton, Pennsylvania. The mines were not named for Bakerton; Bakerton was named for the mines, Haigh writes. […]

In the prologue to her new novel, Margaret Drabble admits her debt to a volume of Korean court memoirs two centuries old. Seduced by the true story she read there, Drabble decided to transform it into fiction, because, as she tells readers more than once, “borrowing is what novelists do.” The haunting voice in The Red Queen is that of a Crown Princess of Korea who survived all manner of palace intrigue to write her very odd memoirs. As the princess puts it, “I have been dead now for 200 years, but I have not been idle. I have been rethinking my story.” Armed with posthumously acquired psychological terms, Crown Princess Hyegyong describes her father-in-law as “what you would now call neurotic,” with “several obsessive-compulsive disorders,” and her husband Sado as probably “a paranoid schizophrenic.” As you might guess, hers was not an easy life. The reader experiences how claustrophobic court life became for this trapped, bright woman married at age nine to a child-husband who would go tragically mad.

In part two of the novel, we meet Babs Halliwell, a less-than-stellar scholar finishing a grant at Oxford. She's about to attend a conference in Korea when she receives the princess' book as an anonymous gift and reads it on the plane. Parallels to Halliwell's own life a crazy husband, a dead first child, an attraction to the color red draw her to the tale. In Korea, she visits places where the princess once walked and feels her spirit. A subplot involving the adoption of a Chinese girl and the cameo appearance of a character named Margaret Drabble enliven the story. Drabble's portrait of the middle-aged Halliwell, with sporadic worries about her size and her waning sexual attractions, is often hilarious. Her romantic liaison with a famous scholar at the conference leads to an unexpected climax. A delicate study of the female experience, The Red Queen is sure to delight.

Anne Morris lives in Austin, Texas.

In the prologue to her new novel, Margaret Drabble admits her debt to a volume of Korean court memoirs two centuries old. Seduced by the true story she read there, Drabble decided to transform it into fiction, because, as she tells readers more than once, “borrowing is what novelists do.” The haunting voice in The […]

Left alone and penniless in 1935, 18-year-old Rose Meadows accepts a position working in the New York household of the peculiar Mitwisser family. Soon, she is drawn into their drama and becomes one of them for a time.

Cynthia Ozick, whose brilliant story, The Shawl, depicted the consequences of the Holocaust, again takes on the situation of people forever altered by what happened to them in Hitler's Germany. Told in a roundabout way, Heir to the Glimmering World has the power to make readers take a fresh look at what can seem a too-familiar story.

Bit by bit, the reader learns the full story of who the Mitwissers were and how they came to be in a house on the outskirts of the Bronx. Once a prominent physicist, Frau Elsa Mitwisser now spends her days in bed, afraid of what waits outside. Her husband Rudi, once a famed religious scholar, toils in obscurity researching an arcane Jewish sect. Their numerous rowdy children appear trapped between the family's old and new lives.

The destitute refugees are sponsored by a disturbed young man named James A'bair. James will one day alter the Mitwisser family's fate as suddenly and as whimsically as history once did. Coincidence rules in Ozick's world, bringing together unlikely characters whose principal commonality is that they are all outsiders. Sometimes funny, always intelligent, this novel will make new fans for Ozick. Anne Morris writes from Austin, Texas.

Left alone and penniless in 1935, 18-year-old Rose Meadows accepts a position working in the New York household of the peculiar Mitwisser family. Soon, she is drawn into their drama and becomes one of them for a time. Cynthia Ozick, whose brilliant story, The Shawl, depicted the consequences of the Holocaust, again takes on the […]

Maggie Wilson remembered what happened that night she was left for dead. Her then-husband Nate came home drunk. She could see him in the doorframe still, raising his hand to strike her. She never doubted that memory. But then, five years later, someone else confessed to the attack.

This gripping first novel by Paul Jaskunas reads like a memoir as he captures the earnest voice of this beautiful young woman, turned into the village freak by the savage attack. Her testimony sent Nate to prison, and Maggie, now 28, must consider that she might have misremembered. Maybe it wasn't her husband after all. Maybe that powerful memory was false.

Tautly written, Hidden opens with Maggie's description of the scene when the police arrive and find her unconscious and bleeding on the floor of their farmhouse near the picturesque Utopian community of New Harmony, Indiana. The reader gradually learns much about Maggie: how she happened to marry so young, and how she came to violate her marriage vows with a co-worker; how she wants to lose herself. “Mine is a secretive country,” Maggie says. “It was settled by people who came here to hide.” Supporting characters come off well in this novel, and that's what keeps it compelling. Manny, the 78-year-old neighbor Maggie drinks gin with is as memorable as her tedious, devoted mother, or Nate, who makes the mistake of taking his domineering father for a role model.

No simple story of good and evil, this novel keeps you guessing. Jaskunas, who is himself an epileptic, gives convincing descriptions of the seizures Maggie undergoes following her injuries. He tells how seizures feel from the inside. In fact, Hidden is a well-told story of what an experience like Maggie's would feel like from the inside how it might feel to no longer trust your memory. Anne Morris is a reviewer from Austin, Texas.

Maggie Wilson remembered what happened that night she was left for dead. Her then-husband Nate came home drunk. She could see him in the doorframe still, raising his hand to strike her. She never doubted that memory. But then, five years later, someone else confessed to the attack. This gripping first novel by Paul Jaskunas […]

If there's a straight and narrow route and all the rest is heathen mischief, Joel King, a Baptist minister involved in a sex scandal with a teenaged girl, hasn't a prayer of reaching the Pearly Gates.

Fans of The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living, Martin Clark's debut, will find his rollicking second novel, Plain Heathen Mischief, similarly escapist. It's filled with energy runaway sentences and near-Dickensian characters. One is a suave Las Vegas lawyer called Sa'ad X who has a massive mahogany desk and a seven-foot-tall stuffed bear and other assorted animals in his office. Another is a classically evil probation officer who expects bribes. Then there's Edmund, a dishonest former parishioner with a wooden leg who's out to settle a score with all insurance companies, and Sophie, Joel's loyal sister, a single mother who was dumped by her spouse. The teenager that Joel is supposed to have seduced is Christy, a super-bright, super-spoiled, drug-taking, sex-crazed “child” whose parents sent her to Roanoke Baptist for counseling. Somehow, Clark makes Christy appealing, while raising doubts as to what really happened. Joel strayed, but how far? Did he tell the truth when he confessed? And what are his just desserts? It's interesting to note that the author himself is a Virginia circuit court judge, in the business of passing judgment.

After six dreary months in a Virginia jail, Joel, cast out by his wife, moves to Missoula, Montana, and lives in his sister Sophie's basement a situation that at his lowest point finds him broke and lapping food off the floor like a dog. Soon after that incident, he finally agrees to join Edmund and Sa'ad in defrauding an insurance company. That way he'll have money to give to Sophie who, it turns out, doesn't want it.

Toward the end, the plot takes some unexpected turns, and goodness is rewarded. The surprise resolution to Joel's spiritual and financial struggles finds the former minister far wiser than when he dispensed advice from the pulpit. Anne Morris is a reviewer in Austin, Texas.

If there's a straight and narrow route and all the rest is heathen mischief, Joel King, a Baptist minister involved in a sex scandal with a teenaged girl, hasn't a prayer of reaching the Pearly Gates. Fans of The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living, Martin Clark's debut, will find his rollicking second novel, Plain […]

This may be a first novel, but Jenna Blum certainly knows how to hook a reader. The opening chapter of Those Who Save Us ends with a woman shunned by her nice Minnesota neighbors following the funeral of her husband, Jack. What did Anna do to deserve this? And why is her daughter Trudy not more surprised? Trudy was only three when Anna married an American soldier at the end of World War II, and he brought them home to his Minnesota farm. Neither Jack nor Anna ever told Trudy about her real father; there was a wall of silence "she could neither penetrate or scale." Trudy grows up to be a professor of German history and becomes immersed in a project taking testimony from German Minnesotans about the war. These scenes provide context for the wartime story of Anna and Trudy. Blum's juggling of scenes as she goes back and forth in time interrupts the action and paces dramatic revelations. She uses well-chosen, unexpected details to flesh out characters and events and to make it all real. For example, readers learn that the Nazi officer whose mistress Anna became had certain sexual preoccupations. But we're also told that he was the son of a woman who left her husband to run off with a traveling salesman of wigs.

A larger question what exactly did ordinary German women such as Anna do during the Holocaust? lies behind the personal ones. As the daughter of a German mother and a Jewish father, Blum finds herself drawn to such issues. She spent four years interviewing Holocaust survivors for Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation. A teacher at Boston University, Blum's first fiction success dates to 1986, when she won a Seventeen magazine writing contest.

Dealing as it does with ill-fated romance, Nazi cruelty and mother/daughter guilt, Those Who Save Us could have been a terribly melodramatic book. Instead, it's sensitive and artful. In the end, this historically specific novel tells a universal story of guilt, forgiveness and love. Anne Morris is a writer in Austin, Texas.

 

This may be a first novel, but Jenna Blum certainly knows how to hook a reader. The opening chapter of Those Who Save Us ends with a woman shunned by her nice Minnesota neighbors following the funeral of her husband, Jack. What did Anna do to deserve this? And why is her daughter Trudy not […]

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