Two more books, as now that the term is over I can get back to serious reading.
The first is Sleep Toward Heaven by Amanda Eyre Ward.
- The novel features interlocking narrative voices that for some reason didn’t get annoying or pretentious, sort of surprisingly.
- The narratives were of a doctor who returns to her hometown and takes up her Uncle’s work as a prison doctor working with Death Row inmates, a woman whose husband was killed by one of the women, and the least heinous of the four killers on Death Row.
- Only Celia, the wife, gets a first-person narrative.
- The doctor is in some ways the least believable, mostly for her world weariness.
- Karen, the murderer, is the one I rooted for.
- This novel made me cry for some reason, which only proves that I am getting increasingly sappy in my old age.
The second is a piece of autobiographical fiction called Long Ago in France, by MFK Fisher. It was recommended to me by Shannon Minnich-Young, who as always was absolutely right.
- Chronologically this one is published in 1991, shortly before her death. It chronicles her three years in Dijon, France, between the wars.
- Her prose is remarkable, as Shannon warned me. At times I wasn’t sure how to react – I knew that this woman had written an immensely useful book that was published during WWII (How to Cook a Wolf), one that spoke directly to wartime shortages and how to stretch budgets and still fix balanced, delicious meals. And yet Long Ago in France barely mentions either war. I’ll speak more about that in the follow-up section.
- Her descriptions constantly threw me for loops, especially when she describes the folks she and Al stayed with or became friends with. She’s, umm, unstinting in her condemnation, and that bothered me at bits. Again, I’ll speak more about this in the follow-up section.
- Her descriptions of food and how it is procured, prepared, and enjoyed were as rich as Burgundian food itself.
Connections, and why I read
At first glance, these novels have little in common. Fisher’s descriptions are full of life, full of detail, unsparing in both praise and judgment, towards the people in her life and herself, and focused on nuance and subtlety. Ward’s much kinder in her prose, towards her characters, towards Texas and NYC, towards the actions that the characters take, and even towards her readers (spoiler alert!). She’s also a minimalist, for the most part (although as I recall the barbecue in Rick Underwood’s back yard I wonder about that).
And yet they seem to fit, and I’m struggling to see why.
- Perhaps one connection lies in the range of characters. I’m guessing because they’re Americans the Fishers seem much more comfortable with a range of folks, and they don’t seem all that concerned with class standing (and, after all, this is France from 1929-1931). Ward’s novel runs a range as well, with Nate’s parents representing American upper crust.
- Perhaps another connection lies in the openness of the content, especially sexual content. I understand that she’s writing much later than the actual chronology of the events in the narrative, but she pretty clearly talks about subjects that feel a bit risque even now. Of course, I’m a prude.
- Maybe, just maybe, the connection comes from the care that both writers seem to take in what I think of as the making-sure-to-get-it-right category. In particular, Ward’s scenes in Death Row seem absolutely spot-on, while Fisher takes an inordinate amount of time and care to make sure that she does not romanticize any part of her Dijon experience (including her marriage).
The struggle continues…