Monthly Archives: October 2007

Cherry by Mary Karr

Cherry (Thorndike Press, 2001) picks up where the author’s first memoir, The Liar’s Club, ended with her as a preteen. As one might guess from the not-so-subtle title, this centers around her coming of age in the Texas refinery town of Leechfield.

Karr’s prose is not quite as poetic as in the first installment. She has chosen to tell the story in the second person, which yields a more immediate read to events that, by today’s standards for publication (what outrageous secrets can you expose?), are more innocuous than the latest antics of Britney Spears though they happened in a less public time.

Karr neither portrays herself as victim or survivor but relays her experiences in an almost matter-of-fact tone. Unlike The Liar’s Club, her dysfunctional parents and perfect sister are only afforded cameo appearances though the textures of their personalities could have added dimension to Cherry, as did the appearance of Charlie (her mother) near the end of the book where Charlie’s own past influences the outcome of the younger Karr’s first arrest.

Still, her story is more interesting than my own, though it ends before mine begins. I suspect the telling of Karr’s tale is not yet complete and will happily read the next volume.

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Blue Angel

Francine Prose’s novel Blue Angel (Harper Collins, 2000) is an interesting satire of undergraduate creative writing programs. It just happens to be set in Vermont. It just happens to center around a middle-aged male character named “Swenson” who just happens to be a somewhat sympathetic washed up novelist and professor. He just happens to end up in disgrace with everyone in his life and just happens to be grateful for the new life opportunity his disgrace brings him. Not so believable, at least not as compared to J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (Viking, 2000), which takes a larger, darker walk into total debasement and self-destruction.

Not that the two books can fairly be compared. While Prose’s novel is more satirical than Disgrace, it fails to make the same emotional connectivity, something I crave in any writing even if part of authorial intent. The protagonists in both novels have strained relationships with their daughters though Coetzee more succesfully carries that relationship into the meat of his larger plot which truly earns the book’s title.

Different authors, different continents, different outcomes. Perhaps the American reader prefers the melodrama of suburban soap operas to serious personal and cultural trauma. Perhaps Americans need a larger world-view, one that takes them out of sleepy college towns and onto the farms of another continent where the shockingly true aspects of human nature are more than sound bites on CNN.

Please feel free to leave your comments on either/both novels. I would appreciate your point of view.l

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Just Poets Meeting 10/6/07

Many thanks to Gary Lisman, President of Just Poets, for leading all who attended in a haiku (or short poem, as each poet preferred) collaboration. The assignment was to spend a few minutes making observations with a random poet-partner then to write a short poem either together or individually. Some pairs did both. After sharing what each poet had written, a lively discussion on the nature of haiku in English took place. Gary is also a member of the Rochester Haiku Society and is well-informed on current issues related to this Japanese form, having recently attended the Haiku Society of America’s conference here in Rochester.

For more information on upcoming Just Poets events, visit www.justpoets.org.

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