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Words

Here you'll find coverage of our events in local publications, Staff Picks book reviews, Tsunami stories, and other miscellaneous words.

Filtering by Category: Staff Picks

A Series of
Small Maneuvers
by Eliot Treichel

Scott Landfield

A Staff Pick by Meli Ewing
A Series of Small Maneuvers by Eliot Treichel (Ooligan Press, 2015)
Available New in Paperback at Tsunami

Eliot Treichel will read at Tsunami Books on Saturday, January 23 at 4:00pm

 

Eliot Treichel’s A Series of Small Maneuvers is a sharply observed and compassionate study of grief. Fifteen-year-old Emma Mills is on a canoeing trip through the backcountry of New Mexico with her father—a trip she didn’t really want to go on in the first place—when her father is killed in a single-misstep accident. Emma is left alone in the wilderness, and she has to make her own way out—and learn to exist in a world without her father.

Treichel masters scenes of dialogue where the characters artfully avoid talking about the death of Emma’s father, as if not talking about it will make it not real. It’s a very human thing to do. Mother and daughter tiptoe around each other. Emma’s mom shows she cares by insisting Emma eat something in the diner they stop in on the way home, but Emma insists she’s not hungry. What matters always comes through in the end, and the dance around it is honest, compassionate, and beautifully written.

What I love most about this book is Emma’s authentic, vulnerable fifteen-year-old voice. She’s earnest and indifferent. She views herself as unspectacular. Upon her rescue and “reentry”, she has an urge to cut short conversations as she navigates the frontcountry, the world of humans, in the wake of her father’s absence. She tells unexpected lies, surprising both herself and the reader. She’s not an unreliable narrator, though: she tells the reader the honest truth of what she’s feeling, as much as she understands of it.

In a typically teenage way, Emma is often unimpressed—particularly by the details of nature her dad is fascinated with and tries, sometimes too aggressively, to point out to his daughter. She wants to listen to her iPod. Her dad lets her bring it in the van for the ride there, but won’t let her bring it with her once they set off on the river because he wants them to be fully immersed in nature. She’s frustrated by his obsession with the river and the birds and the trees, and his insistence on pushing through the next bend or over the next hill to see what else there is—but after he’s gone, when she’s trying to make her way alone, she knows which details he would have pointed out, and what he would have said.

In A Series of Small Maneuvers, Emma’s reminiscences create an unflinching examination of who her father was. So often we only remember the good memories of a person after they die, or we only want to remember the good. The deceased are too often reduced by those who survive them to only their flattering parts: a hero, gentle, so kind, loving, adventurous. But everyone who’s ever been alive is infinitely more complicated than that. Treichel doesn’t shy away from those complications as he shows Emma’s imaginings of her father. Emma’s father is enthusiastic and goofy. He loves the outdoors. He hates seeing his daughter shave her legs or wear makeup. There are the usual father-daughter tensions over too-short shorts. He is eager to teach, but is quickly frustrated when Emma doesn’t innately understand what he’s trying to teach her. He is aggressive and critical. He pushes her to run rapids with him that she’s not comfortable running. He thinks paying for Emma’s horse-riding—what Emma herself is passionate about, as opposed to what he is passionate about—is too expensive. Emma doesn’t reduce her father to a string of positive adjectives after he dies. Emma’s retroactive telling of her father’s story is a beautiful, honest, and complex portrait of a life.

Something Emma’s horse trainer tells her describes the reality of life in the wake of loss: “‘We’ll get as far as we can get,’ she said, ‘and then we’ll figure it out from there.’”

The book’s title is an elegant metaphor for living with grief: Emma says her dad would turn a big rapid into “something doable, something orderly and reasonable. It was just a series of small maneuvers that would add up to something larger.” Living in the wake of grief is a series of small maneuvers too. Grief is never over; it’s not about getting through it. It’s about moving forward, and the steps can be as small as you need them to be.

I'll Give You The Sun
by Jandy Nelson

Scott Landfield

A Staff Pick by Meli Ewing
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (Speak, 2014)
Available New in Paperback at Tsunami

Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun is the winner of the 2015 Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, a 2015 Stonewall Honor Book, and a Best Book of the Year from the New York Times, Time Magazine, NPR, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and myriad other publications and public libraries around the country.

I’ll Give You the Sun is the story of Jude and her twin brother Noah, but really it’s two stories. Noah draws unceasingly, and he’s falling in love with the boy next door. Jude’s a rebel, a daredevil, an aspiring sculptor. Noah and Jude used to be inseparable. Their two minds shared one single paracosm, one single fantastic vivid imaginary world, of which they were the rulers, mapped neatly, phenomenally over the top of this one. Now they still live across the hall from each other, but tragedy has ripped them apart. The story they each tell is one about trying to put themselves and each other and their family back together.

What makes this book unique is its structure. The chapters alternate back and forth between Noah’s point of view and Jude’s—but Noah’s point of view is two years back into the past. You jump forward and back and forward and back. Sometimes what Noah doesn’t yet know makes you gasp and want to shield him from what is coming. But in the present, or from Noah’s point of view, the future, Jude only has half the story to tell herself. This separation in time, irrevocable in the space of the narrative, serves to piercingly mirror the twins’ emotional distance.

The language in I’ll Give You the Sun teems with simple, vivid, rhythmic authenticity. Nelson captures with startlingly exaggerative prose the feeling of being young and feeling like you’re alive for the first time, like you’re maybe the first person who has ever really been alive. The book is full of really stellar sentences. One that stopped me in my tracks and made me laugh out loud with joy is: “When we settle back into our selves, everything feels different, like if I turned on the light we’d be bears.”

This book is about family, forgiveness, love, and the healing power of making art. I recommend it for everyone. Something novelist Nick Hornby said comes to mind: “I see now that dismissing YA books because you’re not a young adult is a little bit like refusing to watch thrillers on the grounds that you’re not a policeman or a dangerous criminal, and as a consequence, I’ve discovered a previously ignored room at the back of the bookstore that’s filled with masterpieces I’ve never heard of.” I’ll Give You the Sun is a beautiful book that I recommend for young adults and what I think of as “real” adults alike.

OUT STEALING HORSES
by Per Petterson

Scott Landfield

A Staff Pick by Michael McGriff
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (Picador, 2005)
Availabe both New and Used at Tsunami

For me there’s really only one metric for determining a book recommendation, and it’s this question: Do I buy a used copy of this book every time I see it and drop it in the mail to an old friend? In the past, I’ve done this with James Welch’s first novel, Winter in the Blood, Henning Mankell’s introspective (non-crime) novel Italian Shoes, Richard Brautigan’s cult collection of short stories Revenge of the Lawn, and Amanda Coplin’s debut novel, The Orchardist. But the novel that’s burning at the white-hot center of my personal You-Must-Read-This list is Out Stealing Horses by Norwegian novelist (and former bookstore clerk) Per Petterson.

In 2005 Out Stealing Horses hit the bestseller lists in several countries and stayed there, becoming the title de jour of book groups, making all the Best-Of lists, and launching Petterson’s career in English-Speaking countries, especially after Horses was selected for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (one of the largest literary prizes in the world, the titles for which are submitted by librarians from around the globe).

The setup for this book is simple enough: a 67-year-old widower, Trond Sandor, retires to rural Norway from Oslo and reflects on his life; at least this is how the book gets you comfortable before it flips you on your head. British novelist L. P. Hartley famously begins his novel The Go-Between, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” This sentiment is the perfect metaphor for Petterson’s novel, for what seems like an honest look into the past becomes, at times painfully, a true rediscovery of events that surprise as much as they terrify. In Horses, what starts out as a quiet assessment of widowhood and masculine self-reliance builds into a nuanced psychological drama as Trond discovers the truth about his father’s secret involvement as a Resistance smuggler during WWII, the painful facts of his parents’ marriage, the true motivations behind Trond's self-exile, and how all of these form a messy, fraught ecosystem.

The genius of Petterson’s writing is many-sided. For starters, the writing itself is absolutely fabulous; he uses concise and clear language that rolls the narrative ahead, blending straightforward prose with a high register that can only be described as poetic. Petterson is never afraid to be simple and direct, and he’s likewise never afraid to let beauty and high lyricism permeate his work. Keeping the reader off balance is part of Petterson’ gift—just as Trond teeters off balance as he discovers more and more about his past, the reader teeters off balance as Petterson shifts from present-moment action to deep flashback, from straight-ahead storytelling to poetic flourish (and even the occasional jolt of European surrealism). Never have I encountered a novel whose form and style have so perfectly mirrored both its content and the physiological world of its hero (or antihero, as the case may be). Add to this that the title itself—Out Stealing Horses—which crushes you under its ironic and metaphorical weight during the final pages, and what you have on your hands is a book worth buying and sending to a friend.