Things have been slightly derailed by my despair at the situation in the UK and being exhausted at the end of term. I also wanted everything I recommended to be fairly recent publications and I over-estimated how much reading I could do. But I’m back on track so I’m going to do two round-ups, one today and one on Thursday (Christmas Eve).
So We Can Glow – Leesa Cross-Smith (Grand Central Publishing)
The ‘We’ in the title of Lessa Cross-Smith’s latest short story collection is women and girls. Through a collective narration in the opening story ‘We, Moons’ the hopes, dreams and fears of women and girls are laid out:
We’re not depressed all the time, some of us aren’t even depressed sometimes. We’re okay, our hearts, dusted with pink. When we cry in our bathrooms together it’s about men or our mothers or our fathers or our bodies. […] We love men. We are ashamed of this attraction. We, the ones who aren’t lesbians or asexual; we fantasise about lesbian communes or asexual communes.
What follows are 41 stories in which women and girls have crushes, fall in love, have affairs, have relationships with good men and terrible men, form friendships which last a lifetime, live, laugh, cry.
One of the reasons I love Cross-Smith’s work is that we share a lot of cultural references. This exchange from ‘Teenage Dream Time Machine’ is a perfect example:
Dave and I were listening to
POUR SOME SUGAR ON
Of course! LOL.
I love it. Did you ever dye
Bright pink once and my mom
almost killed me. I used to
spray Sun In in my hair when I
laid out but it didn’t do much. It
smelled good though. I wanted
to be Drew Barrymore. I wanted
to be Courtney Love for a
Same. This is so funny…all
the women our age…we
were practically living the
same life! We’re all
I also love that she takes crushes, especially on pop stars / actors / sportsmen seriously and the lives and thoughts of teenage girls. That she writes like a dream, ending so many of these stories on the most perfect lines, only elevates the stories of women and girls further. As it should be.
My Darling from the Lions – Rachel Long (Picador)
Rachel Long’s excellent debut collection considers love in all its forms: romantic, familial, friendship, discovering how to love yourself. A series of poems called ‘Open’ punctuate the first section:
This morning he told me
I sleep with my mouth open
and my hands in my hair.
I say, What, like screaming?
He says, No, like abandon.
But it’s the love for her mother that really shines through:
Mum combs her auburn ’fro up high.
So high it’s an orb.
Everyone wants to – but cannot – touch it.
Themes of race, class and misogyny underpin the collection and it’s often these undertones that deliver the vivid images and sucker punch final lines that resonate long after reading.
Endless Fortune – Ify Adenuga (Own It! / Boy Better Know)
Ify Adenuga is the mother of four children: Joseph Junior aka Skepta; Jamie aka Jme; Julie, who was the voice of Apple’s music station Beats 1 when it launched, and Jason, music producer and graphic designer. They’re the reason I picked up Endless Fortune, but Ify Adenuga’s own story turns out to be more interesting than her children’s.
The book begins when Adenuga is 10, living in Lagos with her family. The Bifran War begins and Adenuga’s family, who are Igbo, flee the city to their father’s village. Adenuga misses much about Lagos, not least attending school. When she is able to go to the nearest school the teacher suggests she skips a year (having missed three years of schooling) This creates tension with her father who thinks she should do things chronologically and come top of the class. Adenuga finds a way around this and passes the year with a high mark. This sets up two threads that weave throughout Adenuga’s story: the first is her passion for learning which takes her to a ‘good’ school, through a degree as a mature student, to setting up her own education centres and the second, her determination that no one will stand in her way.
Adenuga’s memoir is one of a woman who took risks, stayed resilient through multiple setbacks, and created a life that allowed herself and her family to flourish. It’s a fascinating story.
Future Home of the Living God – Louise Erdrich (Corsair)
When I tell you that my white name is Cedar Hawk Songmaker and that I am the adopted child of Minneapolis liberals, and that when I went looking for my Ojibwe parents and found that I was born Mary Potts I hid the knowledge, maybe you’ll understand. Or not. I’ll write this anyway, because ever since last week things have changed.
Cedar’s diary is written for the unborn baby she is carrying in a world where being pregnant is dangerous. As society breaks down, pregnant women are being captured and kept in hospitals.
When Cedar discovers she is pregnant, she goes to meet her birth mother, withdraws all her savings and stockpiles things that might be useful – cigarettes, guns, ammunition. Protected by the baby’s father, she attempts to stay hidden, communicating with her birth family via her mother’s husband.
It’s a tense tale with some particularly evocative scenes; a period of time in hospital with an elective mute roommate is a really interesting section of the story, and there’s a graphic description of labour and birth that had me wincing.
If you’ve read Erdrich before you’ll know that in her novels the backstory is the story. In some ways, Future Home of the Living God, feels like a departure – things happen in the now as society changes and Cedar’s pregnancy progresses – in others, it feels like a typical Erdrich novel, specifically in the ending that makes the whole book feel as though it’s backstory. It left me wanting more of what happens next.
Cannibal – Safiya Sinclair (Picador)
Safiya Sinclair’s debut collection takes her childhood home of Jamaica, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and her present home of America to explore and confront exile, otherness, race and womanhood. The poems here are deep and rich with language and ideas. Some feel very intense, ‘Pocomania’, for example, which begins:
Father unbending father unbroken father
with the low-hanging belly, father I was cleaved from,
pressed into, cast and remolded, father I was forged
in the fire of your self.
Others more spacious and provocative, such as ‘Elocution Lessons with Ms. Silverstone’, which opens with:
In high school boys were easy –
they saw none of you
or all of you
in one ravenous gaze,
slurped hankering glances
or walked right through
you in sterile absolution,
high-fived and hissed about
your dick-sucking lips.
for your body
in the mastabatorium.
It’s an incredible collection and I’m excited to see where Sinclair’s career takes her.
All copies of these books are my own purchases.