Travel is a vanishing act, a solitary trip down a pinched line of geography to oblivion.
Paul Theroux

Monday, April 13, 2015

State Untamed

If you haven't read An Untamed State already, I suggest you run and not walk to the bookstore, library, or your favorite online book purveyor. Roxane Gay's account of one Haitian woman's kidnapping and subsequent release is a powerful, raw reflection on faith, mental strength, and the power of love. It's a book about Haiti, about Miami, about a new baby and a couple madly in love. It's about a father's betrayal, a wife's bitter silence, a gang of angry men with violent pasts and sad, violent futures. It's about money, poverty, beauty, and death. It's about revenge, and it's about healing. An Untamed State has earned rave reviews all over the net and beyond, but I wouldn't feel right about reading the book and not promoting it myself, from my own humble corner of the world.

Readers be warned: An Untamed State is not for the faint of heart. The book is rough and emotional right from the start, jarring the protagonist, the spirited Mireille, off a sunlit Haitian street and into a  cell. From there, we are thrown into Mireille's experience of profound violence, fear, and survival. I read the book with tears and chills; some parts I could hardly get through at all. And that, I'd say, is what good writing is: an exposure of primal truths that are so many other people's stories, too. Gay's writing took me straight into Mireille; the strongest writing comes when the narrator descries, at the mercy of her captors, the different ways she dies - first her body, then her faith, then her identify. In these places, the prose is exquisite.

Gay doesn't sugar-coat things. I was surprised in the first few chapters to find that her prose is spare, unadorned, lacking in fancy sentence structures but littered with fragments and the occasional comma splice. Gay doesn't hold back in the violence she describes, nor does she beautify the painful years that follow Mireille's capture. There is no happy ending to this book; the narrator's fairy-tale memories contrast, over and over again, with her unbelievable, near-death reality.

An Untamed State is sobering, vivid, and unforgettable. I look forward to reading much more by Roxane Gay.




 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Night at the Fiestas

It feels only natural to post a follow-up to last week's post on Kirstin Valdez Quade's new collection of short stories, Night at the Fiestas. She read from it at Collected Works Bookstore, where, long ago, she was employed. Now, she's a graceful, beautiful, well-respected artist whose dreams, as she told her audience, came true the night she read from her book in Santa Fe.

Her newfound fame is well-deserved. Night at the Fiestas reads like you'd expect a first book to - there are a few frayed edges, a couple sharp, abrupt endings, several strange and jaunty shifts in time and space. The stories linger and endure nevertheless. Each one captures a distinctive, realistic portrait of a wild place. The writing feels truer than fiction, vivid and swiftly-paced and stylish. The collection focuses mainly on Northern New Mexico, and showcases Quade's brilliance - namely, at creating realistic interactions between people. Where her descriptions of landscape fall short, her dialogue takes over - as acute as if she transcribed actual conversations, word for word. (For example, I've never, ever read the word 'Doy' - as in 'Duh' - in anything, ever, and yet sixth-graders use it all the time. Masterful.)

Overall, my favorite stories weren't the ones the New Yorker celebrates - "The Five Wounds" and "Ordinary Sins" felt too carefully-sculpted to read naturally. Too overworked, perhaps. What I loved was the closing story, which Narrative Magazine has snapped up: "The Manzanos" is a testament to the power of subtle, quiet prose. This was the story my body responded to - shivers, hairs on end, tears at the corners of my eyes.

I look forward to seeing what's next - a novel, the author claims, but superstition keeps her from saying more.

In the meantime: Brava, Ms. Quade, brava. You've done Santa Fe proud.



 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Family Life


Family Life, the latest by Indian-American writer Akhil Sharma, chronicles one boy’s youth, from bright and vivid days in Delhi to rough, confusing years in the American school system. Perhaps the book’s strongest moments are those when Ajay, eight years old when he moves from Delhi to Queens, discovers for the first time grocery stores, elevators, post offices, highways, American-style. Sharma captures well the movie-star glamour of America through the eyes of young Delhi boys, and the reader shares Ajay’s heartbreak at discovering the cruelty of American schools and the silent sterility of even Queens’ streets.
The book took just a few days to read, but the story lingers. Sharma’s images – gritty, graphic, honest – stick in the reader’s mind long after the book’s close. Don’t be misled – though Sharma writes from the perspective of an Indian American, this is no work of Jhumpa Lahiri, with her winding stories, thick with detail and conversation, of the lives of Indian nationals. Sharma’s style is more spare, and more real.

 
The book struck a chord; I’ve been to India, and upon return I noticed what Ajay noticed: our country’s empty streets, the orderly lines of cars on the highway, the endless boxes of cereal and soap in the grocery store. I know how it feels to marvel at our country’s wealth, but what I admire most about Sharma’s prose is the way it captures the life of India, the vigor and color and joy that infuses each day. In comparison, Family Life makes clear, the United States seems almost inert – hyper-clean, devoid somehow of the pumping energy that saturates India.

Through Ajay’s eyes, we witness a tragedy; the rest of the book chronicles the years to follow. The descriptions of nursing homes, hospital beds, and helpless patients made me weep, for these sections are told with brutal humanity. No detail is spared, least of all details concerning bodily functions.
Perhaps the weakest sections of the book come at the end; I read the last line, then looked for more. There is no clean ending, no bow tie to wrap things up, no moral lesson imposed. The narrator achieves monetary success, but there is no ultimate triumph. I left the book feeling empty, wanting more…but perhaps that was Sharma’s intention: to bring us from India to the United States, and then leave us to our devices, material or otherwise.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

One Night in Puno

Please find my illustrious publication at yourlifeisatrip.com!

It's an excerpt of my book...so enjoy! The book is forthcoming. 



Thanks for the limelight, Judith.
Meanwhile, wishing everyone....a spring! Just any old spring would be great!
Love, Kate

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Nightie Night...



Counting down the days until Kirsten Valdez Quade reads at Collected Works in Santa Fe!!


You may have seen her in, oh I don't know, the New Yorker? The Southern Review? The Best American shorts? The list goes on and on. Props to a lovely, humble woman who I've had the privilege of meeting. We in Santa Fe are beaming with pride!

She'll be reading from her new short story collection, Night at the Fiestas

See you Thursday, March 26 at 6 PM at Collected Works!

Our Lives are all Trips!

Check it!
A recent Santa Fe find.

Judith Fein and Ellen Barone run yourlifeisatrip.com, which features a massive collection of high quality travel narrative. This is concise (1000 word max) travel writing that takes you around the globe and across the street and, in Austin's case, into a wintry Virginia. 

Thanks for a great find, Austin!

And meanwhile, dear readers, stay tuned.

My life is a trip, too, even though I can't remember the last time I left the land of enchantment.

And so my short essay on Pune, Peru will be available on the site by March 26!
















Wishing all a happy spring.

Love, Kate


Monday, September 1, 2014

Hippity

For the sake of promoting my writing family (and myself!), I'm participating in this blog hop. Rebecca Brooks tagged me, asking that I respond to the questions below. You can find her bio at the bottom of this post - and consider checking out Above All, her debut romance novel, published by Ellora's Cave.

Of the writers she's tagged, she asks four questions, to which I will now respond!

What am I working on/writing? I'm finishing up a non-fiction travel memoir about my year in Latin America. In 2011, I backpacked alone from Guatemala through Central America, then from northern Ecuador to Buenos Aires, Argentina.  My route traced the one Paul Theroux described in his 1979 travelogue, The Old Patagonian Express. It has taken me years to write this book, and the pages have changed forms many times. I've pared 600-plus pages down to around 300, and I've broken it into four sections- Four Seasons. 

Ultimately, I'm proud of the book, for addressing questions I hadn't thought to ask five years ago when I first embarked upon my journey. How can we see the world with new eyes? Where does art come from? How can we pare down our lives so that we're living with much less? Mine is a book about opting for risk and choosing to trust, about plunging down empty roads and up mountains and into cities and towns, about learning a language and bumbling through, feeling stupider and simpler and more helpless because, all of a sudden, the words I always had turned useless. It is about being alone, and finding inspiration through solitude. We are told that the world is a dangerous place, and it is, but it's also kind, and travel reminds us of that. Each time I return to the pages of this book, I marvel again at the places I saw, the nights I spent, the buses I rode, the people I met. Even then, it felt like a dream.

How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre? Philip Graham once told me that all writing is travel writing - that all writing brings us somewhere, takes us someplace, shows us another realm, be it inside the mind or across the world. And so, in that way, 'travel writing' is exactly the genre for me, though my book doesn't necessarily live up to the standards of 'travel writing' as most think of it. My journey links the emotional to the physical, the inner to the external. I write about traveling both in the mind and over the earth, and I value the quality of every sentence. I think my writing differs from its genre because, as all good writing does, it transcends it. My book is not a journal, and it's not a guide. It's a book about being alive, about seeing the world, about writing. It's a book about beauty, and about being alone. It's not just about Latin America, though that is the setting.

Why do I write what I do? When I travel, it's easy for me to write. The words just come. When we travel, our senses are heightened, our eyes and ears alert, and we notice more. I love to write details, scenes, landscapes, flavors: I love to describe. I love to send myself somewhere else; writing makes that happen. Writing is travel. I write poetry, too, as of late. Still, I find myself returning to the same CNF themes I've always been drawn to - land, culture, travel and place. 

How does my writing process work? I write in the mornings, and I try my best to write every day. Recently, I read that Gertrude Stein wrote for just thirty minutes a day...but books came of it. Thirty minutes a day adds up to a lot if you do it 365 times. And so this is the basis of my writing process: sitting down, seeing what comes. Sometimes nothing does. Sometimes two hours pass and I realize I haven't had a sip of water, haven't peed, haven't spoken a word, haven't even stood up. I love these times, when I go away, when the writing lifts me from my own life and brings me somewhere else. It's a trance. All writers know - if we write, I think it's because we've tasted this thing. Our words have transported us, and our reality takes on new dimensions.

Next up: I tag Donigan Merritt and Miriam Sagan. They're both very busy so maybe they won't respond. But I love them and I'm proud to know them- so I'm tagging them here. If they have a little time, they can answer the questions above on their blog, then 'tag' some new folks.

About the Fabulous Rebecca Brooks:


Rebecca Brooks lives in New York City in an apartment filled with books. She received a PhD in English but decided it was more fun to write books than write about them. She has backpacked alone through India and Brazil, traveled by cargo boat down the Amazon River, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, explored ice caves in Peru, trekked to the source of the Ganges, and sunbathed in Burma, but she always likes coming home to a cold beer and her hot husband in the Bronx. Her books are about independent women who leave their old lives behind to try something new—and find the passion, excitement and purpose they didn’t know they’d been missing.

Her answers to the questions above can be found here.

Happy Reading!!!