Spring Book Reviews: Part 2 of 3

Just once in my life—oh, when have I ever wanted anything just once in my life?
— Amy Hempel, "Memoir"

The second three books read this spring all required attention. Attention to a turn of a phrase, to what a character said but really thought, and the underlying meaning in everyday behaviors: a walk, watching baseball, a question, an apology without "but" before it. One a book of essays "about things we say to people we love" and the other two fiction--pretty much about the same theme as the book of essays. 

ASYMMETRY by Lisa Halliday

I felt plopped down in one character’s world and then elevatored to another floor to spy on another. Two different stories, asymmetrical in their narratives (albeit a brief intersection in the vein of small world coincidence) but similar in the complexities of life and art. In the sections, Folly and Ezra Blazer’s Desert Island Discs Halliday jumps from the inner workings of a young female editorial assistant looking forward to a full life to a famous older writer looking back on his. But it is the section, Madness, narrated by an American born Iraqi restrained by immigration on his way to visit his brother in Kurdistan that lifted the narrative to new heights. The voices of the characters are so strong I can still hear them waxing philosophic in my head days after finishing the book. 

There’s so much to love about Asymmetry. Read it for the sheer joy of what this writer does with structure. And if you don’t care about structure (why should you, really?) then read it to understand the human condition—one that is not within your purview.

Favorite line(s): TOO many!! But here are a few:

An artist, I think, is nothing but a powerful memory that can move itself at will through certain experiences sideways . . .

This is because my mind is always turning over this question of how I’m going to feel later, based on what I’m doing now. Later in the day. Later in the week. Later in a life starting to look like a series of activities designed to make me feel good later, but not now. Knowing I’ll feel good later makes me feel good enough now.

All those walks. All those hours tangled up in bed. Sometimes I wonder whether we hide lovers from others because it makes it easier to hide ourselves from ourselves.

We all disappear down the rabbit hole now and again. Sometimes it can seem the only way to escape the boredom or exigencies of your prior existence—the only way to press reset on the mess you’ve made of all that free will. Sometimes you just want someone else to take over for a while, to rein in freedom that has become a little too free. Too lonely, too lacking in structure, too exhaustingly autonomous. Sometimes we jump into the hole, sometimes we allow ourselves to be pulled in, and sometimes, not entirely inadvertently, we trip.

TELL ME MORE: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan

I usually don’t read self-help books, but Corrigan’s essays hit a “self-help” nerve in a good way for this middle-aged plus reader. In (duh!) 12 essays, the writer talks about stuff she finds hard to say let alone write about: the disbelief, the grief, the anger over the deaths of her beloved father and best friend, and her own dips into the forays of battling breast cancer. She admits giving her two teenaged daughters the finger behind their backs on more than one occasion. And making excuses for not visiting her grandmother in a nursing home because her life—friends, weekends, drinking—got in the way. “Being in our lives as they are is probably one of the most common struggles people have,” a friend tells the author. Yes! And Corrigan writes this about her husband: “He’d never be able to appreciate that for a mother, the most elusive, exhilarating buzz was fixing.” Ummm, of course! There’s more: “Why we don’t value intellectual honesty over easy answers is beyond me. I’m just saying there are no inspirational management posters celebrating STILL THINKING and I’ve had long arguments with Edward (her husband) that come down to this: someone changed their mind, and the other person didn’t like it one bit.” Okay, you get the point. There’s something to challenge the reader to think, to wince, to give a resounding hell yes and lots to laugh about. Corrigan is the next door neighbor you wish you had.

Favorite line(s): I try to be one of the exceptional people who can live with the complexity of things, who are at peace with the unknown and the unknowable, who leave all the cages open. I tell myself: There’s so much that you don’t know, you can’t know, you aren’t ever going to know. I beg myself to stop forcing narratives. I remind myself, repeatedly, that real life doesn’t conform—or it does, bending perfectly to your idea of what is right and fair and good, leading you to believe (again) in a logic that will later unravel.


A surprise of a book in every way. The fifteen short stories in Quatro’s debut have an ethereal quality to the characters and narrative. A chunk of the stories are linked in small, subtle ways. Most explore the differences between belief and religion, life and death, and the ramifications of loving fiercely. Quatro describes sexual yearning with a painter’s eye—mercurial and fluid and weirdly graphic. The writing takes quick twists. I especially loved I.7 to Tennessee and Georgia the Whole Time. This is not a book to put down and pick up days later. Dive in and enjoy the view from Lookout Mountain, Georgia and Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, four blocks away.

Favorite line(s): Tell me if you think this is true: it is easier to accept defeat and try to make the wreckage look beautiful than to keep fighting and lose. It feels true to me. “Battling” cancer is only a small, daily choice you make to live with dissonance, the melody of your life running one way, the bass of your thoughts running another. Someone says tomorrow, you hear if. Forgetting is a blessing you have to manufacture.