Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Unlike Ellie. . .

I have found it impossible to turn my back on new fiction. I've stacks of unchecked out novels on my desk at work that I've been fretting over--send 'em out to be reshelved and gather them up again later when I actually have time for them, or bring 'em home with me just in case?

As you can see, I've failed at the attempt to go three months without new books. It was such a relief when MFS posted Thanksgiving week that she'd bought a book; my book order from late October had been held up by one hard-to-find item, and I was trying to decide if cancelling that particular book from that particular order and reordering it used would mean that I'd purchased a book in November. . . but if MFS had already capitulated, what difference did it make?

Clickety clickety went my fingers and arriving yesterday as the result were Anne Enright's What Are You Like? and Cai Emmons' His Mother's Son.

The Enright purchase was of course fueled by how much I'd loved The Gathering, which I've already talked about, and Emmons' by The Stylist, which I have not, so a few words about it now.

I started it during a fit of frustration with Lawrence's The Rainbow--sex as personal transformation device! of transcendence! Who knew that could make such mind-numbing reading?--and it went down like a glass of cool water.

The Stylist concerns itself with a series of trans-word issues as well: characters who find themselves transformed through new hair styles, new relationships and locales, and one character who is transitioning herself from woman to man via surgery and hormone treatments.

Once, Emory had despaired, but now he had no end of hope. He began to swim through the air to a Michael Jackson tune, careless of his water-loving body. He was unique and malleable. Watching him, Hayden tried to imagine how he would be after the surgery; she pictured him like Virginia Woolf's Orlando, defiant and fearless, a relentless time-traveler, cycling for the remainder of his life from male back to female, then to male again, then back to female, a continual embracing of transformation until death, the final change. Every change after that would be handed off to nature.

Harvard dropout Hayden Risley works as a stylist in a Hoboken hair salon, a place she regards as a sanctuary. Her mother, a self-injurer she'd worried over since her childhood days, died unexpectedly while she was at college; her travel writer father's delay in contacting her with the news of her death is one of the myriad reasons she's now estranged from her remaining family members.

Following a chance encounter with her now-married and pregnant younger sister, Hayden learns that her father has broken his leg in Costa Rica and needs someone to help him return to the States. She reluctantly agrees to go after him, but she takes along as buffer her co-worker Emory, still in flux between female to male.

He tried hard not to think this way, not to be trapped in the notion that life's difficulties and mysteries were coiled exclusively around gender, because he could see since he'd arrived here and from the way grief lurched over him now, what was perhaps a deeper truth--that sorrow, like so many other things, pierced to the bottom of things, touched all chromosomes, impersonal and impervious. Of course they were all sad, he along with them.

Lovely writing and engrossing characters in an exotic locale. Sometimes I wonder why I bother accepting review copies--for books like The Stylist, that's why.


  1. So are you blaming MFS for making you break your no new books sanction? Or are these not technically new since you had already ordered them but they were held up and you just changed your order so they could be sent now?

  2. The Enright is definitely new and the Emmons we could quibble over (ordered, cancelled, reordered elsewhere). But (I reasoned, er, rationalized) if MFS is off the wagon then I don't have to buy her a book if ~I~ fall off the wagon (we'd bet one another that the other couldn't last three months; I don't know if you knew that). I can just call myself a failure and go my merry way, with new books in hand. Which is what I did.

    So I don't blame MFS for my own failures, but credit her for failing first so that I didn't have to. :)

  3. Nice review... I love that little banner with the woman writing at her desk, the window open... where did you get it?

  4. It's the cover art for Penelope Lively's Spiderweb: Richard Maury's painting "Anne Drawing."

  5. So glad to hear you liked The Stylist. I finished it recently too and still need to talk about it. I was really impressed with it. You'll have to keep us posted on what you think of His Mother's Son.

  6. I was wondering what you thought! I never saw a review on your site so I wasn't sure if it'd kept your interest.

  7. I didn't know about the bet. Congrats then for lasting as long as you did! You have great restraint that I'm not sure I could manage.


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