Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

I know I am late to the party, as I am just now reading A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. It has been on my radar since it came out in 2013. I saw it at Barnes and Noble, and remembered a friend's recommendation ("just READ it!", she said). So I am.


Starting in 2004 during the second Chechen war (I will admit I have been woefully ignorant about these conflicts), A Constellation of Vital Phenomena starts out with Havaa, a young girl, waking after the night she hid in the woods and her father was taken by the Feds. After her father was taken, she stayed the rest of the night with her neighbor, Akhmed, and his ill wife, Ulla.

Akhmed panics on this day after the disappearance of Havaa's father, as he knows that the Feds will likely be coming for the girl, too. He takes Havaa to a hospital that is several miles away to stay with Sonja, a woman doctor he has never met.

Moving between 1994 and 2004, Marra weaves the story of Havaa, her missing father, Dokka, Akhmed, Ulla, Sonja, another neighbor Khassan and his son, Ramzan who is an informer, and their war ravaged country.

While some of this book is intense - some of descriptions in the hospital are pretty graphic - this is some of the most stunning and beautiful prose I have ever read.

If you can, read this passage slowly...

"Sonja stood and walked to the flat, afraid of what she might hear next. At the kitchen table she examinded the glass of ice. Each cube was rounded by room temperature, dissolving in its own remains, and belatedly she understood that this was how a loved one disappeared. Despite the shock of walking into an empty flat, the absence isn't immediate, more a fade from the present tense you shared, a melting into the past, not an erasure, but a conversion in form, from presence to memory, from solid to liquid, and the person you once touched now runs over your skin, now in sheets down your back, and you may bathe, may sink, may drown in the memory, but your fingers cannot hold it. She raised the glass to her lips. The water was clean."

Not only is the writing beautiful, Marra also captures realities of loss, love, pain, grief and describes them in such a way that I see them with new eyes. I am in the middle of this and am reading slowly, savoring the writing.

Lovely and amazing.

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Language Arts by Stephanie Kallos

Do you remember watching the movie The Sixth Sense? And when, at the end, you realized that the boy, Cole, had been seeing dead people all along, it changed your experience of the entire movie? (At least that's how it was for me.) I didn't see the twist coming at all, and I loved it.

In Language Arts, we meet Cody and his family. Cody was a happy little boy. He was developing normally until he started to lose language. His parents, Charles and Alison, took him to specialist after specialist to find out what happened and to try to help him get better.

Cody doesn't get better. Shortly after the birth of Cody's sister, Emmy, Charles and Alison's marriage deteriorates. As Cody gets older, and ages out of the system that can provide care for him, Charles and Alison have to work together to find a suitable living situation for him.


We see everything as Charles and Emmy experience this. Kallos weaves together this family's struggle, including back story around Charles, with Charles as a child befriending an autistic classmate, language arts, and, interestingly, Palmer handwriting. Language Arts felt a little melancholy, heavy with this family's desperation to try to help Cody as well as deal with deteriorating relationships.

I was engaged in the story as it was, and then a Sixth Sense kind of twist came at the end that made me go back and reread passages of the book to see how she did it. SO well done!

Thanks for stopping by! Clicking on the book cover will take you to Powell's web page for the book. Check out the blog's Facebook page: NOT The New York Times Book Review. You can send email to us at: 2of3Rs(AT)gmail(DOT)com. Happy reading!