Taking What I Like by Linda Bamber

Source: TLC Book Tours and Linda Bamber
Paperback, 256 pages
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Taking What I Like by Linda Bamber is a collection of eight short stories that give new life to Shakespeare’s plays, Jane Eyre, and American artist Thomas Eakins.  Whether Desdemona is chair of the English Department and in charge of diversity or a professor sees herself as Jane Eyre, Bamber has created stories that are unique but not beholden to their original texts and plot lines.  Bamber clearly has an academic background and offers readers enough of the original background to provide them with guidance on where her story comes from and where it could go.

“Jane lies faint, sinks in deep waters, feels no standing.  As far as I can make out, Jane has an orgasm of grief.  Can I tell them that? Maybe.  It depends on the atmosphere.” (page 77)

The strongest of the short stories is “Playing Henry,” in which a stage actress Clare has to come to terms with not the leading role in the season’s fare but a more subordinate and less desirable role as Henry — from Shakespeare’s Richard II, Henry IV Part One and Henry IV Part Two, and Henry V.  Clare comes across as a real actress who is finally tested by a role she is given, and this is a test that she could fail.  It’s a struggle of her desire to remain an actress versus the subconscious doubt she’s carried since she was a young adult and her father tried to push her into something aimed at changing the world.

Some stories are likely to resonate more with readers than others, which is generally the nature of short story collections, but none of these stories will leave readers stranded or wondering where the inspiration came from, and none would be considered mere re-imaginings.  However, there are some stories where there seems to be too much explanation or backstory, like the author is making sure the reader is still where they should be and forces stories that should evolve more organically.

Taking What I Like by Linda Bamber is refreshing, imaginative, and fun, but it is also serious and reflective.  Bamber clearly flexes her academic muscles in these stories, but she’s also gifted at creating situations and characters that challenge readers’ preconceived notions about the source material.

About the Author:

Linda Bamber is a fiction writer, poet, and essayist and a Professor of English at Tufts University. Her recent fiction collection, Taking What I Like (David R. Godine), includes re-inventions of six Shakespeare plays, a riff on Jane Eyre, and a fictional look at the work of Thomas Eakins. She is the author of Metropolitan Tang: Poems (David R. Godine) and the widely reprinted Comic Women, Tragic Men: Gender and Genre in Shakespeare (Stanford University Press). She has published extensively in literary journals such as The Harvard Review, The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, and Raritan, as well as traditional media such as The New York Times, The Nation, Tricycle, and Tikkun.  Visit her Website.

4th book for 2014 New Author Challenge