Quantcast

To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

Source: the author
Paperback, 216 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts by Caitlin Hamilton Summie is a collection of short stories pregnant with emotion as characters deal with grief in a variety of ways.  From the WWII homefront to New York, Summie’s characters have experienced deep loss, whether it is the loss of a child or the loss of a father to war.  Grief comes in many forms, but its effects can be devastating, leaving you with a sense of hopelessness and emptiness.

“My father seemed vague and shadowy to me already.  I didn’t think I could lose him any more than I had, but I saw those tags, and touched them, and they were hard and smooth and warm from Jimmy’s constant agitation of them, and I knew this: that I could lose my father completely…” (pg. 14, “Tags”)

Summie has a deep sense of how grief can turn into inaction, reaction, and withdrawal.  She writes from a variety of perspectives, a young boy waiting for his father to return from war, a brother who has removed himself from his family, sisters who have grown apart after the death of a grandfather, and so many more.  These perspectives call to mind the universality of grief and how it impacts us all.  Lest you believe this collection of short stories is too depressing, it is not.

Summie offers characters a glimmer of hope, a moment of clarity, and a way through the grief.  We all struggle with loss, but we all must find a way to move on.  Through this collection, we find the solutions are not always the same, but the journey through grief is often possible with a little will and strength — either from within or through the help of others.

“February rolled in with a storm.  The snow came, and it hung in the air like a bad mood.” (pg. 99, “Patchwork”)

“We leaned against one another, against the pressure of what was coming as slowly and stealthily as that snow, wild in the wind outside yet silent.” (pg. 120, “Geographies of the Heart”)

Summie’s imagery is phenomenal; readers will be swept into the snowy landscapes, heavy with drifts.  Like the grief these characters experience, the snow weighs them down.  It’s devastatingly beautiful and poetic.  To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts by Caitlin Hamilton Summie is gorgeous in every word.  These stories remind us, “‘The grief never leaves. You just have to learn how to carry it.'” (pg. 199, “Taking Root”)

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Caitlin Hamilton Summie earned an MFA with Distinction from Colorado State University, and her short stories have been published in Beloit Fiction Journal, Wisconsin Review, Puerto del Sol, Mud Season Review, and Long Story, Short. Her first book, a short story collection called TO LAY TO REST OUR GHOSTS, was published in August by Fomite. She spent many years in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Colorado before settling with her family in Knoxville, Tennessee. She co-owns the book marketing firm, Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, founded in 2003.  Discussion questions.

2017 New Authors Reading Challenge

Among the Lost (In Dante’s Wake) by Seth Steinzor

Source: the poet
Paperback, 220 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Among the Lost (In Dante’s Wake) by Seth Steinzor, which is book 2 (see my review of To Join the Lost), that modernizes Dante’s Purgatorio. The poems are told in cantos and the entire book can be considered an epic poem. Readers who have never read Dante’s epic poems or have no knowledge of his work should at least get the Cliff Notes version before reading Steinzor’s books, just get the basic idea of what happens.

Following in Dante’s wake is an apt reference, as Seth (the narrator, not the poet) is mostly on his own in Purgatorio and interacting with modern inhabitants, including Abraham Lincoln. The arc may be similar between the two, but Steinzor’s work is very modern and can be followed from a contemporary viewpoint. Emerging from Hell, Seth and Dante witness the miracle of birth and, in this first canto, it is both beautiful and painful to watch. In this experience, the narrator calls to mind the connections we all share with one another through this miracle and how despite the severed umbilical cord we remain connected like the roots and branches of a larger tree (one not always visible to the naked eye).

In this way, Steinzor draws in the reader to a more personal journey, allowing us to recognize are own struggles with the seven deadly sins and the decisions and situations we make for ourselves. Even as some of the more modern references to Bush and war, Katrina, and other events are now in the past, the struggle to see the humanity in decisions made by leaders and others reflects the continued struggles of our own modern society, which appears ready to rip apart under the current administration.

From “Canto VIII: Delinquent Leaders”

but I barely paid attention: the room
had begun to spin, and I was drawn –
it must have been up, but it seemed like down – into
the darkness welling in Lincoln’s eyes.

Seth (the narrator) is looking to reunite with his lost, first love, Victoria, who has tapped Dante to be his guide to her. While he’s unsure what motivated his love for Victoria, he strives onward through purgatory — observing and interacting. With Dante less than attentive, Seth is forced to find his own way with little direction from his guide, and in many ways, this mirrors the modern world in which children are forced in many instances to navigate the world on their own as their parents are working more than one job or are inattentive themselves.

From “Canto XVII: Smoke and Morals”

“‘Mountains of faith erode much faster than those
pushed up by plate tectonics,’ I say.
‘The mountain formed by Satan’s falling through
the core of the earth might better be likened
to an igneous intrusion than an
upthrust plate,’ comes his rejoinder,
‘but, you’re right, yet it erodes'”

Among the Lost (In Dante’s Wake) by Seth Steinzor is rich in modern story and, having read the first book, it seems bleaker than the trip through hell as an almost hopelessness pervades each canto as Seth (the narrator) makes his way to his lost love. Readers will be forced to look at the modern world in which we live and decide whether their role in it should change, just as Seth is so challenged.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

To Join the Lost

About the Poet:

Seth Steinzor protested the Vietnam War during his high school years near Buffalo, New York, and his years at Middlebury College, advocated Native American causes after law school, and has made a career as a civil rights attorney, criminal prosecutor, and welfare attorney for the State of Vermont. Throughout he has written poetry. In early 1980s Boston he edited a small literary journal. His first, highly praised book, To Join the Lost, was published in 2010.

Mailbox Monday #394

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links. Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

Among the Lost by Seth Steinzor for review from the poet, a book that will be on tour with Poetic Book Tours in January 2017.

Among the Lost, set in the modern American rust belt, is a meditation drawn from Dante s Purgatorio. To Dante, Purgatory was the mountain where souls not damned went after death to cleanse themselves of sin in preparation for entering Paradise. What, Steinzor asks, are we preparing ourselves for, having lost the fear of hell and the hope of heaven, in the course of our daily urban existence? And whatever that is, how do we go about preparing for it?

Good Taste: Simple, Delicious Recipes for Family and Friends by Jane Green

Jane Green’s life has always revolved around her kitchen…

… from inviting over friends for an impromptu brunch; to wowing guests with delicious new recipes; to making sure her ever-on-the-move family makes time to sit down together. For Jane, food is enjoyable because of the people surrounding it and the pleasures of hosting and nourishing those she cares about, body and soul.

Now, Jane opens wide the doors of her stunning home to share tips on entertaining, ideas for making any gathering a cozy yet classy affair, and some of her favorite dishes, ranging from tempting hors d’oeuvres like Sweet Corn and Chili Soup, to mouthwatering one-pot mains like Slow-Braised Onion Chicken, to sinfully satisfying desserts like Warm Chocolate and Banana Cake.

Hermit Thrush by Amy Minato for review from Inkwater Press.

The Annotated Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and David M. Shapard, which I purchased for research.

This Revised and Expanded Edition contains hundreds of new notes and illustrations.
The first-ever fully annotated edition of one of the most beloved novels in the world is a sheer delight for Jane Austen fans. Here is the complete text of “Pride and Prejudice “with thousands of annotations on facing pages, including:

– Explanations of historical context

Rules of etiquette, class differences, the position of women, legal and economic realities, leisure activities, and more.

– Citations from Austen’s life, letters, and other writings

Parallels between the novel and Austen’s experience are revealed, along with writings that illuminate her beliefs and opinions.

– Definitions and clarifications

Archaic words, words still in use whose meanings have changed, and obscure passages are explained.

– Literary comments and analyses

Insightful notes highlight Austen’s artistry and point out the subtle ways she develops her characters and themes.

– Maps and illustrations

of places and objects mentioned in the novel.

– An introduction, a bibliography, and a detailed chronology of events

Of course, one can enjoy the novel “without “knowing the precise definition of a gentleman, or what it signifies that a character drives a coach rather than a hack chaise, or the rules governing social interaction at a ball, but readers of “The Annotated Pride and Prejudice “will find that these kinds of details add immeasurably to understanding and enjoying the intricate psychological interplay of Austen’s immortal characters.

What did you receive?

My God, What Have We Done? by Susan V. Weiss

Normally, I’ll write up my own summary for a book, but this week has been hectic, so I’ll provide you with summary from Amazon:

“In a world afflicted with war, toxicity, and hunger, does what we do in our private lives really matter? Fifty years after the creation of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, newlyweds Pauline and Clifford visit that once-secret city on their honeymoon, compelled by Pauline’s fascination with Oppenheimer, the soulful scientist. The two stories emerging from this visit reverberate back and forth between the loneliness of a new mother at home in Boston and the isolation of an entire community dedicated to the development of the bomb. While Pauline struggles with unforeseen challenges of family life, Oppenheimer and his crew reckon with forces beyond all imagining. Finally the years of frantic research on the bomb culminate in a stunning test explosion that echoes a rupture in the couple’s marriage. Against the backdrop of a civilization that’s out of control, Pauline begins to understand the complex, potentially explosive physics of personal relationships. At once funny and dead serious, My God, What Have We Done? sifts through the ruins left by the bomb in search of a more worthy human achievement.”

My God, What Have We Done? by Susan V. Weiss combines two seemingly divergent topics under one roof — a marriage and the making of the atomic bomb — and readers get to watch it build to a crescendo and explode.  Told in first person point of view, readers get a real taste for how obsessed Pauline is with Oppenheimer, so much so that her honeymoon with Clifford is spent in Los Alamos where the atomic bomb was created.  This is where readers first meet them, and may be stunned by the emotional distance between the newlyweds.  As the story begins unfolding, Pauline continues to exhibit emotional distance, as if she is disconnected from her feelings and every moment of her life must be plotted and thought out thoroughly before she acts.

The stories of Pauline and Clifford’s marriage and how it builds is in parallel to the third person POV tale about the building of Los Alamos and the atomic bomb.  While Weiss uses an interesting premise, particularly the bomb itself to signify the creation of relationships and families and their destruction, the first person POV of Pauline’s life is more captivating.  She’s pulled between her desires to be a wife and mother and her old life, feeling a disconnect from her friends and life in Philadelphia, but there is a greater desperation within her.

“Although I envied his serenity, I sometimes wished I could get him to grab onto some of my challenges, to declare himself, to fight back.”  (page 12)

While Clifford is often compared to Oppenheimer by Pauline for his angular facial features and his bookish intelligence, she acts more like the scientists as she parents her son.  Like the atom bomb they created to end the war — all wars — Jasper is an experiment to be tinkered with and nurtured.  Readers will often question Pauline’s emotional state and whether she has the depth necessary to care for a child, herself, and her husband.  She’s an enigma, much like Oppenheimer was.  Readers easily find the parallels in this narrative, but Weiss’s characters appear to be more like caricatures of people, rather than complex human beings.

My God, What Have We Done? by Susan V. Weiss is an attempt to draw wider conclusions about logically minded people, and will prompt readers to self examine.  However, the struggle through the shifting points of view and story lines may bog down some readers’ enjoyment of her tale.  Ultimately, the premise was unique, and the struggle of a new housewife was interesting, but the Oppenheimer sections were a bit dry and read like a laundry list of encounters rather than a fictionalized account of true events.

 

 

Please check out the rest of the stops on the TLC Book Tour by clicking the tour host icon at the left.

 

 

About the Author:

Susan V. Weiss is a writer and a teacher who lives in Burlington, Vermont. Her stories have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies. In addition to teaching adult literacy and expository and creative writing, she has initiated community-outreach writing projects for offenders, refugees, and homeless people.

 

 

This is my 56th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.