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Shelf Life of Happiness by Virginia Pye

Source: Caitlin Hamilton Summie Marketing & Publicity
Paperback, 170 pgs.
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Shelf Life of Happiness by Virginia Pye is a slow burn, because like happiness it can take time to see when you actually have it. Pye’s characters are all unique in their experiences from a young man rebelling against his perceptions of his father by looking to a career in skateboarding to an artist who’s big ritual signals an end to his long-fought-for break. These stories explore how long happiness lasts, and in many cases, these characters realize that their happiness happened long ago or that their current happiness may be cut too short.

From “Crying in Italian” (pg. 24)

“The children huddle, deciding if their longing for gelato can be satisfied with limonata instead. That’s the question, isn’t it? she thinks. Can one high, desperate longing be satisfied by something else instead?

From “White Dog” (pg. 36)

“From somewhere behind the house, two gunshots sounded rapidly, one after the other. Dunster flinched and Roxanne steadied him. ‘Enemy’s closer than we thought,’ he mumbled.”

Pye’s intimate portraits of these characters reveal the motivations we all have and the worries we carry about our own happiness. If something looks better in someone else’s life, don’t we covet it and wonder what it would be like to be them? We look and think that their happiness is better than our own and we either strive to emulate that which we see or we destroy what happiness we have in seeking out the “other” happiness. Then there is the internal doubt about our own happiness, the happiness we have in the moment — is it real or imagined? What is the shelf life of happiness? It’s probably different for everyone and some of us achieve more than others in terms of emotional happiness, but what does it even mean to be happy?

Shelf Life of Happiness by Virginia Pye offers a variety of stories exploring this idea of happiness and what it means in all of its forms. Some happiness lasts longer than others, and some characters soon realize the thing they thought they needed to be happy is not the happiness they had. Big questions for book clubs to explore and so much more.

RATING: Quatrain

PHOTO: Terry Brown

About the Author:

Virginia Pye is the author of two award-winning novels, Dreams of the Red Phoenix and River of Dust, and the forthcoming short story collection, Shelf Life of Happiness. Her stories, essays, and interviews have appeared in The North American Review, The Baltimore Review, Literary Hub, The New York Times, The Rumpus, Huffington Post and elsewhere. She lived in Richmond, Virginia, for many years and recently returned Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she grew up.

She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied with Allan Gurganus, Joan Silber, and Chuck Wachtel. In college at Wesleyan University she learned from Annie Dillard and F.D. Reeve. After graduate school, she served as assistant to Frances Goldin at her literary agency in New York City. Virginia has taught creative writing and literature at New York University, and later in Philadelphia, at the University of Pennsylvania, in high schools, community centers, and in her home. In Richmond, she helped establish and run James River Writers, a literary non-profit. In Boston, she now teaches at Grub Street Writing Center.

Paradise Drive by Rebecca Foust

Source: Press 53
Paperback, 114 pgs
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Paradise Drive by Rebecca Foust, selected as the 2015 winner of the Press 53 Award for Poetry, is a collection of contemporary sonnets in which a pilgrim tackles the challenges of the modern world, including debt, divorce, addiction, and more.  Sonnets are one of the more challenging forms of poetry because of their rhythms and rhyme schemes, but Foust is never shy in her word choice nor the selection of each poem’s topic.  Her pilgrim is like Dante in the Divine Comedy, who searches for truth, beauty, and love, but unlike him, those concepts can manifest in very different ways.  In Foust’s modern version, the Pilgrim comes from a place of instability in which her father “smelled like failure because/he could not pay the bills.” (“The Prime Mover,” pg. 15)

From the seven deadly sins overheard at a party to party etiquette, the shallowness of Pilgrim’s cloud is seen through judgmental eyes, even as the Pilgrim seeks solace in the bathroom with the newspaper.  She buries her head in the sand to avoid the realities of the world around her — the lack of depth and mindfulness — and she’s paralyzed with fear and inaction.  The juxtaposition between her upbringing with the new life of high-end parties, among the elite with their own yachts and mansions, is stark.

From “Wrath, Talking about ‘The Change'” (page 10)

‘Menopause is a bitch and, trust me, not
one in heat. Black cohosh and primrose,
soy, and those compounded creams
you rub on your belly. Yuck, and none of it
works–I still hot-flash like a neon sign
in a full grand mal fir, I still rail

From “Indentured” (page 14)

Pilgrim’s own teeth, like her parents’, are soft
as chalk and will not bleach quite white.
She recalls how her father used to swoop
into the room, vanting to suck her blood,
his bridge boiling Polident blue in a cup

The search for more begins as a slow burn as Pilgrim recognizes the folly of the high-end Fifth Avenue “subway coat” and the use of the Escalade to drive the kids to sports.  There is the danger that she will fall in love with that life and all that it offers, even if it is shallow and unfulfilling.  With references to Hamlet and other classics, Foust has created a ripe mixture of classic and contemporary poetry within a classic form, which readers can and will spend hours ruminating over.  The urgent need to undergo a pilgrimage is tempered by Pilgrim’s awareness that the journey will take an emotional, spiritual, and moral toll.  In spite of those challenges, she sets off.

Paradise Drive by Rebecca Foust is a masterful work about the search for meaning in meaninglessness and the search for fulfillment in a world abound with distractions and shallowness.  Foust is a rare talent and her sonnets are masterful, but modern and fresh.

About the Poet:

Rebecca Foust‘s book Dark Card, won the 2007 Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook and was released by Texas Review Press in June 2008, and a full length manuscript was a finalist in Poetrys 2007 Emily Dickinson First Book Award. Her recent poetry won two 2007 Pushcart nominations and appears or is forthcoming in Atlanta Review, Margie, North American Review, Nimrod, Spoon River Poetry Review, and others.  She also is the new Poetry Editor for Women’s Voices for Change, which will feature a different woman poet (over the age of 40) each week in its “Poetry Sunday” column.

Check out this interview with Rebecca in SFWeekly.  Here’s another review.  For your viewing enjoyment, Foust reads “the fire is falling.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hero for the People by Arthur Powers

Source: Author and Book Junkie Promotions
Paperback, 190 pages
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A Hero for the People by Arthur Powers is a quiet collection of short stories about the Brazilian backlands that examine faith and perseverance among people who were downtrodden and beaten down by their richer brethren off and on between 1964 and the early 1990s.  In this crucible, men and women are either made stronger or they are broken by the land, the people, and the government.  Powers uses sparse language and thrusts the reader in the middle of situations, but there is enough background given so that the reader understand each character’s position in the towns they visit — from the Brother sent to help an older priest live out his final years before the parish is closed and finds himself becoming a people’s hero to the young wife and mother who dreams of escaping her life as a wife for a passionate love affair.

“She turned and walked inside.  She would miss this house.  The house where she had grown up had been made of wattle — mud and sticks — plastered over in parts where the plaster hadn’t worn through.  Its floor had been dirt, pressed hard enough so that you could sweep it almost clean, but turning muddy when rain leaked through the old tile roof.  In this house, when water leaked through the tiles in the hard rains, it could be swept off the floor.  And here there was a pump in the kitchen; she didn’t have to walk to the river for water.”  (from “The Moving”, page 96)

While Powers begins his collection with a note about the political and social environment during the time in which these stories are set; it is hardly necessary because it is clear that those factors influenced the lives of his characters.  At the heart of these stories are families trying to make their way in the world and keep what little they have, but there are the missionaries who come from the outside world to help them and there are the wealthy landowners and their gangs who try to take it all.  Powers’ style is reminiscent of the stories told by the fire before televisions were prevalent in homes, and these stories will transport readers outside of their own lives into the lives of these Brazilian farmers and ranchers.  As they struggle, readers will feel the tension grown, and when they fall, they will cheer them onward.

A Hero for the People by Arthur Powers is a powerful look at a less affluent society that is no less worthy of prosperity and happiness than the next.  Hearts will break, families will falter, but in the end faith and love hold them together through the toughest parts of their lives.  Powers has crafted harrowing stories that dig at the root of all human societies when they are beginning anew.

About the Author:

Arthur Powers went to Brazil in 1969 and lived most his adult life there. From 1985 to 1997, he and his wife served with the Franciscan Friars in the Amazon, doing pastoral work and organizing subsistence farmers and rural workers’ unions in a region of violent land conflicts. The Powers currently live in Raleigh North Carolina.

Arthur received a Fellowship in Fiction from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, three annual awards for short fiction from the Catholic Press Association, and 2nd place in the 2008 Tom Howard Fiction Contest. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in many magazines & anthologies. He is the author of A Hero For The People: Stories From The Brazilian Backlands (Press 53, 2013) and The Book of Jotham (Tuscany Press, 2013).

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

heroforpeople

 

 

 

55th book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

28th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Solving the World’s Problems by Robert Lee Brewer

I use Grammarly’s plagiarism checker because it works! Have you tried it?

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 92 pages
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Solving the World’s Problems by Robert Lee Brewer is the debut collection of a poet who has spurred inspiration virtually for many years as part of the Writer’s Digest team, and as a debut, it oozes deconstruction, construction, and reflection in each poem’s white spaces in ways that are thought-provoking and eye-opening.  There are love poems, break-up poems, and get back together poems, but the overwhelming theme seems to be that love is the great connector of us all — no matter how successful the relationships ultimately are — and the poet seems to postulate that love can “solve the world’s problems.”  While some of these poems have a pessimistic hint in them, they are balanced with a certain amount of light.

From "Matters of Great Importance" (page xv-xvi)

poets consider which chair
                is going to inspire them
                                  to write the poem

that inspires other people
                  to build chairs and
                                    drive trucks and write poems

Within each poem there is an expansion, an expanse left open for the reader to explore and think about on their own.  While these poems cover well-worn territory at times, each line break and word choice makes them crisp, inspiring the reader to look at the subject anew.  In “worried about ourselves,” the narrator talks of how the moon was once something godly and now is just a chunk of rock floating in space, but toward the latter half of the poem, the new perception is turned on the reader, examining the never-ending analysis of ourselves to the point we begin to believe our own perceptions about reality are true, even when they are not.  Some of the best lines are the simplest, like in “I think the world is a pin cushion” (page 48):

there's a space between everyday matters
that makes someone feel every day matters

But there are more serious moments, moments in which social issues are addressed, such as global warming in “one day we looked for the snow” (page 49) and living in a fast-paced modern world where appearances matter and wars are inevitable — “why I never mention the traffic report” (page 52).  But more interestingly, there is an exploration of the modern world and the perceived increase in connection between humans, but the reality is that we seek these outlets to distance ourselves from one another — walking out the door has never been easier when face-to-face takes a back seat.

Solving the World’s Problems by Robert Lee Brewer is a chance to find ourselves reflected in ourselves and the world around us.  From “the noises that scare us” (page 30):

to uncover and hope no shots are fired
we're not here to find something new        we want
reminded of who we were when the birds

first spoke  our wings dissolve as we age   and

About the Author:

Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor for the Writer’s Digest Writing Community. He edits books, manages websites, creates electronic newsletters, crafts blog posts, writes magazine articles, participates in online education, and speaks nationally on writing and publishing topics. As a poet, Robert was named Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere in 2010, has been a featured reader at several poetry events around the country, and is the author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

This is my 63rd book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

 

 

 

This is my 26th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.

223rd Virtual Poetry Circle

Welcome to the 223rd Virtual Poetry Circle!

Remember, this is just for fun and is not meant to be stressful.

Keep in mind what Molly Peacock’s books suggested. Look at a line, a stanza, sentences, and images; describe what you like or don’t like; and offer an opinion. If you missed my review of her book, check it out here.

Also, sign up for the 2013 Dive Into Poetry Challenge because its simple; you only need to read 1 book of poetry. Check out the stops on the 2013 National Poetry Month Blog Tour and the 2012 National Poetry Month Blog Tour.

Today’s poem is from Robert Lee Brewer’s Solving the World’s Problems:

worried about ourselves

we've finally reached the point at which we
       invent reasons to get upset    we cast
               spells on ourselves  curse our own conventions

once  the moon was a ghost haunting these fields
        a confirmation of things to come   now
                the moon's rock surrounded by darkness

we praise our new awareness and question
        our motives   we ask why until we run
               short on answers   what happens when we have

time to think  we transform x into y
        and dismiss the existence of z now
               only a letter that signals the end

What do you think?