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Joanne Kyger, trailblazing Beat poet, dies at 82

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:03:20 UT

Joanne Kyger, trailblazing Beat poet, dies at 82 Joanne Kyger, a leading poet of the San Francisco Renaissance and a rare female voice of the male-dominated Beat generation, has died. Ms. Kyger died Wednesday at her home in Bolinas, in hospice care, said her husband, Donald Guravich. The cause of death was lung cancer, with complications from osteoarthritis and atrial fibrillation. “Joanne Kyger was a trailblazer, fearless and full of insight,” said City Lights Publisher Elaine Katzenberger. Poems 2005-2014, published by City Lights Publishers, showcased themes informed by her longtime practice of Zen Buddhism and her concern for the environment. Interviews, Journals, and Ephemera — the first in a new interview series by Wave Books — that will be published in September. In addition to her writing, Ms. Kyger taught at Mills College, the New College of California and Naropa University in Boulder, Colo. In San Francisco, she joined a community of poets, living in the communal East West House, where she studied Zen Buddhism. In a 2015 Poetry Foundation interview, she said, There were always women I was friends with associated with these groups. “She was really a California person,” he said, and had an attachment to the Pacific Ocean that drew her closer to Japan and Buddhism. Selected Poems, John Freeman wrote that Ms. Kyger’s best poetry, her “short, imagistic observations of daily life,” drew its inspiration from her Marin County surroundings. Ms. Kyger stayed true to her Buddhist beliefs long after living in Japan. No memorial services have been announced.

‘Insane Clown President’ and ‘Fever Swamp’

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 20:33:16 UT

Dispatches From the 2016 Circus, by Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, and “Fever Swamp: A Journey Through the Strange Netherland of the 2016 Presidential Race,” by best-selling novelist Richard North Patterson. Each is scathing in its dissections of the candidates’ weaknesses and the inability of the Republican Party to find a way to stop Donald Trump, whom each author regarded as an existential threat to the party and to American democracy. On the same page of his Aug. 30 essay in which the author observed that Trump’s refusal to pivot from his hard line of playing to fear and mass anger “in all likelihood, would precipitate his defeat in November — killing off other Republicans in the bargain,” his margin note reads, It is still stunning to consider how completely Trump violated every paradigm for a successful candidate. Taibbi showed a similar touch of humility in early September when a CNN poll showing Trump in the lead over Clinton coincided with his Rolling Stone piece that suggested Trump was in a “freefall,” having “lost his mojo.” Patterson, a former trial lawyer and assistant attorney general for the state of Ohio, cites Watergate as a turning point, for better and for worse, in media coverage. While it underscored the importance of free and independent media, he writes, it also “created a template for ambitious reporters” — where uncovering scandal became the Holy Grail, with insufficient regard for its context or gravity. Carly Fiorina’s graphic description of videos showing Planned Parenthood’s callous treatment of fetuses, unsupported by the evidence, gave her a momentary surge in the polls. Taibbi also deplores the way media outlets have become so partisan: “The model going forward will likely involve Republican media covering Democratic corruption and Democratic media covering Republican corruption.” A Trump voter might well push aside Taibbi’s book before the first reference to their candidate, now president of the United States, being called “a con man” or a know-nothing who is “bloviating and farting his way” through the campaign “saying outrageous things, acting like Hitler one minute and Andrew Dice Clay the next.” “Insane Clown President” is a breezy read and will bring knowing chuckles among liberals who will savor its wickedly clever shots at all the jesters in the clown car who constituted the Republican primary field. These accounts of history in a hurry, while entertaining and surely maddening to those who either like or hate the ending, are handicapped by the knowledge that the full story of the 2016 election, especially the extent and manner of Russian meddling, is still unfolding. [...] it remains to be seen whether Trump’s election represents a profound turning point or a bizarre blip in American democracy.

Literary Guide

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 23:53:39 UT

Literary Guide 4 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Agnieszka Ilwicka “A Polish Journey to Yiddish Language and Culture.” 1:30 p.m. Jewish Community Library, 1835 Ellis St., S.F. Jane Kriss “Next Stop Sausalito.” 4 p.m. Book Passage, 100 Bay St., Sausalito. Meredith Maran, Michelle Richmond The New Old Me: 7 p.m. Books Inc., 74 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto. Farid Matuk, Tonya Foster Fresh and Best Poetry Series. 7 p.m. Diesel, 5433 College Ave., Oakland. P.J. O’Rourke, Melissa Caen “How the Hell Did This Happen?: The Election of 2016.” Commonwealth Club, 555 Post St., S.F. (415) 597-6705. Amy Poeppel “Small Admissions.” 7 p.m. A Great Good Place for Books, 6120 LaSalle Ave., Oakland. Jim Shepard “The World to Come.” 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Adam Alter “Irresistible.” 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Sarah Andersen “Big Mushy Happy Lump.” Marty Brounstein “Two Among the Righteous Few: A Story of Courage in the Holocaust.” Commonwealth Club, 555 Post St., S.F. (415) 597-6705. Emerging Writers Festival Cortney Lamar Charleston and Patricia Park are featured. 7:45 p.m. Maraschi Room, Fromm Hall, USF. Chris Hayes, Clara Jeffery “A Colony in a Nation.” InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel, Peacock Court, 999 California St., S.F. (415) 597-6705. Julie Scelfo “The Women Who Made New York.” 6 p.m. Book Passage, One Ferry Building, S.F. (415) 835-1020. Emerging Writers Festival Mike Scalise, Vanessa Hua and Sam Sax are featured. 7:30 p.m. Xavier Hall, Fromm Hall, USF. Joan Frank “All the News I Need.” 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Amy Poeppel “Small Admissions.” 6 p.m. Book Passage, One Ferry Building, S.F. (415) 835-1020. Tim Stroshane “Drought, Water Law, and the Origins of California’s Central Valley Project.” Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St., Berkeley. 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Make Bigger Profits by Building a Better World. Commonwealth Club, 555 Post St., S.F. (415) 597-6705. 6 p.m. Book Passage, One Ferry Building, S.F. (415) 835-1020. Margaret Randall “Only the Road/Solo el Camino.” 7 p.m. The Poetry Center, Humanities Building, SFSU, 1600 Holloway Ave., S.F. (415) 338-2227. Ursula Werner “The Good at Heart.” Neil Gaiman “Norse Mythology.” San Mateo Performing Arts Center, 600 N. Delaware St., San Mateo. Ursula Werner “The Good at Heart.” 6 p.m. Book Passage, One Ferry Building, S.F. (415) 835-1020. 11 a.m. Diesel, 2419 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur.

‘The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane,’ by Lisa See

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 23:33:29 UT

Lisa See’s latest novel, “The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane,” takes place in the fascinating world of pu’er tea, from the picking of tea leaves to the distribution of aged, fermented tea cakes in Southern California. In an early chilling scene, Li-yan’s mother, who is a midwife, orders a father to kill his twin boy and girl within minutes of their birth. The rest of the novel is strong, but sometimes feels off balance due to the different narrative techniques used to tell the mother and daughter’s diverging stories. See doesn’t always trust the reader’s ability to make the leap into an Akha girl’s mind, and pushes too hard to generate understanding. [...] Li-yan’s repeated use of the term “ethnic minority” to refer to herself feels forced, a shortcut to make sure the reader understands Li-yan’s outsider position among the Han majority, but one that doesn’t allow us to actually feel what are presumably feelings of alienation. [...] Haley’s story of mixed emotions is told with almost no framing via quotidian documents: doctor’s notes when she’s a sick baby, curated emails by her adoptive mother, a clearly autobiographical short story written by Haley in preparation for drafting a college essay. See breathes life into a hidden world to which many of her readers don’t have access, just as she’s done in “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” “Shanghai Girls” and her many other Chinese historical novels. “Snow Flower,” for example, revealed 19th century Hunan Province, a world in which a secret script, nu shu, was developed for women, and where some young girls were paired with emotional matches that stayed with them through their lives. [...] the novel is an alluring escape, a satisfying and vivid fable that uses an Akha belief to tap into our own longings for coincidence.

Recommended reading, March 26

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 23:09:54 UT

Exit West Hamid’s fourth novel centers on two young people who fall in love in an unnamed city riven with sectarian conflict — then leave their homeland through a mysterious door. Drugs in the Third Reich By Norman Ohler; translated from the German by Shaun Whiteside Ohler’s revelatory book is that rare sort of work whose remarkable insight focuses on a subject that’s been overlooked, even disregarded by historians. The Evening Road Hunt’s lyrical novel tracks the journeys of two appealingly complicated women and is also grounded in history: the lynching in Indiana’s Grant County on Aug. 7, 1930, that inspired the poem “Strange Fruit.” The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane See’s latest novel is an alluring escape, a satisfying and vivid fable set in California and the mountains of the Yunnan province in China.

Roundup of children’s books

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 23:06:26 UT

Fred Korematsu refused Order 9066, which sent Japanese Americans away from the Pacific Coast after Pearl Harbor. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1944 failed, but, in 1981, scholars discovered documents that would eventually exonerate him. (The government had lied.) This timely history, published by Berkeley nonprofit Heyday, describes the case and much more, serving admirably as a tutorial on civil rights, an introductory civics lesson and a clarion call to action. Strategic book design effectively divides up duties with a poetic narrative, haunting color plates, historical asides, multiple timelines, archival photos, boxed definitions and provocative questions to further connection and commitment. [...] it’s detrimental to girls to have a steady diet of “Prince Charming to the rescue.” Overbearing parents impose a strict training regimen to make daughter “clean and strong and wise.” [...] Cora resists with an assist from a mischievous crocodile, procured by a clever fairy godmother. Hilarious art in Victorian Era style shows the crocodile cross-dress as Cora, carry on in her place (she’s off to play in the dirt) and shake up the parents, all for an important point: A dad, boy and toy dinosaur populate this mini treatise on what is takes to be brave. With a Newbery Honor book to her credit, a Marin County author creates dear characters that move through a mildly suspenseful plot to find answers. Wonderfully expressive multimedia art by a Caldecott Medalist establishes dramatic scenes, full of fears and fearlessness, anxiety and appreciation. [...] Nicholas learns to trust in others and gains self-confidence, better able to manage what’s scary. Continue the celebration of Women’s History Month beyond March with this inspiring picture biography of an 18th century astronomer and innovator. Only brother William sees her potential and brings her to England, where together they perfect “the best telescope in the world” and make remarkable discoveries — Uranus, new nebulae and galaxies and comets galore. Dogs bark, engines hum, and people sing in the shower. Absolute quiet, imposed by a new mayor. [...] this rollicking original tale develops themes of oppressive governance and squelched identity within a fanciful scenario that unfolds seven years hence when a rooster shows up, full of joyful song and righteous indignation. Perhaps drawing from personal experiences with dictatorship, they relay a pleasant yarn with greater purpose — to honor freedom and inspire us to resist being censored and silenced. In this lovely lullaby, day ends with a special invitation: A San Francisco illustrator uses watercolors and digital techniques to create a lush backdrop of trees and animals to extend a poetic homage to the forest night. Lilting rhymes plus helpful labels heighten awareness of the hooting owl, romping raccoon, “whirring” bat, flying squirrels, “chirring” crickets, fleeing fox, “flicking” fireflies, “screeing” tree frog, and more. In concert, these creatures move us easily from daylight to dusk to dark: “Nature’s ark glows/ gathers/ tiny and tall,/ splendid and small/ and sails us all to sleep.”

‘The Mother of All Questions,’ by Rebecca Solnit

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 22:37:17 UT

Rebecca Solnit is a visionary — a visionary who helps us see our world with greater clarity. While “The Mother of All Questions” does touch on the question of whether to have children, as the title implies (a question Solnit now answers in public with “Would you ask a man that?”), the book also poses a wider range of queries. How can we break through limiting narratives about gender and race and power — narratives that silence and harm us in so many ways — and create a more just, empathetic and joyful world? Solnit writes, “One of my goals in life is to become truly rabbinical, to be able to answer closed questions with open questions,” and she achieves that here, exploring everything from online feminist activism to the literary canon to the movie “Giant” with Talmudic rigor and curiosity, not to mention great doses of humor. In one of her essays, Solnit argues for a way of being that is “deft and supple and imaginative or maybe just fully awake in how we imagine and describe the world and our experiences of it,” for speech that “conduct(s) the orchestra of words into something precise and maybe even beautiful.”

‘A Train Through Time,’ by Elizabeth Farnsworth

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 21:53:02 UT

Farnsworth also produced a number of award-winning documentaries, including a full-length feature on Chilean Judge Juan Guzmán as he attempts to bring Pinochet to justice for human rights violations. The book opens in a dark editing room at Skywalker Ranch with Farnsworth and her colleagues scrambling to finish the Guzmán documentary in time for the San Francisco International Film Festival. In an exhausted daze, she watches a sequence in which the judge first finds human remains, the chilling evidence of human slaughter 30 years earlier. Having set the memoir in motion, Farnsworth sets out to answer her own question, fitting her memories together “like bones from an exhumation,” searching for the threads between her current life as a journalist and her younger self. The rest of the book toggles back and forth between scenes from the train ride — a new friend, a mysterious white horse — and scenes from Farnsworth’s life as a journalist reporting from various hot spots around the globe. Always there is death, and mystery: the “disappeared” in Chile; the death of a beloved handler in Iraq; the story of Thanh Pham, who lost his mother and grandmother as a child when his village in Vietnam was bombed by American soldiers and who is the subject of Farnsworth’s documentary “Thanh’s War.” While “A Train Through Time” is a moving and vivid account into what drove this accomplished journalist into the darkest corners of humanity, this is not a “tell-all.” [...] like all good memoirs, “A Train Through Time” offers the reader an opportunity to “ride along” with an intelligent and reflective narrator as she inventories her life and offers us an insider’s view of some of the most morally challenging moments in our country’s history.

‘First Thought: Conversations With Allen Ginsberg’

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 21:36:13 UT

‘First Thought: “First Thought,” a collection of articles about him, along with interviews, shows that Ginsberg rarely declined an invitation to talk with a journalist, college professor or admirer. Michael Schumacher, the editor of this book, includes an interview he conducted with Ginsberg in 1986 when he was writing “Dharma Lion,” his lively biography of the New Jersey-born poet who wrote “Howl” in San Francisco and changed the face of American poetry. Organized chronologically, “First Thought” allows readers to follow the evolution of Ginsberg’s thinking about sex, poetry, consciousness, politics, drugs and his Beat pals Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. Kathleen O’Toole, the only woman represented in a volume that might be called testosterone-rich, writes about Ginsberg and censorship, a topic that’s always timely. First Thought

‘300 Arguments,’ by Sarah Manguso

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 20:53:59 UT

In recent years, books built according to what French author Edouard Levé called “stochastic details” have become increasingly popular. “Like picking marbles out of a bag,” the little slices of information found in “stochastic” books come in no ostensible order — just a bunch of bits devoid of any clear logic. French experimental author Georges Perec’s 1978 work “I Remember” — which Levé admired — is one early reference point (itself modeled on American artist Joe Brainard’s book of the same name). An Elegy for a Friend, albeit a tiny bit longer, was also gossamer; it wasn’t so much concerned with narrative as with immersing itself in experiences of grief and friendship. Longtime readers will immediately recognize Manguso’s ever-present sense of futility and masochism, as when she explains the origins of this project: I used to write these while playing hooky on what I hoped would be my magnum opus. Another sign of Manguso’s characteristic intelligence is the prevalence of aphorisms that strive to be as transparent and concise as possible. [...] “Perfection and beauty overlap, but incompletely” is almost mathematical in its precision. The title implies that all of the pieces in this book may be arguments in the sense of “theses,” but I don’t think they are, as so many of them are pure observations lacking any clear claim. [...] perhaps the prose is the thing: a master stylist besotted with the act of getting the words just right. [...] “300 Arguments” is a delectation, a book whose great precision and honesty constitute an irresistible incitement to think. Scott Esposito is the editor in chief for the Quarterly Conversation, an online periodical of book reviews and essays.

Out loud: Elif Batuman, author of ‘The Idiot’

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 18:16:17 UT

Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them (2010), was working on a book inspired by a Chekhov character who describes himself as having two distinct lives. Removed from that experience by a couple of decades, it occurred to her to consult the draft of a novel she wrote when she was 23 and living in San Francisco, having taken a year off from her graduate program at Stanford. “I was really embarrassed by that 18-year-old, and all the dumb stuff that she did, and there was this great effort that I took to distance myself — the writing self — from the person who I was writing about,” Batuman said. Propelled as much by the thrilling new horizons of interpersonal communication and the power of words to sculpt identity as by the prospect of real romance, Selin becomes enmeshed in a long-distance relationship. Because We Come From Everything: Andrew Seguin (“The Room in Which I Work”), Daniel Poppick (“The Police”), Kelli A. Noftle (“Adam Cannot Be Adam”), John Liles (“Follow the Dog Down”), Mary Hickman (“Rayfish”) and Donald Justice (“Compendium: A Collection of Thoughts on Prosody”) (7:30 p.m. Friday, Moe’s Books, 2476 Telegraph Ave., Free). Lives and Voices Not Heard, curated by Bonnie Kwong, features readings by Nghiep Lam and Eddy Zheng on the theme of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders’ experiences facing deportation, followed by a panel including a representative from the Asian Law Caucus (4 p.m. Sunday, Liminal, 3037 38th Ave, Oakland).

‘Exit West,’ by Mohsin Hamid

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 22:45:44 UT

For all the popularity of Henry James’ characterization of the novel as being “a loose baggy monster,” there are also novels that don’t feel the least bit loose or baggy, but are taut and meticulously shaped. While the government fights rebel militants in the city streets, and despite curfews and mobile-network shutdowns, Saeed and Nadia find ways to date, try hallucinogenic mushrooms and fall in love. Saeed’s father walks past a group of young boys playing soccer, and is reminded of his own childhood love of the game. [...] exit visas have become unattainable; trapped as they are, it’s no surprise that Nadia and Saeed begin heeding rumors about “special” doors that can spirit people out of the country. Left as rumors, magic doors would have served as an elegant metaphor for visas, but these portals also happen to be literal. Hamid barely mentions the son’s guilt and anguish, an elision made all the more moving when the couple pauses at a Mykonos beach to watch the waves, “the water stopping just short of their feet and sinking into the sand, leaving lines in the smoothness like those of expired soap bubbles blown by a parent for a child.” In London, Nadia and Saeed land in a bedroom so opulent that, at first, they think they’re “in a hotel, of the sort seen in films and thick, glossy magazines, with pale woods and cream rugs and white walls and the gleam of metal here and there.” Hamid notes that 50 migrant squatters end up fitting into the vast, plush house; the gulf between such different kinds of luck is implied. In Mykonos, London and Marin, the influx of refugees leads to conflicts that, in our post-Brexit, Trump-era present, seem all too credible: nativists advocating for the slaughter of newcomers, riots, attacks.

Writers condemn Trump’s proposed elimination of NEA

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 21:41:46 UT

[...] many reacted strongly to President Trump’s proposal this week to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities — two endowments that have long supported writers and artists of all stripes, as well as cultural organizations. Since 1967, the NEA has awarded individual grants, totaling $45 million, to more than 3,400 writers. Among the novels that have seen the light of day thanks to NEA grants are Jeffrey Eugenides’ “Middlesex,” Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” and William Kennedy’s “Ironweed.” The National Endowment for the Arts provides essential services, not only to artists, but to the millions of people in this nation who are nourished daily by the artistic production the NEA makes possible. Just as the new Republican health care plan threatens the physical health of this nation, the proposal to eliminate the NEA exposes this administration’s utter disregard for the nation’s cultural health and vitality, and is, quite simply, a disaster. Jane Hirshfield, author of eight poetry collections, including, most recently, “The Beauty” Are we really going to cut an institution that does so much for the arts, and for less than the cost of a single F-35 warplane? [...] it breaks my heart to think of all the novels and stories and poems that might not be written if our tiny arts agency is sacrificed to make way for a twenty-foot stretch of a useless and hateful wall. In addition to the way that the grant so generously bolsters individual writers, I’ve been grateful to the NEA for as long as I can remember for allowing my favorite small publishers, theater companies and galleries to produce the work that has inspired and changed me as a writer and human. Rachel Richardson, author of the poetry collections “Hundred-Year Wave” and “Copperhead” Basically, this gift enabled me to stop writing nonprofit grants — which many qualified people can do well — and start writing about poverty in a way that’s unique to what I’ve witnessed, and that will hopefully change some hearts and minds.

‘Hitler,’ by Volker Ullrich, and ‘Blitzed,’ by Norman Ohler

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 19:05:49 UT

A decade later, after Adolf Hitler clawed his way to the top echelons of the German government, many who had viewed him as a buffoon became devoted sycophants. “The majority of the new [Nazi] party members were bandwagon jumpers who joined in hopes of improving their career opportunities, not out of political conviction,” writes Volker Ullrich in Hitler: “Another way of declaring political allegiance was to use the greeting ‘Heil Hitler,’ and ... the people most apt to use the new social address were those who had dismissed Hitler as a ‘clown’ just a few weeks earlier.” Ullrich’s mammoth biography might not break ground in Hitler studies, but this first of two volumes is an assured and engrossing account of how a mercurial and mendacious parvenu became history’s most reviled dictator. Marshaling a vast amount of historical detail whose steady accumulation quickens the pulse and induces a deepening sense of dread, Ullrich paints an indelible portrait of a lowly World War I private and failed artist who transforms himself into a political animal, then a belligerent, genocidal monster. [...] as the German historian writes in his introduction, My aim is to deconstruct the myth of Hitler, the ‘fascination with monstrosity’ that has so greatly influenced historical literature and public discussion of the Führer after 1945. Hitler captivated millions with his hate-filled speeches, and his messianic posturing only boosted his popularity, but, as Ullrich writes, the dictator still lived in fear of looking laughable. Six Nazis and four police officers were killed in his failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, but the party leader suffered only a dislocated shoulder. Machiavellian in the extreme, Hitler practiced a supremely calculating form of politics that assured him the continued support of the public. In the aftermath of Kristallnacht — the 1938 pogrom in which Jews were the victims of “an explosion of sadism” — the dictator succeeded, in Ullrich’s words, in “passing himself off as the disengaged statesman far above any such unpleasantness, while delegating responsibility to his underlings.” The active ingredient in this Volksdroge, or “people’s drug,” was none other than methamphetamine, the powerful and long-lasting stimulant that causes brain cells to release neurotransmitters, raising one’s self-confidence and alertness. The Wehrmacht — the armed forces of Nazi Germany — ordered 35 million of the pills to be produced for the army and the Luftwaffe, the air force, thus making it, the author notes, “the first army in the world to rely on a chemical drug.” For the Germans’ surprise invasion of France in 1940 — the lightning-fast “blitzkrieg” through the Ardennes forest — “thousands of soldiers took the substance out of their field caps or were given it by their medical officers,” Ohler writes. According to Otto F. Ranke, the director of the Reich’s Research Institute of Defence Physiology, Pervitin’s only possible negative side effect might put troops in “a belligerent mood” — not necessarily a bad thing for people whose job was to kill other people. “The myth of Hitler as an anti-drug teetotaler who made his own needs secondary was an essential part of Nazi ideology,” Ohler writes. A myth was created that established itself in the public imagination but also among critical minds of the period, and still resonates today. Bolstering his claim with numerous files he found in archives — “meticulous records were required in case anything happened to Hitler” — Ohler makes a strong case that one of the most powerful men on the planet — “Patient A,” as the dictator was known[...]

‘The Evening Road,’ by Laird Hunt

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 18:17:37 UT

Author Laird Hunt has a knack for inhabiting the voices of women, with plots set in motion by historical events — as in 2014’s Civil War-era “Neverhome,” in which a young wife disguises herself as a male Union soldier. The first half of this intensely lyrical novel is narrated by Ottie Lee Henshaw, an unhappily married secretary en route, reluctantly, to the “rope party” with a group that includes her husband, Dale, and her lecherous boss, Bud. The road trip — which Bud promises will be “better than any picture show” — is marked by mishaps. The novel’s latter section belongs to Calla Destry, a 16-year-old black orphan whose hometown is the site of the lynching. Calla also wants to track down Leander, the white man she thinks she’s in love with. With their communities riven by ugly banter, hatred and ignorance, it’s unclear whether these women will emerge broken or resilient, and at what cost.