Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup: July 26-30

Shooting out the Lights

A Memoir

Book Cover
Kim Fairley
She Writes Press
Softcover $16.95 (288pp)
978-1-64742-134-2
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop)

Kim Fairley’s sensitive, probing memoir concerns her love for a much older man; their marriage was marked by silence and mystery.

Fairley was twenty-four when she became captivated by Vern’s smile, wicked sense of humor, and rugged good looks. They made an odd couple: the poetry-quoting, divorced hardware store owner was short, tan, and thirty-two years her senior. Fairley writes that she “felt like a moose” standing next to him. Still, they became best friends, then husband and wife. Three months later, Fairley was pregnant: “I was starting my life, and he, though I didn’t know it, was nearing the end of his.”

Fairley is candid about struggles to reconcile her love for Vern with her increasing sense that he was hiding something. Her attempts to come to grips with her husband’s lingering torment over the accidental shooting death of his fourteen-year-old son, Ben, were met with silence. The past hung over their marriage; the influence of Vern’s ex-wife loomed in the décor of their house, and Ben’s room was an untouchable shrine.

Despite her unanswered questions, Fairley was sure that she and Vern could face anything together: “He was giving me a sense of security in my life, and I was giving him a way to walk away from Ben’s dark shadow.” But their relationship took a dire, dangerous turn when Vern, over her objections, gave in to a request to house a disturbed eleven-year-old boy, the son of a deceased friend.

Shooting Out the Lights is an exquisite memoir that analyzes what brought a couple together to face loss and their shattered hopes with enduring love.

KRISTINE MORRIS (June 27, 2021)

Sleepy Stories

Book Cover
Mario Levrero
Diego Bianki, illustrator
Alicia López, translator
Elsewhere Editions
Hardcover $22.00 (32pp)
978-1-939810-84-7
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

A nose-tap to every grownup who’s ever been wheedled into reading “just one more!” bedtime story, this is a funny collection whose reluctant narrator warns that his stories are rooted in his severe sleepiness. In them, similarly weary characters curl up in overturned umbrellas, stretch themselves across their houses, and are tossed between monkeys, but they don’t resist: all they want is to slumber. The book’s bold illustrations match the dream-like details of the narrator’s lethargic trip through parent-child nighttime struggles.

MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (June 27, 2021)

My Mistress’ Eyes Are Raven Black

Book Cover
Terry Roberts
Turner
Softcover $16.99 (304pp)
978-1-68442-694-2
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In Terry Roberts’s ominous historical novel My Mistress’ Eyes Are Raven Black, Ellis Island’s immigration policies take a bleak post-war turn.

In 1920, an Irish immigrant vanishes after being sent to the Isolation Ward. Suspecting foul play, the Department of Justice recruits Stephen, a scarred North Carolinian, to investigate. Upon installing himself in the empty Psychopathic Care Unit, he meets Lucy, a tough-minded nurse who’s probing an unusual rise in hospital deaths. They uncover a seamy murder conspiracy, and fall in love with each other in the process. Indeed, between their gruesome late-night discoveries, their tender romance is a welcome reprieve. Both have tragic backgrounds that are detailed with enough ambiguity to make them interesting, while also hinting at how their current case has personal implications for them when it comes to race.

Stephen uses clever needling and conversational mirroring as tactics to pull information out of those he encounters. These include a manipulative, charismatic person and hospital workers. Ellis Island, the famous immigration inspection station whose architectural grandeur masked a harsh system of classifying people according to controversial criteria, is an enticing, eerie setting for his story.

In the book, foreboding prejudice and virulent ideas about who counts as American are established via excerpts from the period writings of eugenicist Madison Grant and nationalist and white supremacist Lothorp Stoddard; these evoke recent political rhetoric, too. The same is true of Stephen and Lucy’s encounters with people who express religious dogma. But Stephen’s dialogue serves as an antidote to the hatred he encounters in others.

My Mistress’ Eyes Are Raven Black is a suspenseful and original historical novel—an amalgam of twisted psychologies and cloak-and-dagger nostalgia with a teasing, passionate romance.

KAREN RIGBY (June 27, 2021)

Voices of the Border

Testimonios of Migration, Deportation, and Asylum

Book Cover
Tobin Hansen, editor
María Engracia Robles Robles, editor
Georgetown University Press
Hardcover $29.95 (256pp)
978-1-64712-084-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

The testimonies collected in Voices of the Border are powerful as they relay systemic failures to care for those who seek asylum at the US’s southern border.

The humanitarian and Catholic Kino Border Initiative of Nogales serves detainees; its workers have also collected oral histories from those they aid, documenting heartbreaking stories that show why people cross the US’s Southern border. None describe easy choices, but all have emotional pulls that mere statistics cannot. These include the tales of kidnapping survivors who were beaten when they were unable to produce ransom money, as well as parents looking for their children, a terminal cancer patient who was deported hours after requesting health care, and a women who was thrown from a train and dismembered.

The testimonies are grouped by topics and preceded by introductory essays; these include statistics that help to put the covered experiences into context. Each voice is one among thousands. Joanna Williams contributes a scorching introduction to the abuses of governments with infuriating details, like an estimate that a third of all detainees suffer abuse by border patrol agents.

The testimonies are short and shocking, and are often translated from Spanish. Despite their brevity, many encompass whole life stories well, fitting sorrow and pain into just a few powerful sentences. Many of the speakers’ identifying details have been changed; violence and poverty often made it impossible for them to continue living in their homes. Some have escaped gang violence, or have seen their family members killed; others fled physical and sexual abuse. Often, these immigrants had to leave their families behind. Alienation is a common theme.

Voices of the Border witnesses immigration and its complications on the US-Mexico border in an emotional, unforgettable way.

MEREDITH GRAHL COUNTS (June 27, 2021)

Colorful

Book Cover
Eto Mori
Jocelyne Allen, translator
Counterpoint Press
Softcover $16.95 (224pp)
978-1-64009-442-0
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Eto Mori’s novel Colorful is a warm and compassionate tale about personal growth and second chances.

Prapura is an angel who informs the narrator, who has just died, that he has won a lottery. His prize is a “do-over”: he gets to return to Earth in someone else’s body for further training and possible restoration to the cycle of rebirth. His job is to remember the grave mistake he made in his previous life, which he attempts to do while he’s living in the body of Makoto, a fourteen-year-old boy who just died by suicide.

The narrator’s struggles to adapt to Makoto’s world result in narrative tension. He discovers his place in his new family and school, and, as Makoto, grapples with his brother’s hostility, his anger at his parents’ mistakes, his classmates’ coldness, and his disillusionment with the girl he loves. Then he learns that the people around him are not all that they seem. As he discovers the truth about himself and others, the book’s characters are revealed as deep and complex.

The novel’s tone is often playful, as befits the lighthearted premise of the lottery system. Prapura is a comic figure, more awkward than majestic, and the narrator’s adjustment to teenage life is often funny. Mori evokes school settings, especially the art classroom that is so important to Makoto, with lively, entertaining details. But her characters also struggle with depression, infidelity, betrayal, and suicide. Still, Mori maintains balance between her serious subject matter and her light tone well: such problems seem real and urgent, though the overall mood is hopeful.

A departed man has a second chance in the novel Colorful, working to develop compassion and self-knowledge.

REBECCA HUSSEY (June 27, 2021)

Barbara Hodge

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