Speaking of reading, I’ve been immersed in two books over the past couple of weeks that I wanted to mention here. Both have ties to my MFA alma mater Emerson College. I’ll admit, I might not have been aware of them had I not been keeping an eye out for mentions of Emerson, and that’s why I wanted to bring them up here — they are worth noting.
The first, Day for Night, is by Frederick Reiken. I had Reiken for a lit class on short stories and it was one of the best classes I took in my MFA days, largely because he geared the class toward writers, and thus when we read a short story we spent a lot of time considering how it was written and consequently the class was as much a craft class as a lit class. Reiken has some terrific and very understandable theories about craft (you may have seen some of his essays in The Writers Chronicle). Anyway, Reiken’s command of craft is evident in his latest novel. It’s a kind of wild ride, this novel, with a “six degrees of separation” kind of premise that brings the reader from Florida to Utah to San Francisco to Israel and traverses time and, maybe, reality. There’s a bit of the fantastical here, and yet there’s also some historical reality — The Holocaust — that keeps Day for Night grounded. At first I wanted to classify this one as a collection of linked stories, but about a third of the way through the book it became clear that this is very much a novel, albeit with many different narrators. They are all telling the same story, in a way, though with varying degrees of knowledge of the big picture. Each offers a piece of the puzzle and Reiken is able to bring what seems like many disparate stories together in a way that I found pretty satisfying.
The second book is a collection of short stories by a recent Emerson grad … wow, wow, Laura van den Berg‘s first book, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us is fantastic. I’m a little late to the party –this collection has been lauded all over the place since it came out in late 2009. The book was a 2009 holiday selection for the Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” Program, shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor Award, and long-listed for The Story Prize. There’s a quiet sorrow in all of these stories, which have in common themes of loss and loneliness, despite their disparate geographic settings. (Van den Berg deftly writes about the Congo, Boston, Madagascar, and New York City, among other locales.) There’s a strangeness here to that contributes to the desolation (a Bigfoot impersonator, a store that sells Balinese masks, a search for the Loch Ness monster, a little brother who has found a tunnel to the other side of the world…) but doesn’t ever feel forced or, well, strange. Such is van den Berg’s talent.
I am eagerly awaiting her next book.