I’m happy to share that today is release day for Amina Gautier’s newest collection of short fiction, Now We Will Be Happy, which won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction and is being published by the University of Nebraska Press.
Amina and I met this January at the Key West Literary Seminar, where we were in the same workshop. She’s a fantastic writer, a fellow Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts alum, and I’m excited that we get another of her books. Her first collection, At Risk, won the Flannery O’Connor Book Prize and came out in 2012. At Risk was one of the first books that was reviewed on Briefly Noted when I co-edited the feature with Claire Harlan-Orsi for Prairie Schooner‘s blog.
Here’s the jacket copy of her latest:
Now We Will Be Happy is a prize-winning collection of stories about Afro-Puerto Ricans, U.S.-mainland-born Puerto Ricans, and displaced native Puerto Ricans who are living between spaces while attempting to navigate the unique culture that defines Puerto Rican identity. Amina Gautier’s characters deal with the difficulties of bicultural identities in a world that wants them to choose only one.
The characters in Now We Will Be Happy are as unpredictable as they are human. A teenage boy leaves home in search of the mother he hasn’t seen since childhood; a granddaughter is sent across the ocean to broker peace between her relatives; a widow seeks to die by hurricane; a married woman takes a bathtub voyage with her lover; a proprietress who is the glue that binds her neighborhood cannot hold on to her own son; a displaced wife develops a strange addiction to candles.
Crossing boundaries of comfort, culture, language, race, and tradition in unexpected ways, these characters struggle valiantly and doggedly to reconcile their fantasies of happiness with the realities of their existence.
The fourth edition ofBriefly Noted–a book review I co-created and edit with Claire Harlan Orsi–went live today on the Prairie Schooner blog!
My review of Shira Nayman’s A Mind of Winterbrings up the rear in the festivities, seeing as I haven’t yet got around to changing my name to Aaron Aaronson. (Stupid!)
Here’s a little of what I have to say:
A post-war mystery set mostly in Shanghai, Long Island, and London in the 1950s, A Mind of Winter offers plenty in the way of sex and drugs, mistaken identity, and ill-fated love affairs. These are characters who believe, explicitly or not, that the rules of society do not apply to them. The first section in this three-pronged narrative follows Christine as she plumbs the depths of an opium-induced spiral, chronicling her journey from glamorous state balls and the discomfiture of quid pro quo desire, to opium dens and the streets, where she becomes complicit in the operation of a child prostitution ring. In these sections, Nayman provides her take on the power of forbidden acts.
This will actually be the final issue of Briefly Noted that I’ll be co-editing. I’m hopeful, and confident, that the feature has enough steam to continue for a long while.
If you haven’t already, please check out the first issue of PS: Briefly Noted on the blog of Prairie Schooner‘s website. This is a feature that Claire Harlan-Orsi (Blog and Social Networking Editor for PS) and I have been developing for the past couple months–a book review in brief, with short reviews written by the staff of Prairie Schooner.
It’s really exciting to put something like this out there. Brent Spencer and Jonis Agee (two of my beloved writing professors and mentors, who also happen to be married to each other) instilled a strong emphasis on contributing to the community of writers, principally by teaching, creating opportunities for writers to read their work publicly, and reviewing. PS:BN isn’t all that fancy, but hopefully it gives back to a community that has given so much to me.
Plus, not only am I Co-Editor and Co-Founder of the feature–but I also contributed two reviews of excellent books! Specifically, there are reviews I penned of Richard Burgin’s Shadow Traffic and Ron Rash’s The Cove. Claire will be compiling the reviews for next month’s edition; she’s already limited me to only one review (Roberto Bolaño’s The Third Reich) which is kind of bullshit.
Let me know you think of PS:BN. I’m excited to see where it goes.
-My novel (The Uninitiated, for the uninitiated of you reading this) has reached it’s newest stage of done! It’s off to my trusted cadre of readers for feedback and comment. Depending on how soon I hear back from them, I hope to be nearly done-done with the novel early this summer. Then the novel will be off to agents, hoping to find representation. Exciting stuff. I’m rather fond of the book and hope it does well. It’s very exciting to have it completed. Strangely, I kind of care less about publication now that it’s finished than I did when I hardly had any of it written. Maybe I still kind of doubted I could do it. It’s always easier to dream of publishing than it is to write.
-Not much else has been going on, writing-wise. I’ve been working on a few book reviews, and toiling day and night as Web Editor of Prairie Schooner. Some highlights: navigating a reformatting tangle to get our summer issue on Kindle, helping develop a mobile app, and launching (as co-editor with Claire Harlan-Orsi) a monthly book review on Prairie Schooner’s blog. Fun stuff.
-I’m also working on a few photo features for this blog. Mostly historical Omaha stuff, but also contemporary photos of spots where things in my novel happened. I’ll get on this soon.
-Clara has been around for a month now. We’re pretty fond of her as well.
-My grandpa Wheeler died. He was eighty. He was only able to meet Clara once, on Easter, but it was pretty nice. Shouldn’t have rushed around so much. We had four generations of ____ Lynn(e) Wheelers in the same room—Billy Lynn, Dennis Lynn, Theodore Lynn, Clara Lynne. We neglected to snap a photo. Unfortunately, that turned out to be our only opportunity.
Dispatch from The Uninitiated
“It used to be a common thing for a young man to light off secretly in the night, searching for a life different from the one he toiled through at home. Jacob Bressler became an exile in this way. He left under starlight and led his horse over the brawny shoals of what would be his brother’s farm from then on. He didn’t bother with a saddle but merely slid a bridle over the nag’s muzzle and walked out into the buggy paths of the river valley. Even in the dark he found the graveled highway that led to Omaha. There was no need to rush. He knew his brother wouldn’t follow him, not after what happened the week before. It was the kind of thing that happened a lot in Jackson County, and that’s why Jacob had to leave. He slid from his horse when he arrived on the River Ward, easing down to the pavement to land on one foot, the left one raised limp. His foot pulsed dully. He couldn’t worry about it, the Ward had his attention. It was a dark morning but he saw the dim hash marks of intersections on the hills beyond where sanitation wagons crept along knolls that slanted up from river to prairieland. There were tenements to the south, dirt-yard shacks he passed coming in from the north. The River Ward was pinned between the Missouri and downtown Omaha. It was mostly mills and warehouses, tar-topped and sturdy. There were other buildings too. Townhouses puzzled together from curb to curb, brownstones that had been fashionable once but were too close to the pig iron mills now, the constant hammering of steel and tails of factory smoke rising in the mucid morning ether. These were made extravagant, brownstone, sandstone, a blushing peach shade of brick. Jacob knew he would need money right away if he were going to survive. It hadn’t occurred to him in his rush to leave Jackson County. He was too concerned with making his life of great importance—with getting rich—that he forgot about practical things like having enough money for supper and a room. He would have to sell his horse.”
The Cove by Ron Rash. Set in WWI-era North Carolina, this novel deals with a German musician’s struggle to avoid anti-German violence in the rural south and a young woman’s difficulty living down the stigma of a birthmark in a superstitious town. An often beautiful and compelling novel.
The Missing of the Somme by Geoff Dyer. Really a must for anyone interested in the military history or the symbology of war.