Sunday, March 15, 2009

Taxes, books and aloha

Good thing I went back to check on the status of the e-filing of my taxes because I'd made a mistake I had to fix before the filing actually happens. Probably my unconscious was so pissed off at the inanity of the way we file taxes that it accidentally undermined me.

I have two more teaching days (which includes a 10-hour marathon on Wednesday) before we take off for Hawaii. My sisters, Annie, my mom and I are spending a few days on Oahu together. This will be our way of cherishing this moment because, as my dad used to say, the only constant is change. It's hard to believe that this St. Patrick's Day will mark two years since his death. Now we face all the perils of mom's Alzheimer's so we try to focus on having a good time in the moment in whatever ways the abundances of our lives permit.

I've been reading and writing like a fiend lately. I'm new to the Wally Lamb thing: Recently read and for the most part enjoyed She's Come Undone, and now I'm listening to his second book, a 700-pager called I Know This Much is True, on my ipod and am hooked. I like the lively voice and large scope of his books--and the way everything intertwines in surprising ways.

I just finished Jhumpa Lahiri's novel The Namesake. I liked the first 40 pages or so. I was very interested in the scenes in India and the way the characters perceived the U.S. after they immigrated. But soon I found myself losing interest. There were several problems. One is that Lahiri's novelistic style feels more like summary ("this happened, then this, then this") rather than a story I can experience through scenes. The voice was flat, and this was exacerbated by the fact that it's written in present tense. I never emotionally connected to these characters. I also got bored with the second half that focused on lots of rich, young New Yorkers sitting around drinking wine. I haven't read her two story collections, but I've heard she's a phenomenal short story writer--so I'll definitely give those a try. Seems like some fantastic short story writers (like Aimee Bender and Alice Munro) are pressured to write novels when in fact they are brilliant at the story. It's like asking a surgeon to be an attorney.

I jammed through My Life as Traitor, a memoir by Zarah Ghaharamani about her imprisonment and torture in an Iranian prison when she was 20 years old. She was arrested (more like abducted) for being involved in protests at her university. I found it very powerful the way her loving home life and rich portrayal of Iranian society was juxtaposed against the insanity and brutality of religious zealotry and totalitarianism. Not quite as powerful to me as Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but in the same vein.

On the writing front, the new novel is finally taking off. I think I have what are probably (how's that for hedging?) 50 or so good pages. But who knows in the final draft what will happen to those pages. It just feels good to be getting to know some new characters. Right now the novel is centering on the conflicts and internal lives of a couple in their 40s and their two teenaged kids, a boy and a girl. Nothing is as it seems. At least that's the mantra playing in my mind as the tell me about their lives. Yes, when writing's going well, that's the way it seems: that the characters are dictating the words to me.

The blurbs for Complementary Colors are beginning to come in. Here's one from Cynn Chadwick.

As with her first novel, For the May Queen, Kate Evans explores not so much a coming of age story as a coming to terms story in her new novel Complementary Colors. Gwen Sullivan returns to the Bay Area after a stint teaching English in Japan. With nowhere else to go, and mostly only the clothes in her suitcase, she moves in with her boyfriend, Daniel, a genius but self-absorbed scientist who, though inviting Gwen to live with him, makes no accommodations for her presence—physically or emotionally. Along with her increasingly unsatisfying relationship and a job that doesn’t thrill her, Gwen decides to take a poetry class to ease her discontent; it is here that she meets Cat and Jamie, a couple of rollicking rough and tumble dykes, who are as intrigued by Gwen as she is by them. And while poetry may be the medium, a myriad of creative and sexual fires are alighted within Gwen against a backdrop of a widening void between herself and Daniel. As we follow Gwen’s journey for self-awareness, we are not so much rooting for her peace as we are cheering for her to come to terms with and embrace her truest desires. Whether she is imbued with confusion or clarity, we are rallying for Gwen’s appreciation of her creative and sexual self as she comes closer to realizing and living her own truth. A deftly crafted exploration of self-identity as only Kate Evans can achieve. Brava!
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