Recent Work By Edra Ziesk

My Education by Susan ChoiSusan Choi is known for novels centered around what’s been called “the American experience”: moments or events in contemporary history that are familiar to all. One of her previous books, A Person of  Interest, was about an Asian-born academic suspected of Unabomber-like activity; another, American Woman, was a fictionalized account of the Patty Hearst kidnapping. My Education, her latest novel, just out from Viking, is a departure in that it doesn’t have an event tie-in, unless it’s meant as a comment on a rampant and particularly contemporary sort of narcissism. Set at a Cornell-like upstate university, the education of the title is Regina Gottlieb’s, the book’s narrator, and refers less to an academic education than to one that is sexual and emotional.

trick_of_the_lightWriter Lois Metzger was born in Queens, NY and has always written for young adults.  She is the author of three previous novels, all set in the fictional “Belle Heights” which is much like the Queens neighborhood where Metzger grew up, the place she has said, “where my imagination seems to live.”  Metzger has written two nonfiction books about the Holocaust, also for young adults,  is the editor of five story anthologies and has contributed to The New Yorker, The Nation and Harper’s Bazaar, among others.

Bobcat and Other StoriesThere is something deeply likeable and satisfying about the eight stories in Bobcat and Other Stories, the new collection by Rebecca Lee. Each one is a full landscape peopled by believable characters who stumble along in recognizable ways. Lee takes her time developing the stories and they deliver the more complete satisfactions of longer works. But it’s the writing itself that is the real standout here. Lee writes in a way that is profoundly clear one minute and deeply strange the next, meaning her observations and descriptions can be startlingly unexpected – and they are wonderful for that.

halfhappyShort stories can be as satisfying to read as longer fiction, but I usually prefer them one at a time. Collections, for me, can be difficult to get through. I have to really like a writer’s voice to stick with it through story after story where the characters, settings and themes will likely change but the voice, probably, will not. That consistency of voice – necessary, pleasurable in a novel—can be relentless in a collection.

wolitzerMegThere’s an appealing sureness to Meg Wolitzer when she speaks.  Her answers to questions are considered; she’s thought deeply about being a writer, a reader and the place of art in her life as well as in the “cultural conversation.”

Meg’s new book, The Interestings, is her ninth novel.  It’s a bigger book than her previous ones – longer, deeper, taking place over a greater span of contemporary history – about a group of friends who meet at the age of 15 at a summer camp for the arts in the Berkshires and what happens to them and their relationships over time.

9781555976361_p0_v1_s260x420Short story collections are often titled after one of the collected stories.  Jessica Francis Kane’s new collection “THIS CLOSE,” following her 2010 novel, The Reportdoesn’t share a title with any of the stories within, but it nicely delineates the theme the stories are organized around: relationships with unclear boundaries.  The characters in these stories struggle to determine the right amount of closeness, asking: Is this too close or not close enough?

imagesAmity Gaige’s third novel deals with a singular character the reader cares about not because he is likeable, but because Gaige depicts him in a clear-eyed, non-judgmental, ultimately believable way.

Schroder is written as a long letter or apologia by the title character to his estranged wife, an attempt to explain why he failed to return their daughter Meadow following the brief scheduled visit that is part of their custody agreement, and instead was gone for almost a week.

“What follows,” the book’s first sentence says, “is a record of where Meadow and I have been since our disappearance.”

Salman Rushdie talks about a history professor at Oxford who told him, “You must never write history until you can hear the people speak.” That’s as true – if not more true – for fiction.  I abandoned a novel ms not too long ago because, though I could see the character the novel was to be about, and the place it was to be set, I never did hear her.  And the novel wasn’t write-able without the sound of her voice.

The sound of the characters’ speech should be inevitable: exactly right.  So should the setting, the created world of the fiction.  This doesn’t require pages of exposition – which is deadly.  It requires well chosen, specific details.  Mary Costello’s first short story collection, The China Factory, is full of these – the kind of details that illuminate place, character, relationship in a very few strokes.  Her writing is clean and spare and very good.

Memoirs fall into two general categories – shockers and quests.  Both feature a before and some kind of cathartic after, but they do it in different ways. The shockers are voyeuristic reads in which we witness the writer crash and burn and then resurrect –   from depravity/abuse/some kind of trauma.  The quests are journeys where the writer is trying to figure something out and the reader is invited along for the ride.  It’s “watch me” vs “come with me”.  Shockers are narcissistic, quests are universal.  They aim to address the human condition, and despite the specificity of the individual journey, allow us to recognize ourselves in someone else.

David McGlynn’s memoir, A Door in the Ocean is a quest.  It’s also a beautifully written book marked by precision of language, acute observation and the sense that the hard work of defining what’s important to him and why has not been shirked.  He struggles – in his life, and on the page – to define the meaning of family and religion and morality, and to show us the struggle. It’s a brave book.

Begin with the enforced intimacy of a place – preferably remote and rural. Add a handful of people who haven’t seen each other in a long time/don’t get along/have secrets. Toss in some bad weather. Stir.

It’s the set-up for a lot of novels, full of potential volatility, though it can feel tired, even dreary if not handled well.

In his new novel, The Red House, Mark Haddon, the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, handles it very well.