Books I Read This Month - December 2013

The Gin Closet by Leslie Jamison

This novel begins with twenty-something Stella helping her grandmother, who is going downhill with dementia. After her death, Stella searches for her long-lost aunt and fins her an alcoholic living in a trailer park. The two women are both struggling through some difficult psychological and emotional issues, and they learn by attempting to help each other that they can only really work to help themselves. This book is depressing, very angsty, and takes some mental effort to get through, but the payoff is well worth it. The writing style is gorgeous and leaves you with a sad but overall reassuring feeling.

Let the Dark Flower Blossom by Nora Labiner

Strange and mysterious, this novel is a unique twist on the writer's experience of life, tracing the days of a writer and his twin sister during a relationship with their college friend and past his murder. The style is odd and winding but beautifully renders emotions through single-sentence paragraphs and evocative word choice. It often has the appearance of poetry but is definitely prose, detailing the inner life of this writer as he dives into his sister's and friend's minds, discerning the motives behind murder. This is a literary mystery with a confusing but surprising ending.

American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell

This collection of short stories is set in Michigan (my home state) and follows a handful of characters through some rough and raw experiences. There are meth addicts, domestic violence victims, and people living in poverty in these pages, each possessing their own degree of likability. Some are hard to understand because of their inconsiderate decisions, others are hard to pity be of their self-destructiveness. Overall, though, each character reveals something subtle about the human condition.

Brief Encounters with the Enemy by Said Sayrafiezadeh

Each of these short stories has a similar plot line and writing style, leaving each one feeling not quite unique from the collection. However, this sameness is necessary to reveal the themes of the book, more a novel in short stories than a short story collection. The inhabitants of a city, usually lower-class men in their twenties or thirties, tackle the mundaneness of 9 to 5 life, the predictability of relationships, and the blindness of war. The writing is bleak and straightforward which, in the case of the themes, is perfect for the stories. It's tough to get through and emotionally harrowing, and this book left me with residual emotional anxiety from the reminder that my life is not all that different from the young people in these stories. It's very affecting and depressing, not suggested for the lighthearted. Needless to say, the writing style is effective.

IWSG - MFA Program Applications

Good day all. Today is an Insecure Writers' Support Group Day, and boy am I stressing.

I'm applying this month to a handful of MFA in Creative Writing programs, in the hopes of starting one next fall. In the process of gathering and organizing, I have to choose two or three of my best short stories to send to these fairly prestigious schools. But is my best really my best? Are these few stories really representative of my potential?

Choosing the best of my writing is nerve-wracking because I know that if I do not get into a program, it is due to the writing sample: that's the part of the application they give the most weight. It is a writing program, after all. If I choose the wrong piece, the program may see it as representative of my writing ability and reject me; if I choose something that I'm not fully confident in, my fear will likely be apparent in each word of the story. The thing is, I'm not fully confident about any of my writing. But, I do know that these two or three stories are not everything I've written; they're just acting as representations of my writing on the whole. If I am rejected, it's not a rejection of me as a writer, it's a rejection based on my application. I'll write many brilliant stories afterward, whether I get into an MFA program or not. Or at least that's what I'm telling myself.

Peace, Aimee