Category Archives: (story)time

(story)time: the mothers by brit bennett

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A few people have recommended The Mothers by Brit Bennett to me recently, and after I wrote about The Turner House, and Kendra mentioned it again, I quickly put it on my library reserve list. I read it within a week, which is a record pace for me at this particular point in my life. I was immediately swept into the story and the secret that is carried throughout the book.

Stepping out a bit from the story, what I thought about the most as I read and after I finished reading, was the idea of this collective community – a village of sorts – involved in the raising of three children into adulthood. Is a secret ever really a secret in this sort of community? “The Mothers” speak occasionally throughout the book as a singular voice; observers of the young, but not actively engaged in their raising. (But perfectly free to discuss their observations – and opinions – amongst themselves.) The literal mothers of the three are complicated as well – choosing to exit their children’s lives prematurely, physically or emotionally, but influencing them still through their absence or withdrawal.

I’m drawn to stories with characters that are simultaneously intimately connected and distantly estranged. The weaving of their stories are powerful and compelling, and in the case of this book, often heartbreaking.

I’m excited to read more of Bennett’s work. What an incredible debut novel.

(story)time: Revolver by Duane Swierczynski

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As I mentioned in my last book post, I’ve been working my way through Nancy Pearl’s book recommendations lately. I just finished Revolver by Duane Swierczynski on Friday evening. If I was the kind of person who had the time to read a book in one sitting, this would have been that book. I love a good crime / mystery novel, and this one had several overlapping stories that spanned three generations of a family and more than seventy years of a city, from prohibition to the present day in Philadelphia.

Like The Turner House, this book jumped back and forth through time, chapter by chapter, focusing on 1965 / 1995 / 2015. The centerpiece is the unsolved murder of two cops while they were having a drink at a corner bar. One white cop, one black cop, gunned down in the prime of their careers, both leaving behind wives and teenaged sons. Twenty-five years later, the son of the white cop – now an officer as well – is in the middle of another high-profile case while also privately stalking a man he suspected was responsible for his father’s death. Twenty-five years after that, his granddaughter takes on the cold case herself, and uncovers hidden family secrets that reach back into the bootlegging days of the city.

In the author’s acknowledgements, he talks of being fascinated about police/citizen relations, the desegregation of police forces, the changes in cities and crime and police practices over the past century. He states that he started writing the book before the events in Ferguson, MO happened, but as those events unfolded here, he incorporated them into the story as well.

Last year I read the book Race, Place and Suburban Policing: Too Close for Comfort, by Andrea Boyles – a friend and co-worker of my friend, Brooke. (Many of you know Brooke well.) Brooke invited me to attend a Stand Against Racism talk with a panel of local authors. Boyles was one of them, and I checked out her book soon after hearing her speak at the event. Revolver, as fiction, touches on so much of the research shared in Race, Place  – in much the same way as The Turner House felt like a fictional continuation of the stories in The Warmth of Other Suns. Revolver examines the role of race throughout the book – within the police department, in interactions between police and citizens, where resources are focused, how race factors into an investigation, how members of a family reveal (or hide) secrets from one another. Excellent read – I’m looking forward to reading more of Swierczynski’s work.

(story)time: The Turner House by Angela Fourney

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I heard this bit on Morning Edition earlier this year, and immediately took note. I had loaded up my 2016 bookbag with nonfiction titles, most of them centering around the issues of race and racism in this country. Important reads, and tough ones. I still have several books on my library hold list, so these titles are in high demand. Post-election season has left my mind spinning, and I’ve been really working on turning off my brain to the best of my ability at bedtime. I needed a couple of good fiction reads, and then this interview came along.

Librarian Nancy Pearl had several under-the-radar recommendations for good books, and I immediately populated my hold list with them. The Turner House, by Angela Fourney, was the first title to show up. Angela Fourney’s writing is impressive, and it was interesting to see her connection to the University of Iowa as well.

At its heart, this is a story about a family, but it’s also about the death of a city (and the legacy of the family home). The Turners left the south during the Great Migration, landing in East Detroit, raising thirteen children in a modest family home on Yarrow Street. On the first page spread, the generations of Turners are spelled out over many decades. In the story, we meet each child, unique, complex, but deftly woven into this very American story. At the center is the family home, too many stairs for the elderly matriarch, too much upkeep for the children busy with their own lives, too isolated by the abandonment of the neighbors, white-flight, redlining, race riots, drug wars, the mortgage crisis, predatory lending. Having recently read The Warmth of Other Suns, The Turner House felt like a natural extension of this story of movement and change within our country and our cities. I could escape within the fictionalized family’s stories, but it still felt like an important story to read.

It is a universal story, it is my parents’ story, it is our story. My goal for this year is to read more books like this. I think it is essential that we all broaden and deepen our bookshelves this year. Thank goodness for librarians, especially the Nancy Pearls of the world. Start with her, and with your favorite indie bookseller, and fill your nightstand with our stories. I’m working my way through Pearl’s list as we speak, and it does not disappoint.