Zombi, You My Love

So, I’ve read a lot of books recently while waiting for doctors and the like, so I better get started catching up on my reviews. I’m starting back in with Zombi, You My Love by William Orem, a wonderful professor of mine at Emerson who oversaw my first confrontation with playwriting. The class was incredible–but I definitely think I need to leave playwriting to the professionals.

But back to Zombies. I had a chance to read his newest novel, Killer of Crying Deerwhile in his class. It was a beautiful story about an abducted British boy being shipwrecked with a tribe of the Shell People in the Florida Keys in 1699. When we talked about it, Orem asked if I found the language difficult because he had gotten comments to that effect from other people. I had to stop and think about it, because I had gotten so absorbed in the story, but I had noticed it the language having a distinctly different flow and feel. My conclusion was that it felt like I was actually reading a translation from the Shell People’s language–an extrodinarily good translation that brought me solidly into their culture but a unique occurance with an author writing in their native language.

At the same time I purchased Killer of Crying Deer, I had also purchased his collection of shorts about Haiti: Zombi, You My Love. It got buried on my shelf and I found it again when I was getting ready to head out west and needed something to read. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the stories, other than being set in Haiti before the overthrow of Duvalier (pre-1986).

What I found was a series of stories from 1936-1985 which weave and connect, drawing various local and visiting characters into a rich tapestry portraying life in the island country. From pompous aide workers to overworked nurses and Vodou priests, Orem has a story for every kind of person living on the island. Some are mystical, others brutally honest about the conditions and attitudes of the people.

My two favorite stories in this collection are Bright Angel and Ló Bó Dlo. They were both stories that dealt with Vodou, but in different ways. Bright Angel was about a young woman who ends up pregnant by a man from the Dominican Republic and initially goes to a houngan, or Vodou priest, for an abortion. She ends up changing her mind and trying to get him to reverse the process about half way through. Ló Bó Dlo was about a young man who was refusing to carry on his family’s Vodou heritage. His father was a griot as was his father and his father before him, etc. He was breaking with tradition and contemplating leaving Haiti.

Both of these stories had an incredible lyrical quality to them that almost made them seem like an oral tale, rather than a story confined to the page. The mysticism seemed almost logical and inevitable in them and contributed to the feeling of overall satisfaction at the end of the story. I feel that Angel had a happy ending, whereas the ending for Blo was much more ambiguous, but I put the book down at the end of both of those stories to better savor the sensations and feelings that Orem managed to evoke.

The whole collection is quite excellent and when you start noticing the recurring characters, it’s fun to make the connections between them and notice the subtle web that connects the whole island together.

Now I want to get my hands on his other collection, Across the River, and, if I could find them, his one-act plays. They are not, unfortunately, published in a separate collection, but I sure wish they were.

Cover of Zombi, You My Love

The Aftermath of Our Decisions

With a title like Aftermath, one might expect Scott Nadelson’s new short fiction collection to be full of tales of devastation and chaos. To some extent, this is true; each of the stories deals with hard emotional and physical realities, but the aftermath of the character’s decisions is not wholly dispiriting. Hope abounds in these tales–unlike Nadelson’s previous collections–and you are left with the impression that, regardless of the current story’s unhappinesses, things will get better. They have a chance for a happy and fulfilling life or love and it leaves you as the reader with a pleasant satisfaction.

I have been a fan of Nadelson’s since I picked up his first two short collections when I registered for a course of his in undergrad. I make it a habit to read an author’s work before working or speaking with them, which I think is only polite and it is advice that not enough people heed. I found myself pulled into the simple and evocative prose in a way that I hadn’t found before in realistic literary fiction. I was particularly interested in his work as his stories do a wonderful job of working within the Jewish American culture while remaining open and inviting to gentiles such as myself. I feel welcomed into the families and cultures of his stories and they are enriched by the depth and intimacy with which they are woven.

Nadelson’s first two works (The Cantor’s Daughter and Saving Stanley) were stunning in their own right, but Aftermath is definitely surpassing them as my favorite collection. Partly due to the more hopeful nature of the stories, but moreso for two particular stories that appear here: “If You Needed Me” and “Backfill.”

“If You Needed Me” is a Rashomon style telling of a grandfather that looses control of his car and accidentally sends it crashing through the wall of his daughter’s house while the grandchildren are watching Saturday morning cartoons. The varied viewpoints are handled with finesse; they each reveal just enough information and the change to the next viewpoint is seamlessly carried out. Not an easy task in a short work, but beautifully crafted here.

In “Backfill,” a rocky marriage and a bad construction assignment are playing havoc with Robert’s life and sanity. The junk filled old quarry that is the site he’s supposed to be preparing for overpriced McMansions is a wonderful scene to juxtapose against the failing relationship. The most powerful part, however, are the beautiful lines that close the story, and no, I’m not going to give them to you. Go read it!

While these two stories stood out in particular to me, all of the stories are expertly crafted and evoke a wide range of emotion. Definitely my favorite of Nadelson’s work thus far, though I’m now eagerly awaiting Nadelson’s collection of autobiographical essays due out in March of 2013 from Hawthorne Books!

Emotional devastation with just a dash of hopefulness...