The Furious Gazelle

Literary as hell.

Category: Books (page 1 of 2)

“Still Dancing (behind the glass)” a memoir excerpt by Katherine Davis

At the time of my bone marrow transplant for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, without retrospect’s safety net, morning came. I remember the scent of bagels from a biscuit shop across the street from the hospital. Sprinklers doused flower beds of marigolds, daffodils, daisies. I walked with my mother and sister to Swedish Hospital on Pill Hill in Seattle, entered, heard the elevator doors closing, sealing me off from the world of people worried about getting to work, kids scrambling for buses, sunlight amid trees. I did feel lucky that the official Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center inpatient facility didn’t have room for me. Devoted only to transplant patients, it seemed a dark forbidding place. Death, a gentleman in top hat and overcoat, held the door for families who walked in and didn’t leave. Instead, I would be committed to Eleven South West, a wing of the huge Swedish Hospital which the Hutch used for overflowing cancer cases. I much preferred being in a place called “Swedish” which conjured images of vigorous blond women, meatballs, and massages. Also, I liked it because it seemed more normal—white and sterile, instead of sinister and shadowy—and teeming with diversity. I may have been preparing for a torturous exit, but in the same facility, there were babies being born, tonsillectomies, broken arms, concussions, heart attacks. I didn’t want to be surrounded only by people like me. In Swedish, there were different dramas taking place, more like living than death. 

Despite having visions of nineteenth-century asylums, I entered my laminar airflow room on 11 SW in April 1986 with relief and terror. It certainly was not the torture pit of my nightmares. But it was horrifying in its anonymity. Welcome to the institution, baby! There was one hospital bed in front of a wall chock full of mysterious equipment—suction tubes, pumps, monitors, gauges, plugs. There were two chairs covered in blue vinyl, a television, stationary bicycle, clothes cupboard, and tray on wheels. From the hospital corridor, you entered a small room, a vestibule where you anointed yourself before seeing me. Okay, you actually scrubbed your hands with antiseptic soap and put on a surgical mask to protect me from germs. During my pre-transplant chemotherapy, you also had to don shoe covers, gown, and paper cap. It was actually fun after a while to watch the doctors go through all this just to see me, made me feel like royalty instead of a usual denizen of purgatory. Once dressed and cleansed, you could pass through a second very solid door, making sure the door to the general corridor was closed first, letting no germs in. The bathroom and wall with television were to your left, the bed to your right. Opposite the door, a huge window with triple-paned glass looked down on a magnificent view of St. James Cathedral. In the distance, there was Puget Sound. If this had been a hotel, I would have been very impressed. The triple-paned glass on the window was to ensure no breeze permeated my atmosphere; I was to live on rarified air pumped in through special vents. At the time, I also thought the extra panes discouraged despairing patients from jumping—momentary flight, then nothingness. 

Continue reading

Book Review: The Country Will Bring Us No Peace by Matthieu Simard

the country will bring us no peace coverTranslated by Pablo Strauss
Review by E. Kirshe

The Country Will Bring Us No Peace is a strange and eerie book about grief; not overcoming it, but being overtaken by it. Grief haunts the mean and dying streets of the country town our city-born protagonists move to, a move which they hoped would bring them past their own private tragedy, the grief of which is slowly taking them down as well. 

The story switches back and forth, abruptly, between the husband and wife narrators Simon and Marie. We get an internal monologue from each of them either giving new information or sometimes their thoughts on the same event. The way it’s written with them switching between being in and out of sync was just one example of how this is a uniquely told tale.

The story gets more surreal as it goes on, as well as darker. It starts with merely stark narration. Continue reading

Book Review: Open Me by Lisa Locascio

Review by Tess Tabak

When a mixup sends Roxana, an 18-year-old girl, to Copenhagen, a mysterious Danish man named Soren whisks her away to live out one of his sexual fantasies.

I’m not quite sure I’d describe Open Me as an erotic novel, even though it’s marketed as such. It contains elements of that genre – the story exists in somewhat of a fantasy state. Through a series of odd circumstances, our heroine is trapped in another country, completely alone, at the mercy of an attractive stranger. But I’m hesitant to label this book erotica. There is a strong sense of the body in this book, but actually very little sex. It dwells more on the protagonist, Roxana, and her growing understanding of what it means to be a woman. She feels a strong desire at the start of the book to be acted upon, to be a completely passive participant in lovemaking. By the end, she learns that passivity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Erotica or not, Open Me is a gorgeously written book. The author, Lisa Locascio, takes impossible-to-describe feelings and puts words to them. Roxana talks about her “cathedral feeling,” the private thrill she felt when hearing music played on a church organ for the first time. The author has an intimate understanding of the inner workings of young girls, and the loneliness of not being able to share those special feelings. When Roxana tries to tell her best friend about the cathedral feeling, a sarcastic comment bursts the bubble. “And again I was a bag of feelings with no start and no end, a tunnel through which sensation moved.” Continue reading

Book Review: This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga

Review by Tess Tabak

In This Mournable Body, a woman named Tambudzai grapples with the harsh realities of living in Zimbabwe after the Revolution of the 1990s.

The author, Tsitsi Dangarembga, writes on familiar topics (anxiety, existential dread) but set against a backdrop that’s truly harsh and depressing. Tambu is mistrustful of white people living in Zimbabwe – but this isn’t the crystal clear “us vs. them” of books set further in the past, like Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The white people in this novel are somewhat further removed from the atrocities of their ancestors. In modern Zimbabwe, the lines have blurred. The white people that Tambu loathes haven’t done anything “wrong,” per se, except for profiting off the crimes of previous generations. Tambu acknowledges her advantages – she received a Western education at a prestigious school – but oppression means that she still can’t find a suitable job, unable to tolerate the way that white men steal her work for their own, or how she’s paid far less than her peers just because she’s black. Continue reading

In Conversation with novel translator Tina Kover

As a translator, Tina Kover bridges gaps between cultures. For over ten years, she has been translating novels from French into English, so that they can be read and appreciated by a wider audience. This year alone, Kover has translated two wildly different books: Disoriental by Negar Djavadi (read our review here) and The Beauty of the Death Cap by Catherine Dousteyssier-Khoze, forthcoming this fall from Snuggly Books.

This year, Kover even helped to bridge the gap between a married couple. “[Catherine’s husband] doesn’t speak French, so he actually couldn’t read her book until I translated it, which is quite funny.”

When asked if he liked the book, Kover laughed. “He loved it,” she said. “But [Catherine] said she was a little frustrated because as he was reading it, he kept saying more about how much he liked the translation than the book itself.” Continue reading

Book Review: Sick, a memoir by Porochista Khakpour

Review By Tess Tabak

 

When a slew of mysterious symptoms leaves you terribly ill, how long does it take to have your illness validated, to receive a diagnosis? If you are a woman, especially a young woman of color with patchy health insurance and little money, it can be a very long time.

In Sick, Porochista Khakpour takes us through her journey as she struggles with poor health, drug addiction, and a quest for a diagnosis. She also takes us through her history with Lyme, both in herself and others: a boyfriend’s mother who became seriously ill with it; a dog she adopted that suffered from the disease; the many places she visited where she saw and ignored Tick Check warnings.

Sick is engrossing, reading somewhat like a lurid “it happened to me”-type article, written by a literary master. She spares few details, including raving emails she sent to friends at the height of her desperation about the undiagnosed illness: “I’ve realized my urine is entirely too alkaline.” Continue reading

Book Review: Disoriental by Négar Djavadi

By Tess Tabak

Disoriental, a new novel by Négar Djavadi, tells the epic story of a family, the Sadrs, across a century of true Iranian history. Kimia, the youngest daughter of Darius and Sara Sadr, is the self-appointed keeper of family lore. She tells her own story through the lens of her extended family’s history, weaving the tales in and out of each other like a modern day Scherzerade. The family currently lives in France and Disoriental’s message is particularly poignant, and relevant, in today’s political climate, when refugees are not freely welcome in many Western countries.

The novel opens slowly, on Kimia attempting to receive fertility treatment, in a room filled with couples desperate for a child. She is the only one who came to the appointment alone, without a partner. Once you get started this is a hard book to put down. While she waits for the doctor, Kimia braids her present story in and out of her family’s history, set against the backdrop of Iran’s tumultuous political history. Anecdotes fluidly move from one into the other, and the tale jumps back and forth between spans of 20 to 50 years at a time (there’s a helpful key in the back of the book if you lose track of the characters). Continue reading

Book Review: Where Night Stops, by Douglas Light

Review by Tess Tabak

 

Where Night Stops, a new novel by Douglas Light, is a gripping thriller written in deliciously literary prose. The protagonist ends up over his head in a money laundering scheme when a homeless man named Ray-Ray hands him a message in a bar of soap. That message leads him to the local library, which sets him off on a series of jobs that seem easy enough, and pay well. There’s just one problem: he has no idea what he’s doing, no idea why someone is paying him $300 to pick up checks from pre-arranged points and deposit them in library books. He calls these mysterious jobs “Kam Manning,” and inches in further and further, convincing himself that he’s not doing anything wrong.

The novel unravels slowly. It starts with our narrator in a bar with a woman who complains of being ugly. She sits next to our protagonist, trading a few lines of witty banter. She says that “My heart is a divided Vienna,” referencing Orson Welles’s The Third Man. Continue reading

Book Review: Searching for Someday by Jennifer Probst

Review by Tess Tabak

Searching for Someday is like a lollipop. You unwrap it, excited. I shouldn’t be reading this, you think. It has no real sustenance. But then you do read it, and you think, ugh, this is too sweet. And the prose is horrible. Did I ever use to like these? But it goes down quick before you really have a chance to think about it.

As a bodice-ripper, this book sort of succeeds. I’m saying “sort of” because it was page-turning and somewhat engrossing, which is really the only thing one asks for in books like this. I finished it in about three days. But the cringe factor is very high. I’ll leave aside the ridiculous nature of the premise – Kate runs a matchmaking agency called Kinnections, where she uses a combination of her supernatural ability to detect compatibility and real world dating advice to create lasting connections for her clients. She is also cursed to find one true soul mate in life. No one else will do it for her. OK, that part is fine.

Where the book starts to fall apart is when Slade enters the picture. A no-nonsense, super hot divorce lawyer, he becomes Kate’s client as a way of keeping tabs on his sister, who’s recently signed up for Kinnections. No. No no no no. Kate and her friends frequently cite Slade’s “protectiveness about his family” as a plus, but really? His behavior toward his sister is controlling, obsessive, unhealthy. Continue reading

Book Review: Dead Spider, by Victoria Houston

Review by Tess Tabak

 

In Dead Spider, the 17th installment in Victoria Houston’s Loon Lake mystery series, Charles Pfeiffer, the wealthiest man in town is murdered. It’s up to police chief Lewellyn Ferris and her deputy coroner Paul Osborne to find his killer. Dead Spider is a standalone story, and Houston briefly tells you anything you need to know about the characters in the first few pages so you don’t need to read any of the other books in the series before picking this one up.

A fast moving story, Dead Spider is a good beach read. It’s a light, airy page turner with a well-crafted mystery. The book relies on some mystery tropes (the murdered man has a bitchy daughter-in-law and a gold-digging wife, for example), but colored with Houston’s charming cast of small town characters, and the active fly fishing economy, it feels fresh. Loon Lake is based on the small Wisconsin town where Houston grew up, and you can tell she has a deep love for the area. Continue reading

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