Monday, May 25, 2009

American Salvage and More

I just finished reading Bonnie Jo Campbell's collection of short stories, American Salvage (Wayne State Press). I don't have the energy or time to write a really polished review, so I hope you're swayed by straightforward honesty rather than a review that would be working hard to make me look good at the same time it makes the book look good.

Here's the straight poop, as they say: American Salvage is a really great read. I could just end it there, but that doesn't feel like enough. Okay, Campbell's characters are really intriguing, and she puts them in strange and sometimes bizarre situations that get at some pretty big human truths. The truths . . . no matter who we are we are prone to addiction, wanting safety, and wanting to love and be loved. We are afraid and we are brave. We get ourselves behind hopeless plans, and sometimes find they are the only plans for us . . . and sometimes we make them work. All of these truths are truths we already know, but in the hands of a story teller like Campbell . . . well, she just takes the reader on a really cool trip. I'm just fascinated by the situation in her "Storm Warning" when the main character, nearly crippled from a boating accident, can't believe that his girlfriend of six months saved his life, rescued him from drowning. So pig-headed and afraid is he that when he returns from the hospital, he drives her away. He finds himself alone in a hospital bed in his house, watching as a horrendous storm blows in, knocking out power around the lake. Helpless, unable to even get a glass of water, he swallows his Vicodin with saliva. He's so utterly alone . . . and he's put himself there. I mean, you have to buy the book just to see how that one turns out. You should buy the book, too, because Bonnie Jo is a Michigan writer. I know most of the visitors that come to my blog are from Michigan. You can begin to support the floundering arts in our state by buying this book. Seriously, you won't be disappointed. Campbell is simply a great writer worth reading.



While you're at amazon buying this book, think about getting my novel, Landscape with Fragmented Figures. I'm hearing good things from people that have read it. Want a deal on it and want it signed? Drop me an email, and we'll work something out: jcvandez@delta.edu.

Better yet, if you're in the tri-cities, come buy the book from me. I'll be giving a reading from it on Thursday, June 11 at 7 p.m. at the United Church of Christ in Midland (4100 Chestnut Hill Dr). I'll be reading with Dearborn poet, Ken Meisel. If you've never heard Ken read, you have to come out to this event. He's really something.

Seriously, hope to see you there!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Advance Warning

If anyone keeps a calendar or a planner, please note the following (if it interests you).

Ken Meisel (a helluva poet) and I will be reading on Thursday, June 11th at the United Church of Christ in Midland at 7 p.m.

Please feel free to spread the word.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Good Books

I just finished reading two good books by two friends. First, it was a pleasure to read Beyond Rust, a novella, essays, and short stories by Larry Smith, my editor and publisher at Bottom Dog Press. Beyond Rust has a big heart and gives voice to the down-and-outers, the getting-byers, and the got-it-tougher-than-mosters. This is not fiction of the sad-sacks and the woe-is-meers, however. Smith shows too that there are tender moments in these lives, beautiful moments that even the characters can rise above their misery to recognize. Smith's love of Ohio and especially the Ohio River Valley comes through loud and clear. A book worth checking out. Buy it directly from Smith if you can: http://smithdocs.net/LarrySmithHomepage.htm

Also, I enjoyed reading Matt Bell's The Collectors. It fictionalizes the final days of the Collyer brothers . . . two men who barricaded themselves into their family mansion and filled it with what amounted to rotting junk -- so much so that tunnels had to be made through the junk. Bell did his research and really brings the Collyer mansion to life. The reader feels, especially for Homer Collyer, the would-be hero of the collection. I've been fortunate to watch Matt's fiction get nothing but better over the years and, I'll tell you, this is some tight, crafted fiction.

While Langley Collyer lay wounded somewhere in the mansion, the blind, nearly useless Homer Collyer searches for him: "Homer crawls on his hands and knees, searching for signs of his brother, whose voice is like crickets, always out of reach, coming from every direction at once."

Like crickets!! I mean, that is the perfect choice to describe that moment . . . and there are many, many sentences of that caliber in this thin, but full volume. Check it out . . . if you can still get your hands on one: www.mdbell.com

Way to go, Matt!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Words from Ken . . .

Ken Meisel wanted to share with the world these words about my novel, but lacked the technological tools to do it. I told him I'd take care of it.

So, from Ken . . .


"I want to heartily endorse Jeff's novel, Landscape with Fragmented Figures. I read it over the weekend and I found it to be rich in its humanity, its wisdom, and in its compassionate understanding of the difficulties people face, no matter what, when they fall out of truth with themselves. The novel carries an honest and sometimes gritty hearted pathos in it, as well as a tough candor in its overall import. It doesn't ever ignore the hard consequences we carry and hold inside of ourselves when we refuse to face what we want, don't want, and can no longer bear. The novel is, inevitably, a wondrous study about the pain and joy that we carry with us in our walks and in our journeys, no matter what we believe in or come to believe in."

Sunday, May 03, 2009

One More Time

This coming Wednesday, May 6, Bonnie Jo Campbell and I will read from our new books at Schuler Books in Okemos at 7 p.m.

Schuler Books & Music
1982 Grand River Ave
Okemos, MI 48864

Hope to see you there!