Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Winter Blues

2008 started off well, but it has rapidly ground into the mud. Never mind. This, too, shall pass.

Today’s bright spot? Two packages from amazon finally arrived--the result of a little frittering of some Christmas money. (“Free SuperSaver Shipping” seems to mean “We’ll get to it when we have a minute.”) My need for an escape could not be more clear. I got a spy novel, a children’s book on Haiti, a cd of mariachi music (special for the baby, who goes wild every time we go to the Taqueria down the block), a new yoga-dance DVD, and 2 DVDs on how to salsa dance (one for kids and mommies, one just for clumsy grown-ups). I wasn’t thinking about it when I bought this stuff, but it does seem like a little jolt of sunshine and escape.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Enright Live

I didn’t mean to take the whole week off, but things have been hectic--more than that--around here. The one bright spot, however, was getting out to see Anne Enright read last Wednesday at Barnes and Noble.

This was my first Upstairs at the Square event and I was impressed. Over a hundred people were there, in the big, cavernous fourth level space. Enright and Camphor (the band she was paired with) shared the stage with host Katherine Lanpher. The tremendous beaux-arts glass windows behind them showed Union Square below, all aglitter from some ongoing police action.

The conceit of these free monthly evenings is to bring a writer and a band together for an evening of conversation, reading, and music. I was a few minutes late and arrived to hear Enright reading the glorious opening of The Gathering, in which Veronica Hegarty thinks about her dead brother and about bones in general: his bones and the kind of bones that small children (she has two young daughters) come upon, that we tell them to put down as unclean). As she concluded her reading, the band slowly came in, playing a few melancholy chords at first and then gradually building into a lush song about bones, how all we know and love is just bones.

It is so striking to come upon something like that, stressed and late, out of sync with the event. Was it pretentious? Was it cool? Was the song beautiful or just a touch too arty? I wasn’t sure, but it was good enough that I scanned the crowd for a more comfortable perch, found my friend, and sat.

Katherine conducted a great NPR-style interview with Enright: warm, learned, welcoming, appreciative. And as I figured out the style of the show, my admiration for the whole enterprise grew. Enright talked about the choice to write flashbacks set in 20s Dublin, knowing full well that Ireland in the 20s means James Joyce. Then both women blurted out really heartfelt and loving praise for “The Dead.” That moment made me love them both (Enright, Lanpher) all the more: it wasn’t literary one-upmanship (in fact, sensing they were getting too literary, Enright gracefully backed off a moment later). It was just a moment of acknowledging that yes, Joyce is a monument and some might say invoking him is gutsy or audacious, but, wow!, don’t you love that story?

The conversation turned to Camphor and their singer-songwriter Max Avery Lichtenstein. They played a second song, catchy, fun, and great; Enright read some more; they talked some more; the evening concluded with a second reading sliding into a connected song. And that was that.

It’s a very smooth event: impressive, well done, not amateurish at all. And such a pleasure to watch a great interviewer at work: it’s a skill I’d love to have. You can see the event for yourself on the web. (If the long link doesn’t work, you can go to and click “media” and you’ll get there).

All in all, as I said, a bright spot in a long winter.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Death in The Gathering: A Gorgeous, Searing Quotation

Read this:
There is something wonderful about a death, how everything shuts down, and all the ways you thought you were vital are not even vaguely important. Your husband can feed the kids, he can work the new oven, he can find the sausages in the fridge, after all. And his important meeting was not important, not in the slightest. And the girls will be picked up from school, and dropped off again in the morning. Your eldest daughter can remember her inhaler, and your youngest will take her gym kit with her, and it is just as you suspected--most of the stuff that you do is just stupid, really stupid, most of the stuff you do is just nagging and whining and picking up for people who are too lazy even to love you, even that, let alone find their own shoes under their own bed; people who turn and accuse you--scream at you sometimes--when they can only find on shoe. (27)
And if it moves you and you want more, you can pop over to Ana Maria's place for a first hand account of hearing Enright speak.

And then, if you're in the New York area, you can see her for yourself on 2/13 at Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Still Life, February 6, 2008

The toddler, who stayed home, half sick, with a sitter yesterday, seemed fine this morning, so we took her to daycare. The fever returned, so I picked her up a bit early (4:00), and the big girl, too. So, tonight, my husband is working late and by 6:20, the toddler was bathed and asleep in bed. The older girl sat on her beanbag chair, eating pizza in front on the television. I sat in the dining room, just feet away, drinking a glass of cheap red and having my own slice, listening to NPR and breathing a sigh of relief. Meanwhile, on WNYC,

You’ve heard that family dinners are great for your family’s health, right? That families who eat together are thinner and healthier, running a lower risk of diabetes and heart attack? Well, tomorrow on Morning Edition, you’ll hear from a doctor on the crucial emotional and psychological benefits of the family dinner.


More on Enright's The Gathering: Lamb Nugent

Enright’s novel opens with the news of a beloved brother’s death. To understand that death, she goes back and back and back to reconstruct the life of her parents and, especially, her grandparents. Much of this reconstruction, as Veronica the narrator continually admits, is speculation, guess work. Still, as the story deepens and repeats, as Veronica remembers her grandmother and the two men who loved her (her husband and Lamb Nugent, the man who saw her first but did not marry her), these guesses gather weight and come to seem like an approximation of truth: “What did she see in him? He must be reassembled; click clack…” (14)

That “click clack” is genius, it seems to me: shocking and brutal, it reminds us that this reconstruction is a fiction but it also makes us imagine the body of a man long dead was, in fact, a body, made of skin and bones. And she asks us to think about the body as human (and thus imbued with will, emotion, motives), physical (full of fluids and sinew), and mechanical (click clack).

Monday, February 04, 2008

Anne Enright Week

It was her comments on the Madeline McCann case that caught my eye.

She's gotten a lot of heat for a thoughtful essay with a seemingly callous observation: that she didn't like the looks of that poor little girl's mother. I'll not defend nor attack that. But it did arrest me. As did Dwight Garner's breezy, friendly sense that we'd all been reading along for some time now.

And then, her name appeals to me, narcissistically: when your name is Anne Fernald (as mine is), Anne Enright has a nice, familiar look to it. It makes her seem, embarrassing to say, like an already-known personage.

But, narcissism aside, writing attracts me because of voice and there was something arresting about Anne Enright’s voice. And for me, motherhood has done nothing so much as humble me and shatter my sense of competence and confidence, so it’s always a delight to read the voices of mothers who still speak boldly. I seek and devour them as a kind of tonic. So, I put The Gathering on my wishlist and then, there it was, under the Christmas tree. (My mother-in-law is an enterprising and computer-savvy reader, bless her!)

What a great, great book.

So, this is Enright week here at Fernham. I hope some of you are fans, too and will pop in to say hello...

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Obama! Enright!

Two upcoming events worthy of your attention:

Tomorrow: Please join Barack Obama at a 'Stand for Change' Rally at the Meadowlands, where he'll talk about his vision for bringing America together and bringing about the kind of change we can believe in.
IZOD Center at the Meadowlands
50 State Route 120, East Rutherford, NJ 07073
Monday, February, Doors Open: 10:00 a.m. (but, in Idaho they were waiting since dawn...)
Event Begins: 12:00 p.m.
(The event is free and open to the public, but an RSVP is strongly encouraged)

And then, looking ahead, February 13th Anne Enright will be at Upstairs at the Square, the Katherine Lanpher-hosted music/talk event at the Union Square Barnes & Noble. I wrote briefly about my pleasure in Enright's The Gathering a few weeks ago. I really loved it. So much so that next week will be Anne Enright week here, so stay tuned for more information, links and enthusings about the wonderful Booker Prize winning novel.

And, of course, don't forget to vote on Tuesday...! Go Barack, go!