Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lebensraum, Cleave, and Strout

Ah, my poor little neglected blog. It's been so long, and this will be but a short visit to make you feel briefly cared for.

Over the past few months, Work has become my little kommandant, demanding more and more lebensraum in order to stretch out and stuff its face with the schnitzel that is my life. I’m hoping that soon the allied forces will land at Normandy and starting beating Work back into the space it belongs in.

It’s best that I abandon this metaphor before it becomes even more ridiculous.

So much research, so much interviewing, so much writing. I read more than any sane human should about the congenital disorders that are hurting purebred dogs. I went on a trip to Mississippi to cover a major seizure in preparation for a story on animal hoarding. I’m starting work on a feature on shelter animals working with combat veterans with PTSD.

All of these experiences have been interesting and rewarding (the genetic disease story became an obsession; for a few months, I couldn’t see a purebred dog without wondering what was wrong with it). But between them and the rest of the pile of work on my desk, I’ve had no brain matter left for fiction and poetry.

I have managed to get a little reading done, though, and so just wanted to give a little shout out to a couple of books: Little Bee, which is very moving and very funny in spite of some credibility-straining inner monologues (it wasn’t the precise English of Little Bee that bothered me, but her insight into the ironies of English culture—some of these seemed work better as a novel device than as the real voice of a Nigerian 16-year-old). I'm curious about the decision to change the title for the American market. The Other Hand seemed to me a much more intriguing title.

I also read another of Elizabeth’s Strout’s books—Abide with Me—almost as soon as I’d finished Amy and Isabelle. I think Strout is rapidly becoming one of my favorite writers; she takes small-town settings and characters and psychologically unpacks them in a way that is so true and so unsettling. Check out her great interview with Michel Martin from 2009. I’m looking forward to reading Olive Kittredge, once I can force out the Work invaders and reclaim a bigger piece of my own mental territory.