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An Ode for Today from Toni Fuhrman


Orlando Shooting

Every time we awake to another mass shooting, we grow a little more numb, a little less alive. What will it take to shake us out of this ever more detached state of being? Toni Fuhrman’s poem, While I Slept,  did that for me, and I would like to share it with you. Please do take a moment and click here. You will not be sorry, I promise you.

My hat’s off to Toni (and not for the first time) for taking the time to translate her own state of being into poetry as well as for the poem itself. While I Slept does what poetry is supposed to do–bring  alive the incongruous state in which we are living these days.

Chattanooga TN shootingColorado Springs shootingFerguson






In our helplessness, we forget our greatest power–taking up our pens. For language is power and poetry distills that power, preserves the reality of our existence. We can do something! Thank you, Toni, for reminding us, and for While I Slept. Please, everyone, GO READ IT and SHARE it.

The Headmaster’s Wife: A Read for the Soul

The Headmasters Wife

A naked old man found wandering through Central Park turns out to be the Headmaster of a Vermont elite prep school. How can this be? How can such a man come to this? It violates every belief we carry about the inhabitants of that world. The tragedy Thomas Greene weaves of obsession, grief and loss that break the soul will carry you with all of the suspense and absorption of a first class mystery.

Arthur Winthrop, son of Lancaster School’s headmaster lives a predestined life. He will become Headmaster in his turn. He falls in love with Betsy Pappas, a scholarship student, and all is well, but then Betsy meets another man. Arthur’s love becomes an obsession, carrying him into actions that will doom his marriage and lead to further obsessions.

For Betsy Pappas, a child of chaotic shifts in fortune, Arthur promises a life of stability and dignity, an attraction that, for a sixteen year old, is easily confused with love. But then she meets her true love and what follows will live on to crumble their marriage and derange their souls.

One blow will finish the job and the death of their son in Iraq provides it. This is not a tale that ends well; on the contrary, it speaks to the fragility of the human psyche—where uncontrolled grief can carry us, what our need for security can lead us to accept, the cost to our sanity to going one step too far—the fatal weaknesses that can destroy us. It is a tragedy in the fullest meaning of that word.

The Nightingale: A Powerful Read

The Nightingale

“In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.” With those words, Vianne Rossignol opens the story of her life, and the lives of her loved ones, during the occupation of France. Rossingnol means ‘nightingale” in French, and in the end Vianne recognizes herself in that word, but it is her sister Isabelle who is known by that name during her harrowing years in the French Resistance. We seem to be hungering for stories of World War II these days, as though we need to experience again the tests of love and character the war demanded. If so, Kristin Hannah’s story of two sisters will not disappoint you. She bring to life the Nazi Occupation, the extreme hazards and differing modes of survival with a non-judgmental honesty that will stay with you for a long time.

Overcome by grief at the loss of his wife, Julien Rossignol leaves his two daughters in the care of an unnamed woman at the Rossignol summer home in the Loire valley. Fourteen-year-old Vianne and four-year-old Isabelle cope with their abandonment in very different ways; Vianne seeks the safety of obedience, Isabelle becomes uncontrollable. Vianne marries a local schoolboy; Isabelle is expelled from one boarding school after another. The German invasion finds Vianne the mother of six-year old Sophie. Her husband goes off to war, and the Germans invade Paris. Isabelle, expelled from yet another boarding school, is sent by their father to live with Vianne, who she knows doesn’t want her any more than her father does. Lost in the crowds fleeing Paris, dodging German bombs, she meets Gaeten, a young man on his way to war who promises she can help fight the invaders. Thus the pair’s very different characters lead to very disparate paths through the war, and the word “nightingale,” in the end, applies to both.

From bomb to starvation to the fate of the village Jews, this story dodges nothing, yet it is, at heart, the story of survival and the depths of family bonds—a story of two sisters. A powerful read.

Jodi Picoult’s Second Glance: a Ghost Story

Whether you believe in ghosts or believe, as this author does, in the power of the imagination to bring to life the unacknowledged legacies of the past to haunt the present, Second Glance is, despite some weaknesses, a thought provoking read. In this story, the ghosts are real, and though I was willing to suspend my disbelief in the supernatural, I confess I was disappointed in the end.  

Picoult A Second Glance

In the Vermont village of Comtosook, a developer’s bid to purchase land claimed by the Native Americans as a burial ground has roused the ghosts of the past, especially the victim of an unsolved murder—Lia Pike—and her stillborn infant.

The mystery surrounding Lia’s 1932 hanging swirls around aged Spencer Pike, husband of the victim and owner of the property, and equally aged Az Thompson, the native American who led protests against Pike. As the past emerges, so does Pike’s leadership of the Eugenics Movement, a historic effort to create a superior race of New Englanders through sterilization of inferior families.  Against that background, the love stories of both Pike and Thompson mix in disastrous ways.

The lives of the two become the link to the present as their histories entangle others whose lives are colored by loss, grief, and loneliness. Ghost hunter, Ross Wakeman has lost his love in a car accident and wishes only to die and join her. Ross’s sister, Shelby, is a single mother whose son suffers from a rare genetic allergy to the sun. Meredith Oliver, a genetic therapist, is a single mother also whose daughter lives in terror of spirits that visit in the night. Eli Rochert, the sheriff of Comtosook, suffers from the loss of his wife. Each becomes entangled in the tragedy of Lia Pike.

I found the central core of the story—the interaction of the hanging with genetic selection—engrossing, but in the end I was let down. The supernatural elements seem overdone and frequently more distracting than relevant. The spiritual disturbances in the town may appeal to ghost story readers, but for me they are unnecessary frills, designed more to entertain than reveal anything about the story. Disturbances closer to the central characters are, to my mind, also overdone. More importantly, Picoult’s resolutions simply dissolve and desert the issues she’s raised. I’ve found this before in Jodi Picoult’s work, which is particularly disappointing because when she follows through, as in The Storyteller, she is great.

Interview with Author Toni Fuhrman

 one who loves

Welcome, Toni,

 You and I met in Ann Arbor in the 70s, so we have a long history as fellow writers. I’d like you to talk about your writing background—when you began to write, where you get your ideas, how you would describe your style of writing, and what authors have inspired you. Also tell us what has sustained you as a writer through the years.

 You recently published a novel, One Who Loves (New Libri Press, 2015), which is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, and Apple iBooks). Do tell us what the novel is about and what inspired the story.

 Finally, what advice would you give would-be writers, and what are you working on now?


I always liked writing, including the act of writing, which involves handling pencils, pens, and paper. I still like touching the page with a writing instrument—that closeness, that physicality. I once took a calligraphy course so that I could indulge my love of writing by hand. I also write the first draft of my novels by hand. This may seem labor intensive but it’s not, if one is working on a few pages at a time. The pages just pile up and, some months later, there are several hundred pages and that wonderful thing—a novel manuscript. Once the first draft is complete, it’s much easier to edit and rewrite on a mechanical device. Over the years, I’ve transitioned, without too much difficulty, from manual typewriter to electric typewriter to word processor to desktop to laptop.

I didn’t write extensively while studying English literature during my undergraduate and graduate years. I didn’t write a novel until a few years after that, when I took myself off to England and wrote a very bad first novel, sitting in front of a rented typewriter at a gigantic claw-foot desk, in a bed-sitting room on Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, across the street from the Thames, just down the street from the former residences of Thomas Carlyle and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

I took my first writing course—and got my first rejection (from The New Yorker)—as an undergraduate. Following graduate school, I took two other courses, one at Windsor University (with Joyce Carol Oates) and one at the University of Michigan (with Robert Haugh). That was the extent of my formal training. I was accepted at the Iowa Writers Workshop but did not attend. One of my few regrets. I was in love, and Iowa seemed much too far away. I still have (filed away somewhere) the letter of acceptance from Vance Bourjaily, at that time a writer and teacher at the Workshop.

Story ideas. Where do they come from? They are often a momentary thought, realization, or insight, during which I visualize the story, or the key elements of the story, sometimes from beginning to end. It might simply be a title—at this point nothing more than a place marker. More often than not, the title, and its accompanying note, land on a stray piece of paper. I try to remember to put the idea in some more permanent place, like a journal, before the idea is lost and gone forever. Inspiration is ephemeral. It needs to be captured and pinned down before it dissipates. There’s a Chinese proverb that goes something like this: “The faintest ink is better than the best memory.”   

An idea for a novel is not much more complicated than an idea for a short story—at least in the beginning, at least for me. I know the main character or characters. I know what the thrust of the story is. I know how it ends. The rest is process. The story unfolds as I write it.

I often write plot outlines, but only after I’ve drafted the entire manuscript, and only to assist me in recalling the sequence of events, or because a potential publisher has requested it. I don’t map out novels or stories before I write them, or as I write them, because, for me, the story and the characters have lives of their own. My job is to get the story down on the page and allow the characters to progress in their own way and at their own speed. They’re often fated, as I may already have determined the ending, but they have a lot of freedom within that boundary. Yes, sometimes they force me to rethink my endings. That’s when I know I’ve created strong characters.

In several of my novels, including One Who Loves, I’ve written in the ending, or some portion of the ending, at the very beginning of the story. Even though some might consider this a “spoiler,” I’ve found it an effective way to launch a story. Most readers, I believe, will become too involved in the story to put down the book because they know the ending. The stories I tell are not about plot but about character development.

That said, it’s probably easier for someone else to describe my writing style than for me to attempt it. My primary stylistic model and ongoing inspiration is Jane Austen. I am almost always reading Jane Austen. I read her six major novels over and over because I admire her stylistic clarity, her utter lack of sentimentality, her smooth, effortless narration, her satire, her witty and engaging dialogue, and her timeless stories of family conflict and romantic mishap. She is a realist in the best sense; that is, she portrays her flawed characters with wit, humor, and compassion. As she said in one of her letters, “Three or four Families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on.” Modestly, she refers to her literary output as “the little bit (two Inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush, as produces little effect after much labour”—a reference to the miniaturist art (watercolor on ivory) that was popular at the time. I’ve always believed, however, that she knew how good she was. After all, at his invitation, she dedicated Emma to the Prince Regent, later King George IV, who was an admirer of her novels.

Lined up behind Jane Austen are many other novelists and philosophers whose works have inspired me. For its narrative drive: Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind (a favorite from age 12). For style: Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, the short stories of Anton Chekhov, James Joyce’s Dubliners, and Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. For imagination and originality: Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. For majestic storytelling: Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and Jude the Obscure; Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina; George Eliot’s Middlemarch.

For language and subtlety: Henry James’ Washington Square and The Portrait of a Lady. For brilliantly capturing a particular period and social class: Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence and her New York stories. For enlightened discipline: Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (another early favorite, from age 18), Anthony Trollope’s An Autobiography, and B. K. S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga. For voice: W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge and Of Human Bondage. For compelling story: John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. For its iconic character: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

For fearlessness: D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love. For empathy: E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India. For combining mystery with narrative mastery: Dorothy Sayers’ The Nine Tailors. For narrative style and personal warmth: Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. For shattering impact: Paul Bowle’s The Sheltering Sky and Annie Proulx’s Close Range: Wyoming Stories. For their clear, inviting style and stories of ordinary people: the novels of Anne Tyler and Sue Miller.

One Who Loves had several layers of inspiration, all of which came together at one point, and became the story it is. One layer is the title itself, which comes from a line in W. Somerset Maugham’s novel, Of Human Bondage: “There’s always one who loves and one who lets himself be loved.” I’m drawn to what I can only call Maugham’s “voice”—and I found that line, which is very thematic to his novel, and to mine, most intriguing. Do we ever love equally? Does the balance always tilt one way or the other?

Another novel that inspired me was Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. Stegner is a great favorite of mine, and this is a novel I like particularly well, and have read and reread. It’s about two young married couples who meet at the University of Wisconsin and form a deep bond of friendship, which continues throughout their lives. It’s one of those novels in which nothing extraordinary happens, but which sweeps the reader into the adventure of living one’s life and enjoying one’s closest relationships.

The third layer of inspiration was not so much inspiration as observation. My son, David, lived in a co-op while attending the University of Michigan, and I was an occasional visitor on the premises. I kept a picture in my head of several of the co-op houses, and imagined one that had its own look and personality. Co-op life is a source of close and lasting friendships, as the residents share not only space but responsibilities and a special kind of interconnectedness. It seemed to suit the story I was writing, so I used it to launch my two couples—who are a generation older than my son—on their life journeys.

One Who Loves is a story of friendship and love—including obsessive, misdirected, and frustrated love—troubled and challenging friendship, and the extraordinary conflicts that impinge on seemingly ordinary lives. Liz, Patrick, Tess, and Jon meet at a University of Michigan co-op in the 70s. They quickly form lasting friendships, which continue through the 80s and 90s. Liz, the narrator, takes us on her journey as she grapples with crises of love, loyalty, and the inexorable pull of sexual attraction.

What has sustained me as a writer through the years? Stubbornness. While continuing to write and submit short stories and novels, I worked as a creative director in the marketing field and, more recently, as a feature writer. Some of my short stories were published and, intermittently, I made an effort to hunt down an agent for my novels. Then, I began submitting to independent publishing houses, and New Libri Press accepted One Who Loves. Independent presses are the lifeblood of contemporary literature.

I should add, however, that, were I not published now, I would continue to write, as I have always done throughout my adult life. Why? Because, gratifying as it is to have readers out there who are enjoying what I’ve published, I have stories I have to tell—or, perhaps, one story which I have to keep telling—and, readers or no readers, I’ll keep telling that story as long as I’m able. Although my writing is character driven and revolves around family and relationships, it is—as is all literature—influenced by a personal quest, our search for—what? Love. Purpose. Rootedness. A sense of belonging. A room of one’s own.

During my brief stints as a teacher of freshman composition, I told my students, at the beginning of each term, that becoming a better writer was an ongoing two-step process, and that both elements of the process were absolutely essential for success. The two steps, in order of importance, were (and are):

  1. Read.
  2. Write.

I would reiterate this advice often during the term, but I doubt if it made much of an impression. It’s like that timeless advice for losing weight: Eat less. Exercise more. It’s just too damn simple.

 Right now, I’m working on my next novel, first developed some years ago and undergoing a considerable makeover. The title is also undergoing change, so there’s not much point in mentioning it. It’s a novel about family (sound familiar?) in a small town (think: “Three or four Families in a Country Village”). The characters will, I hope, be fully realized (at least to the best of my ability), but their quest—in all fairness to my readers—will be only partially fulfilled. As a realist, I don’t believe in happy endings. I do, however, believe in the resilient human spirit. We aspire. We struggle. We take risks. We often fail. But we are sustained by friendship, family, and love.


 Thank you, Toni. And I’m so glad our paths have both been sustained by such a friendship.



Ann Patchett: Stories That Dissolve Cultural Divides

My greatest aspiration as an author is to carry readers inside the social turmoil of our times and thereby dissolve the bitter cultural divisions that plague the nation. Ann Patchett is therefore one of my favorite authors, for she explores the bonds that join us. Bel Canto is her most famous example, but The Magician’s Assistant, an earlier novel (but one I just read), is a much needed, timely reminder of the power of such bonds to triumph over bitterness. She confronts both issues of sexual orientation as well as urban/rural cultural splits as she brings widely disparate characters together, exploring bonds much deeper and more invisible than such conflicts.

Patchett Magician's Assistant

Parcifal the magician has died of AIDS, following the death of his great love, Phan. Sabine, Parcifal’s assistant,  has been married to her boss for twenty years, knowing he was gay, and is devastated by the loss of both. This initial love trio creates a convincing picture of the many kinds of love that bind us.

When, after his death, the family Parcifal has told her was dead contacts her, Sabine, deep in grief, responds out of the need to keep him with her and a compulsion to fill in her boss’s curiously empty past. Thus a Jewish girl from Los Angeles departs for a tiny town in Nebraska. One reviewer has remarked on Patchett’s gift for combining the fantastic with the ordinary, which she certainly does as Sabine, from the world of magicians, enters the Fetter household.

Parsifal’s mother and sisters have watched his career on television, thus keeping Parcifal alive, though he’d cut all bonds with them thirty years previously. The trauma that split the family emerges as gradually as Sabine’s immersion into a world totally different from her urban Jewish origins. The cultural differences between the badly broken family and the Sabine dissolve, though I could not point to any event that brings this about. It’s magic. Sabine, who repeatedly claims she was only the assistant of the charismatic, brilliant, Parcifal, is rarely if ever the primary actor in events, yet her presence facilitates the growth and regrowth of bonds. Patchett is the magician.

The story is an ode to the regenerative powers of human love, love of all kinds, and its power to cut through social and cultural differences. As an author, I’ve often focused on the complexities of the human heart as a way of transforming our view of the issues that divide us, and Ann Patchett’s stories are great illustrations of that power.

A Winter Journey: A War Story for Today

World War II scattered as many lives as it destroyed, leaving another generation to piece together their lost and buried pasts. Diane Armstrong’s A Winter Journey is one such story and a gripping one, but it is far more than the tale of one woman’s search for her past. It’s a story that should send shivers down our spines as we look around our own nation, increasingly split by schism, rumor, bitterness and hatred.


A Winter Journey

Halina Shore, an Australian forensic dentist, is connected to her Polish past only by her mother, who will not speak of it, and nightmares of being trapped in a burning building. Though deeply involved in a love affair and as an expert in a kidnap-murder trial, she is still disturbed by her missing ancestry. When both love affair and trial end in disappointment she willingly accepts an invitation from the Polish Institute of Remembrance to examine a suspected mass grave in the Polish village of Nowa Kalwaria.

Her journey carries her to a village haunted by its past, and her task is to discover whether the bones, buried since 1941, were of whole families of Jews, and if so, who had rounded them into a barn and burned them alive. The Germans or the villagers themselves? She is not welcome. The more she discovers, the more she awakens the pain and grief of a town conquered first by the Communists, then by the Germans—and their conviction that the village Jews were conspiring against them.

Only the mayor, the priest, and the son of a leading family insist on discovering the truth and support the team’s investigations. Their findings and the confessions of a single troubled soul begin to open the long closed doors, carrying everyone back to the winter of 1941. In the emerging tales and rumors, Halina and the priest find heart-wrenching pieces of their own stories.

Some readers will read this for the power of forensic dentistry in uncovering the truth. Others will find hope in the three leaders’ determination to face the past. For me it brought to life the terrible power of fear and mob anger looking for a target for its suffering. It is a story for today.

The Girl on the Train: a Mixed Review

Girl on the Train

Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, carries the reader into the lives of three women who occupy, at one time or another, two houses on Bleinheim Rd. in London. Rachel views them from the train, and for her they represent the marriage she had and lost. Anna, the second voice, is her replacement. Megan, the third voice, and her husband, Scott, live three doors down in what looks to Rachael like marital bliss. Together, they create a rather harrowing picture of the way human passions and obsessions play off each other, leading to tragedy.

Hawkins does an exquisite job of bringing to life the anguish of self-condemnation and grief that drives both Rachel’s obsession with the two houses and her alcoholism. Anna, now married to Tom, the love of Rachel’s life, must deal with Rachel’s inability to cope with her loss, and Megan, seen from the inside, is not quite the blissful wife Rachel imagines. Again, Hawkins does a remarkable job of absorbing us into the emotional states of these women as well.

Then Rachel observes a very different scene from her train window, and Megan disappears, transforming the story into a mystery. It is the mystery that carries the book from this point, and Hawkins’ shows great skill in creating suspense with plot twists and timing. In her pursuit of the truth, Rachel pulls herself from the pit, providing necessary relief for the reader.

In fact, Hawkins may have succeeded too well in drawing us into both Rachel’s and Megan’s desperate, out of control lives, for it is difficult to stay with characters who are so bent on self-destruction. For me, the mystery and the changes in Rachel kept me reading and rooting for her—but barely. The popularity of the book suggests she succeeds, but I welcome other readers’ comments.

A Story to Love: My Name is Lucy Barton

My Name is Lucy Barton

I wish I could write this way—with an effortless lucidity and simplicity that reaches the heart. Elizabeth Strout’s title, My Name is Lucy Barton, expresses the simplicity of her prose, though the power and full meaning of the phrase only come with the reading.

The plot is equally simply. While in the hospital in Manhattan, Lucy Barton’s mother, who she hasn’t seen since childhood, comes to visit. With her presence, unexpected and unexplained, come scenes from her early life and relationships long buried in the shame, pain, and isolation of the family’s extreme poverty. Lucy Barton discovers, scene by scene, who she is.

Those scenes are related with such unvarnished matter-of-fact prose that they ring with truth and absorb out attention fully. I found myself relating deeply with Lucy, though my background bears no resemblance to hers, except that in writing the scenes she discovers the emotions that have shaped her life. In the Midwestern Puritanical culture we both grew up in, emotions were never to be discussed or named and to do so was to embarrass yourself. The process through which Lucy learns to name and consider the emotions evoked by the scenes brought home that unveiling process that made me—and her—become writers.  One scene in particular brings this culture home:

     I said suddenly, as the lights started to come on throughout the city, “Mommy, do you love me?”

     My mother shook her head, looked out at the lights. “Wizzie, stop.”

    “Come on, Mom, tell me.” I began to laugh and she began to laugh too.

     “Wizzie, for heaven’t sake.”

In another, a character recognizes, as she did not, her loneliness.

Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me.

In still another, while in class with author Sarah Payne, she first discovers identification with another soul. In this scene, a large cat jumps through the classroom window and both Sarah and Lucy jump—terrified.

The psychoanalyst woman from California, who usually said very little, said that day to Sarah Payne, in a voice that was—to my ears—almost  snide, “How long have you suffered from post-traumatic stress?” And what I remember is the look on Sarah’s face. She hated this woman for saying that.  She hated her. There was a silence long enough that people saw this on Sarah’s face ..Then the man who had lost his wife said, “Well, hey, that was a really big cat.”

The above quote illustrates the way Strout captures the subtleties of such moments. In it she also recognizes the difference between empathy and judgment, a lesson that had a profound effect on me as I tried to become a writer.

Overall, this is a story of redemption, resolution, and forgiveness and makes a wholly satisfying read.

I kept thinking how the five of us had had a really unhealthy family, but I saw then too how our roots were twisted so tenanciously around one another’s heart.

This is a story to love and reread. One you shouldn’t miss.

A Paris Apartment: A Bestseller?

Michelle Gable’s A Paris Apartment is a bestseller and the setup was intriguing enough to make me buy the book. Alice, a professional antique dealer, heads for a Paris apartment that hasn’t been open for seventy years. Such a premise, based on the actual discovery of such an apartment, promises aging secrets, great mystery, and the appeal of historical fiction. Most of Gable’s many reviewers found the book an engrossing read, and I’d love to hear from them, for I am one of the disappointed.

A Paris Apartment

What Alice finds in addition to the treasure trove of antiques she expects is a portrait of a Nineteenth Century woman and a dealer who doesn’t want her to explore further. However, Alice discovers bundles of diaries and persists. The story then becomes parallel stories of Alice and Marthe who became the mistress of the famous.

The apartment itself becomes very real and alive with the past, but unfortunately, I tired of Alice, a perpetually rushing, venting, drinking young professional. If reader’s found any depth of character here, I missed it. A great deal of time is spent on Alice’s expertise in art history, but for me it takes too long for this to become integrated into the plot. The second story, Marthe’s, has the fascination of another time, and Marthe’s desperation is very real, but I read enough to predict that her diaries will deal largely with the sexual lives of the rich and famous and the Alice’s story will end in an affair or so also. I hope someone will tell me I’m wrong and to give the stories—and Alice—another chance.

The Bright Forever: a Different Mystery

I like mysteries that are based more on character than plot, and Lee Martin’s Pulitzer Prize Finalist, The Bright Forever, is one of those. It is as much about the social dynamics of small towns and the destructive power of isolation as the tragedy that results.


The Bright Forever

Pieces of the story unfold from the point of view of three marginal residents of a small Indiana town they have never, for differing reasons, become a part of. The mystery, unraveled piece by piece, is how their loneliness combines to seal the fate of a nine-year-old child. The child’s brother provides the sole voice from the town proper.

Mr. Dees teaches math at the local high school but is otherwise an isolate, living at the edge of town. Raymond R., a neighbor of Mr. Dees, a ne’er-do-well who has been excluded from others since childhood, is liked by no 0ne. Clara is a widow who, in her loneliness, fell in love with and married Raymond. When Katie Mackey disappears, suspicion falls on Mr. Dees, and while his story raises our suspicions, it doesn’t fit with guilt. The three have become as close to friendship as they are capable, leading to collusion. Each of the voices add pieces, but they do not explain. Katie’s brother Gilley brings the voice of the agonized family, disintegrated by grief and together we are swept by the dangerous but all too human forces toward the end—the crime and its tragic aftermath.

For readers captivated by the question of why people do what they do, this story is powerful and engrossing. I’d love to hear from other readers whether Martin brings the tale to a satisfying conclusion. My own reaction was mixed. For me he falls one step short of making this particular crime inevitable, but on the larger story of how loneliness and exclusion combine to create dangerous forces, she succeeds beautifully.


The characters of Lauren Groff’s multiple award winner, FATES AND FURIES, are conceived on the scale of the Greek tragedies the title suggests. Consumed by great love and great fury and driven by their sense of their fates. If you were captured by the gentle subtlety  of Toni Fuhrman’s character treatments in One Who Loves, you’ll find Lauren Groff’s  the flip side.

Fates and Furies

Crowned “Lancelot” at birth, Lotto’s life is marked by tragedy before he reaches maturity. He lives by lust and seeks the stage and the adoration he naturally attracts. “He was tall, vivid; a light flickered in him that caught the eye and held it.” When that begins to fail, he is cast into the depths—only to rise again as a playwright. Such tumult might well be his fate were it not for his great love for Matilda. The power of her love carries his to great success, but alas, the tragic flaw.


Matilda we see only through Lotto’s love besotted eyes. The child Matilda we meet much later, also marked by tragedy, is different in all respects from the woman he sees and is on a path to doom—until she sees him and falls in love. Her love for him reshapes her and his love for her redeems her. The endurance of their union defies the predictions of family and friends. Not until his death does that core flaw emerge.


If the language above seems grandiose, it’s because these characters are imbued with the drama of the ages, from the Greeks through Shakespeare; the book breathes it, and it’s catching. Lotto’s greatest play conception (in his eyes) is from Greek mythology. Some knowledge of that mythology (or dim recollection in my case) undoubtedly gives a fuller read, but it’s the power of Lauren Groff’s writing that carries the story. At times I grew impatient with her shifts to the point of view of secondary characters, which I thought unnecessary, but it is a story that will stick with you.

Woo Themes, Canvas - Designer, Kate L Williams

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