The hair on your neck will stand up as you read the stories collected and edited by Sarah Weinman for Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense. It’s a tribute to 14 of the women who wrote the great mysteries of yore. Vera Caspary, Nedra Tyre, Shirley Jackson and others paved the way decades ago for the likes of Sue Grafton, Tana French, and most recently, Gillian Flynn. This wonderful collection is full of murderous wives, deranged husbands, deceitful children, and vengeful friends.
Act II (Read Act I here.)
It’s the end of August. The man is measuring the same 2X4 over and over again. The woman is lying on the chaise lounge gazing at the half-built studio. It’s hot and humid.
Him: What huh?
Her: Does the studio look tall?
Her: Weird. It’s bigger than I thought it would be. Can we go this big without a permit? You checked the building code, right?
Him: I used the info you gave me.
Her: But that was for Washington, not Oregon.
Him: Why would you give me the Washington building code? (Gesturing going on.)
Her: Because it’s all I could find. I figured it would be sorta similar. Why didn’t you check? Why would you rely on me?
Him: You’re the professional Googler. You know everything.
Her: You’re the builder.
Him: It’ll be fine. Just don’t tell anyone.
Her: Who would I tell? Read more…
Here’s what reviewers are saying about it:
“Lovely and wry, Moyes’s newest is captivating and bittersweet.” – Publishers Weekly
“Even the most hard-hearted reader will want to know what happens to these women, not just the flesh-and-blood ones but also the bewitching one on the wall. Where will the painting land, and was its subject a casualty of war? In this moving paean to daring, determination and perspicacity, Moyes keeps the reader guessing down to the last hankie.” – Los Angeles Times
Scenery: It’s May and the flowers are starting to bloom. An ugly but functional wooden shed stands in the backyard. Its roof is covered with moss. The door is warped and hanging from its hinges.
Her: There are mice in the shed and they’re shitting on my garden tools.
Him: Mice are cute.
Her: There are nests of hornets, and the neighbors complained that the shed is an eyesore.
Him: The trees will be tall enough next year to hide the shed.
Her: Your tools are getting wet and rusting.
Him: Let’s replace the shed.
Scenery: It’s June and the woman is standing where the shed used to be. The sun is shining and the trees are resplendent in their greenery.
Her: This spot has a really good view of the wetlands. Wouldn’t it be a great place for a writing studio?
Him: You already have a perfectly good writing office.
Her: It will be a selling point if we ever sell the house. AND, I’ll turn my office into the guest room so you can have another workroom.
Him: I’m going to die in this house. Read more…
“When I finished this novel, I didn’t want to review it; I wanted to reread it…An affair to remember.” — Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times Book Review
“To be devoured like candy, between tears.” — O, The Oprah Magazine
“Funny and moving but never predictable.” — USA Today
If that isn’t reason enough to get excited, Moyes will release her next book, The Girl You Left Behind, on August 20th. (Watch for my Giveaway that week.)
The Girl You Left Behind, though a love story, features strong female relationships as well. What made you want to write about the connections that can form between women? If Liv and Sophie had lived in the same time, do you think they would have been friends?
My female friendships are so important to me; I honestly don’t know how women survive without them. I get very bored of reading manufactured narratives that pit women against women; the working mums vs. stay at homes, old vs. young, the ‘evil’ woman boss who is trying to keep younger women down—I don’t recognise these images—most women I know are actually pretty supportive of each other. So I liked having relationships in this book where women are supportive of each other, even if their relationships are often complex and changing. To me that reflects real life.
And yes, I think that Sophie and Liv might have been friends—I think through her sister’s grief, Sophie might have understood Liv’s own. And both knew what it was like to utterly adore your husband. Read more…
A long, long time ago in a land far, far away, the people of the world spoke the same language. It was fun. There was no hand gesturing, shouting, or shoulder shrugging when talking to foreigners. Rosetta Stone did not run ads along side their Facebook streams bragging that their customers would meet their perfect mate if only they spoke French. Everyone sat around and babbled about the books they wanted to read, and what bookshelves they should build to show off their signed first editions. It was paradise. Since they were accomplished construction workers as well as readers they thought, “As long as we’re building bookshelves, we might as well build a stairway to heaven. What better way to get to heaven than a stairway lined in books.” They began their books and mortar tower, and, oh my, it was beautiful. But one day God looked down and was pissed. “You self-serving heathens!” he shouted. In order to stop their evil collaborative ways, he gave them all different languages. Suddenly they could no longer understand each other, and the stairway was forgotten–although Led Zeppelin did have quite a run with it many years later. And so it was that translators came to be.
Thank heavens for translators! Imagine your life without Albert Camus, Marcel Proust, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Per Petterson, Leo Tolstoy, or Haruki Murakami. If there were no translators, you would never experience the joy of reading The Stranger, Swann’s Way, One Hundred Years of Solitude, I Curse the River of Time, Anna Karenina, or 1Q84.
Amazingly, translators are the Rodney Dangerfields of the literary world. Their station in life is to be largely invisible, garnering little respect or fame. Once in awhile a translator such as Murakami will be the talk of the town such as when he translated The Great Gatsby into Japanese. And, the literary world was all aflutter when Lydia Davis produced new versions of Swann’s Way and Madame Bovary. But those are the exceptions. I am in awe of translators. Most people probably don’t realize this, but translators are bi-lingual. I know! That never occurred to me either.
Seriously though, translators are completely under-appreciated. That’s why I was very excited to hear that a book of essays was published in May by Columbia University Press called In Translation: Translators on Their Work and What It Means. It’s a fascinating exploration into the nature and process of translating. I learned, among other things, what makes a translation great, and what a translator takes into consideration when tackling another author’s book.
Part One contains seven essays contained under the heading The Translators in the World. Part Two is The Translator at Work and has 11 essays. One of my favorites is Eliot Weinberger’s Anonymous Sources in which he says that “translators are the geeks of literature.”
Another was Catherine Porter’s essay Translation as Scholarship. At one point she talks about the invisibility of translators. She says that in a 2009 New York Times article featuring Europa Editions, a publishing house that markets foreign literature in translation, “Five authors and titles were cited for the article, but not one translator was mentioned; indeed, the word “translator” never appeared at all.”
Most translators are authors in their own right. Murakami has written a dozen novels and won numerous writing awards including the Franz Kafka Prize, the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and the Jerusalem Prize, among others. In his essay, As Translator, as Novelist, which was translated by Ted Goossen, he talks about what The Great Gatsby means to him and why he thought he needed to produce yet another version of it in Japanese. He says, “I found that none of the translations I looked at satisfied me, regardless of their quality. Inevitably, I would think, ‘This feels a bit (or a lot!) different from the Gatsby I know.’” Later he says, “…I translated Gatsby at an extremely personal level. I wanted to make my long-standing image of Gatsby clear and concrete, so that readers could picture the distinct colors and contours of the novel and feel its textures. To do this, I strove to eliminate anything that was the slightest bit obscure or that might leave the reader feeling as if they had somehow missed something….I have always felt that translation is fundamentally an act of kindness.”
In Translation is a very engaging read. It’s also quite funny at times. I found a treasure trove of little-known facts and anecdotes about a world I knew little about.
About the Editors:
Esther Allen has twiced received fellowships from the NEA, was named a Chevalier de l”ordre des arts et des lettres in 2006, and was a Fellow at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. She teaches at Baruch College.
Susan Bernofsky received the 2006 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize, the Herman Hesse Translation Prize, as well as awards and fellowships from the NEA, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Leon Levy Center for Biography, and the Lannan Foundation. She chairs the PEN Translation Committee and is the director of Literacy Translation at Columbia University’s School of the Arts.
Columbia University Press, 2013
Robert Lee Chatham, the main character in Bill Cheng’s blues-infused debut novel Southern Cross the Dog, believes he was cursed by the Devil as a baby, or in the vernacular of the blues, “born under a bad sign.” The opening line is, “When I was a baby they put a jinx on me.”
In all matter of ways, Chatham’s life as a black child/man is down, dirty, and star-crossed. He’s witnessed the lynching of his brother, suffered through the Katrina-like deluge in the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, and finds himself surrounded by working women while growing up in a brothel. Later, he’s kidnapped by the L’Etang family who are white fur traders living deep in the swampy backwaters. Eventually, he bonds with the white wife of one of the trappers, but by then he is a haunted and broken man. In the end, a woman from his past beckons, and he must choose between the promise of a brighter future or what he believes to be his destiny.
The backdrop for this lush novel is Mississippi during the first half of the twentieth century while it’s deep into Jim Crow savagery. The darkness and grit of life during this time period rings eerily true under Cheng’s hand: The fear that lives inside each soul like a black dog they cannot escape; The heavy humidity that is a constant slick upon the faces of the unfortunates; The incessant buzz of mosquitos; The patois of the Creole trappers; And, the crack of the bossman’s whip.
Southern Cross the Dog shines especially bright in the details. The Chinese-American Cheng, who unbelievably had never been to Mississippi, camped out in a library to learn everything he could about the deep south, from dialects, to flora and fauna, to medicinal herbs, and even how to walk through a swamp:
“You learn where to stand and how, ten paces from this bush, an arm’s length from that tree. You learn how to walk–swinging your legs saddle wide, then easing your weight across a width of earth. It goes up the calves, the fat of the leg, then across. All your weight is in your belly. Then the other leg. The ball of your foot. Back into the earth. The first time, I near sunk clean through. The ground was too soft, and the mud rose up into my boots. It drew in my feet, my ankles, up above the knee. I had to dig my way out with my hands, pressing into the cold yolky soil, pulling it back in clumps. You learn to read the mud. Where the gators drag-belly downslope. The little trough of raised slime. You learn the stink. Where the swamp wants to fold you into yourself.”
Interspersed throughout the story are bluesy adages, maxims, and hard-earned truths. This one could easily sum up the story:
“This is one thing I’ve learned. The one truth God has ever given to a man. And it’s that the past keeps happening to us. No matter who we are or how far we get away, it keeps happening to us.”
Southern Cross the Dog is built on a loose narrative of interconnected stories. It’s bones are akin to the blues music Cheng acknowledges was his inspiration. The power rises from the rhythmic repetition of the verses that paint the harsh reality of the Jim Crow South: oppression, fear, lost love, prison, pain, melancholy, and superstition–all major elements of blues music. In a NYT review by Julie Bosman I read that Cheng “decided the story should take place in Mississippi because it was the birthplace of the blues, but didn’t set out to write an explicitly blues novel.” He said,” I just looked for the things that show up a lot in the music, images and icons that are prominent in music — the flood, the Devil, the hellhouse…The story formed itself around that.”
The magnificent Southern Cross the Dog is Cheng’s first novel and he’s fresh out of Hunter College’s MFA program. How did he do it? Perhaps he sold his soul to the Devil as bluesman Robert Johnson did at the crossroads. I discovered the title refers to the crossroads of two railways in Moorhead, Mississippi. They are the Southern Railroad that ran north and south, and the Yazoo Delta, more popularly known as the Yellow Dog, that crossed it. (Read more here.)
Last week, Southern Cross the Dog made the Long List for the 2013 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. I think there will be other accolades to come. So while Cheng may love the blues, he won’t have a reason to sing the blues anytime soon.