Sub Rosa and Other Stories

Sub Rosa and Other Stories. James Lambert. Balboa Press, 2021.

A variety of tales – mainly regional (Louisiana and the South), some historical (1950-60s, Jim Crow and Civil Rights era) – all told in a voice that is direct, engaging, part of the landscape itself and easy to connect with. Within the regional setting, Lambert digs out all the threads — nature vs. culture stories, escape vs. quest stories, chaos vs. order stories, and sometimes stories that turn over the stones of, e.g., a rewritten racial past to show the underside. The voice is steady but the style varies — sometimes “like a bull ride — rough, fast, and bloody” (as in the Angola Prison story, “Blood in My Hair”), sometimes finely senstive to small epiphanies (as in “Hobby Shop” and others). In the latter case, it’s like James Joyce’s Dubliners for the (mostly) rural South. All in all, a good range of well-told tales.

Gary Gautier

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Love’s Ragged Claws for free this week

My short novella, Love’s Ragged Claws, is free for instant Kindle download this week (Amazon US, still cheap on Amazon international 🙂 )

Pass it on.

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#1 Bestseller on Amazon’s 90-minute reads (free) list.
Shortlisted for the Faulkner-Wisdom Prize

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08RSNTR2B/
NOW FREE

Gabriel enters confession for the first time in 50 years and tells the priest he has only three sins, all sins of the flesh. The confession doesn’t end as the priest might wish, but it opens up the byways of human identity and human connection as it weaves the tale of of the three relationships that ended up defining Gabriel’s life. Adult language.

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Author Chat Book Club

ATTN Blogmates! Click here to join the free Author Chat Book Club

Created by authors for readers. Award-winning author Gary Gautier has teamed up with memoir writer and novelist, Michael Tusa, to get you discounted ebooks with monthly video meetings to discuss them with the author. Authors are encouraged to set their ebooks at 99c during the first week of the month and then host a Zoom meeting on the third Thursday of the month. (The 99c price may not be available every month due to Amazon or publisher restrictions, but we will try our best to discount.) Calendar to be posted regularly. In an age when social media silos tend to narrow one’s focus, we are open to serendipity and surprises, inviting a range of authors so that each reader can wander and stumble upon new things. Interested authors to date include writers of literary fiction, historical fiction, memoirs, and non-fiction works of cultural interest. Let us do the legwork. You just download the book (no fee, no requirement, the download is always optional) and join the conversation with the author.

Nov. 18: Gary Gautier, Hippies
Dec. 16: Jim Lambert, Sub Rosa and Other Stories
Jan. 27: Michael Tusa, And Trouble Followed
Hippies is set for 99c on Kindle Nov. 1-7. 

Admin/author websites:
Gary Gautier
Michael T. Tusa

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Hippies won’t stop

More news on Hippies (which is still at 99c for a few more days).

Here’s a link to my latest radio interview: WRBH interview on Hippies

Feel free to share 🙂

Gary

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99c Hippies

HIPPIES 99c this week (US). Download and sink in for under a buck.

  • 4.1 stars on 73 Amazon ratings.
  • Selected for radio interviews on KSKQ Oregon (May 2020) and WRBH New Orleans (July 2021).
  • Author is a Faulkner-Wisdom Prize finalist.
  • Featured here in Book Reader Magazine.

Go ahead. Click it. Release your inner hippie.

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Read it. Share it. Drop a rating on Amazon.

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Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (Part 2)

SPOILERS
I was discussing my blog entry on Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (Part 1) with a Chinese physicist friend, and she pushed me a little on how I would rewrite the ending, which seemed to twist me into such a knot. (This is per the novel, not the film, which I haven’t seen and which I’ve heard tweaks the ending somewhat.) For anyone interested, here is my response. (If this sounds quite critical, note from my first review that I loved the book but felt a little deflated at the end in a way that the conventional interpretation could not explain; hence, this follow-up.)

To clarify, I have no problem with the ending per se. My problem is with the conventional interpretation of the ending – that the little seamstress makes a good, wholesome decision. My reading (let’s call it the Romantic reading) may be no better than the conventional one (let’s call it the political reading), but here are my thoughts about why I feel this way.

First if I wanted the ending to look “good” for her decision, I’d give her a little more ambivalence about leaving her lover and friend. This is, on one level, a coming-of-age novel, and these kids learn much about love and friendship and loyalty along the way. She seems too ready to throw all that in the garbage at her first chance at the city. So I’d like to see a bit more emotion, sadness, mixed feelings about dumping them so quickly. They, after all, also have something at stake per what they are learning about love and friendship and loyalty.

Second, I’d drop the “blue Mao jacket” from her city slicker wardrobe. The cultural revolution has been negatively portrayed throughout the novel, and it’s hard not to see her putting on the Mao jacket as a symbolic gesture of putting on the (inauthentic) identity of the cultural revolution simply because it will help her leverage her interest in the city.

Third, I’d drop the last line, which equates female beauty with $$ value (to be gained in the city by dumping your friends and assuming the correct ideological self-presentation). I would have her learn something more complicated from Balzac, something more bittersweet about love, friendship, and doing what you need to do.

If we leave the ending the way it is, I can’t give up my Romantic interpretation (which sees her final act, as it is presented, as a sign of depleted values). I can SEE the other side that favors her decision as a cold political calculation that makes sense, but I can’t feel it in my heart.

So in order for me to feel the justice of the conventional interpretation, the ending would have to be modified to (a) be consistent with previous attitudes about the cultural revolution, (b) suggest that she really does care about Luo and her friend and at least has mixed feelings about discarding them without notice, and (c) the last line about Balzac would probably have to change into something a bit more emotionally complicated.

Maybe I’m wrong and all those conventional readers are right, but I have to be true to my heart 😊

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Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Thoughts on Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, by Dai Sijie

(h/t Zhiyu for picking out this book for me as we browsed the tiny book exchange)

No spoilers until the 2nd half (you’ll get a warning before spoilers)

This book hooked me with the descriptive writing on the first page – clean and simple but precise, expressive, humorous but ominous, with clouds of meaning hanging over the images and narrative movement. Here, on the first page, the setting is already pressing in – the environmental setting of the mountain village and the historical setting of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, as two middle-class city boys have been cut off from their families and sent to the country for re-education.

But here too on the first page, the vivid sense of the local and the ethnic is already paired with a sense of something universal and human. As the village elder inspects the strange object belonging to the boys (a violin), the boys are already struggling with a sense of how to fit in, how to be understood in a world of adults who just don’t get it. It’s the perfect setting for a coming-of-age tale, where the local coordinates frame the archetypal struggle of adolescents trying to navigate an adult world. The book’s critical view of the Cultural Revolution, expressed with humor and with poignancy, is never far away, but it is also a universal story of kids growing up, joking around but feeling the full emotional weight of adolescence.

The personal and cultural layers of the book are in fact explicitly linked. Discovering the beautiful little seamstress their own age parallels the discovery of forbidden books (e.g., by Balzac) from the West, books that explore precisely the personal aspects of the human experience – friendship, loyalty, first love, and possible betrayal, innocence thwarted and dreams forbidden – which take on a peculiar urgency for these boys, torn from their families and in constant danger of being denounced. The first-hand view of the Cultural Revolution being played out in the mountain villages of China is one thing, vivid and valuable in its own right, but it is the other thing, the personal thing, the intensely heart-felt connection between two young friends and the little Chinese seamstress in the next village – that’s the thing that really sticks with you after the book is done.

SPOILER SECTION BELOW

At first glance, the last sentence of the book is my least favorite. The little seamstress packs it up and leaves Luo (her lover) and the narrator (a dear friend to both, the one who took care of her in her darkest hour, secretly in love with her himself but true to his friend, Luo) to try her luck in the city. When asked why, she notes that “she had learnt one thing from Balzac: that a woman’s beauty is a treasure beyond price.”

A cursory glance at reviews suggests that many readers approve of her final choice as liberating, and perhaps they have a point. Maybe they are reading it with an eye on how to fit it to today’s political needs whereas I am reading it like a Romantic. In any event, like all great novels, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress opens multiple ways of reading. In my reading, for example, the final line is devastating. The idea that the little seamstress, artificially groomed and coiffed into something “modern-looking” and “stylish” with her “blue Mao jacket,” “bobbed hair,” and “white tennis shoes”– that she plans to leverage her “woman’s beauty” to stake her claim in the Mao-stifled city strikes me as rather a degradation of values than a liberation. The “lovely, unsophisticated mountain girl” somehow seemed more authentic.

But if we run with my reading, if we view the little seamstress’s flashy exit in the last sentence of the novel as demeaning, doesn’t this finale undermine the novel’s whole cultural trajectory? Where the body of the novel had suggested that the dehumanizing effects of the Cultural Revolution could be redeemed by the humanizing effects of Balzac and the other forbidden Western writers the teens discover, doesn’t the degradation in the last line suggest that those “humanizing” effects were not so humanizing? That the Western influences had merely introjected Western vanities into the heart of China, as represented by the little seamstress? And if the last line negates the cultural trajectory, the mirror-image trajectory of personal coming-of-age is also jeopardized. What if the ideals these teens had constructed about friendship and loyalty and love was no more than vanity – whimsical ideals to be tossed at the first chance of life in the city? Indeed, the coming-of-age archetype in literature often extends into a more cynical stage, the passage from innocence to experience, as the Romantic poets would have it. And the same deflated idealism hovers over that last line of Sijie’s novel.

But by the time I read the last line, I had become so emotionally invested in the characters, in their naïve teenage idealism, and in the beautiful China they were symbolically trying to shore up against the forces degrading it, that I was unwilling to let go that easily. What if the Chinese seamstress’s final comment does not negate the redemptive power of Balzac and all the spinoff values that Balzac represents in the novel? If my heart wants to argue this side, my head is not long in coming to its aid. After all, one cannot read this novel and conclude, no matter how one reads the last line, that the Western ideas of Balzac et al. were just a trick, a vanity, that Mao’s view of the Western ideal as a Trojan Horse was correct. No, too much of the book weighs against this reading.

The alternative reading is this. The last sentence, as much as it repulses my emotional registers, saves the book from a thematic malaise into which it might otherwise fall. The Western influence (or in this case the universal humanist influence, as channeled by the Western writers the kids discover) was essential to the coming-of-age transition, personal and cultural. But Balzac (symbol of that humanist influence pushing back against Mao) is not a magic bullet, not something you can simply overlay onto China. It is an instrument, not an end, in the boys’ coming of age; and it is an instrument, not an end, in China’s transition as re-envisioned in the symbolic structure of Sijie’s novel. Western culture is not a Trojan Horse to Chinese culture, but nor is the West to be fetishized. If you fetishize those hallmarks of Western culture as something more than they are, if you use them as a mere overlay, you get not the authentic universal human values they express, but you get Western vanity. You get the decision of the little seamstress. So Luo is right to burn the Western books – not because Mao is right about their worthlessness, but because they have completed their purpose in the coming-of-age transition; not because they would corrupt the spirit of China but because once they are read, it is time to move beyond those local Western expressions to the universal truths about the human spirit that lie behind them. The Western books were a ladder for the kids, but to bring something authentic to China, you need to climb the ladder and then throw it away and focus on more universal truths and beauties. If you get stuck on the ladder, if you get hung up on the West qua West, you get the vanity of the little seamstress.

So yes, Luo was right to burn the books. I understand that the conditions the seamstress and the boys found themselves in called for change. But at what cost in terms of one’s own identity? As I ponder that question, the final image of the little seamstress in her trendy new outfit heading for the city to see what she can get with her commodified beauty leaves me longing for the “lovely, unsophisticated mountain girl” of the earlier pages.

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Free love, free hippies

HIPPIES FREE this week. Download now.

4.2 stars on 50 Amazon ratings. Selected for Oregon community radio interview.

Follow Jazmine and Ziggy as they stumble through the sights, sounds, and ideals of the 1960s toward a dramatic personal climax.

Go ahead. Click it. Release your inner hippie.

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Read it. Share it. Drop a rating on Amazon.

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Love’s Ragged Claws, Gary Gautier author interview

Click through to original to see full interview.

Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08RSNTR2B/
Author website: http://www.garygautier.com/

The Magic of Wor(l)ds

– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –

blog-q&a

Today I’m not on a blogtour, but doing my own interview with Gary Gautier, author of ‘Love’s Ragged Claws’, to promote his book.
Before I let you read my Q&As, I’ll first post some ‘basic’ information.

About the Author :

bio picNew Orleans native and world traveler, Gary Gautier has taught writing and literature several universities and has published books for adults and children. Love’s Ragged Claws was shortlisted (top 10) for the Faulkner-Wisdom Prize. Gary has had a children’s book featured in the Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Market, a scholarly book selected for Edwin Mellen Press’s Studies in British Literature series, and a screen adaptation of his novel, Mr. Robert’s Bones, was selected to the second round (top 10%) at the Austin Film Festival…

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