Discover more from learning to interrupt.
confronting the lake.
book pre-orders, female middle-age, and german translations.
A bit of news — my new novel, Foundations, is available for pre-order and will ship in March! All pre-ordered copies will be signed and you can get yours here: https://whiskeytit.com/product/foundations/
We spent the first weeks of 2023 indoors as California faced unrelenting rain. While we did need the rain, and that is the first thing any of us will acknowledge when tempted to complain ‘it’s just so rainy … but we needed it,’ the weather did not encourage me to emerge from my electric blanket cocoon. I’ve spent the first days of the year doing a yoga challenge, going on sodden walks, and reading. I’ve actually read more in 2023 than in the prior two months.
My first book of the year was Dolly by Anita Brookner, a writer who never fails to enchant me with her depth of understanding in regard to the female experience. In Dolly, the narrator is Dolly’s niece, Jane, a shy, tentative girl without any real social life, who distrusts and dislikes her foreign aunt and her well-manicured appearance. Jane particularly dislikes the affect Dolly has on her mother and her imposition on their comfortable, middle-class existence. Dolly is a whirlwind of silk and emotions and tales of her upwardly mobile acquaintances that rushes in and out on impulse.
It's clear the family feels beholden to care for Dolly when her husband dies, and, later still, when Jane’s own parents die, and despite her young years, she inherits this caretaking of Dolly. Their relationship is one of mutual need — Dolly needs money and a level of attention from Jane, while Jane’s pseudo-secret funding of Dolly’s lifestyle becomes her only connection to her family, to her past. The book begs the question, how can you love someone you don’t really like?
“When I turned to go, on that particular evening, the evening of my revelation, Dolly stood at the window and waved to me, continuing to wave until I was nearly out of sight. I knew that she would turn away from the window into an empty room, an empty evening, an empty life. Yet I think she was unaware of the implication of this emptiness. She would simply look forward to the next human contact, perhaps to my next visit.”
The writing in Dolly is Brookner at her best — introspective, intelligent, character-driven, and unapologetic.
I also finally read Marzhan, Mon Amour by Katja Oskamp (trans. Jo Heinrich) this month. Last year, I treated myself to a membership at Pereine Press, a London publishing house who focuses on putting out translated European short novels / novellas. You can sign up to receive all four of the books they put out each year, which is what I did, and in fact just renewed it for this year as well.
Marzhan, Mon Amour is an absolute delight, filled with empathy for humanity and place in a way I haven’t read in a while. Marzhan is a huge, concrete pre-fabricated estate in the former GDR, worn in and un-beautiful, and much of what Oskamp discusses is colored by this history. Oskamp tells her own story of reaching middle-age with an ill partner and a pile of rejections for her latest novella. She decides to retrain as a chiropodist and provide pedicures and reflexology to the people of Marzhan, she wants to feel useful again.
“The middle years, when you're neither young nor old, are fuzzy years. You can no longer see the shore you started from, but you can't yet get a clear enough view of the shore you're heading for. You spend these years thrashing about in the middle of a big lake, out of breath, flagging from the tedium of swimming. You pause, at a loss, and turn around in circles, again and again. Fear sets in, the fear of sinking halfway, without a sound, without a cause.”
Her friends are not proud of her for changing career paths and, instead, regard her choice with a barely disguised disgust. She’s left the world of letters for what, feet? And yet, each vignette tells the story of the people she works on, not just their feet, but their lives. Oskamp works with many elderly patrons for whom she provides a safe space and in this book she endeavors to “pay tribute … because if I don't, no one else will.”
As a woman who is in her forties and has begun to feel invisible in her own life, Oskamp endeavors to bring the invisible to the forefront. She writes of the salon workers, of their lives and struggles, and, although her own life is pushed to the background of the narrative, she creates a warmth and sense of feeling for those who are so often overlooked.
Both Dolly and Marzhan, Mon Amour explore the kaleidoscopic variations of middle-aged female experience as well as the concept of community and how one acquires it at different points in one’s life.
Right now, I’m reading Malina by Ingeborg Bachmann for the first time, so I suppose something of Marzhan may have pushed me toward another German translation I’ve put off. I saw recently another author on Instagram post about her reading Malina as well, and I thought, well perhaps I’ve finally chosen the right time after all.