Catherine Bell’s Nightstand
Catherine Bell, the winner of the 2014 Washington Writers’ Publishing House Fiction Prize, is bursting into the literary world with her debut novel in October. Rush of Shadows is a deeply emotional story about two women, one white and one Native American, who form an unlikely friendship in 19th century California when tensions were flaring between the two cultures. To tide us over until pub, Catherine shares the books she’s currently reading.
I made the mistake of seeing the movie of The English Patient before reading the book, and found the book disappointing. Another Ondaatje novel, though, Anil’s Ghost, blew me away. I couldn’t believe the thoughtfulness and artistry involved in the changes of mind and attitude, and the expanding sense the reader gets of what is going on. I’ve read the first chapter of Lion, which brings us working people we don’t get to read about enough. It promises to be a deep well of good water.
This is a young adult novel. I will read almost anything about Native Americans because I believe their old life was superior to ours in ways we didn’t recognize in time, either in New England where I’m from, or in Arizona/New Mexico, or in California, or anywhere. Geronimo was a family man and freedom fighter, misunderstood as a terrorist and reduced to exile, though without losing his spirit, so this is bound to be a sad but heartening story.
This is a big, heavy book. I do most of my reading in bed, and this definitely requires a supporting pillow. I put it aside last month, because I’m not always sure who the pronoun “he” which appears so often refers to, and I wish this could have been cleared up. But where else can you get such obsessive detail of the life and thought and politics of Henry VIII’s England?
I’m teaching this play in 10th grade again this year, the story of the Massachusetts witch trials of the 1690s. The Witch Museum in Salem makes a big thing of the hysteria, but equally important were narrow-mindedness, jealousy and avarice, the same forces at work, as Miller experienced, in the McCarthy Red-Scare hearings of the 1950’s. We get hysterical about things we want or fear, and when we do, we use whatever power we have. Twenty people were killed and others died in prison. I have ancestors among both accusers and accused.
Everybody who’s talking about income inequality is talking about this book. It is so French – hyperorganized and lucid. “Later I will discuss these points further, but for now, be assured that these are the three most important definitions to keep in mind.” Capital and labor. How do we decide who gets what share of the profits? I struggled when Picketty started developing equations. I’m not sure I’ll make it through the whole book, but I’m not giving up.
This I’ve just re-read, and I’m keeping it on my nightstand because I want to stay close to its drive and courage and spirit. This is the amazing autobiography of an Australian kid from a bush cattle ranch who became president of Smith College. She is unflinchingly honest, and there is plenty to be honest about. She writes as if anyone’s life can be interesting, but hers really is.
Doyle creates the authentic voice of an Irish woman in love with and married to a very special and cool man, one who beats her. What she tells people who see her bruised face is that she walked into a door. That’s what he makes her say. We are completely inside this woman’s head, and to us she is utterly honest, more even than to herself. He becomes increasingly brutal, but of course she loves him. I don’t know how it will end. I hope she breaks free. I have put off finishing the book because how can I face it if she doesn’t?
It’s a hard life in Nova Scotia, judging by two stories I’ve read from this collection, a life of poverty, necessity, and strenuous work, leavened by remarkable intelligence. One is the most amazing and unforgettable story I will ever read about a horse. Then there’s the one about losing the father off the back of the boat. Both stories are told naturally and unstintingly, but with consummate artistry, so that there’s a sense of wholeness and inevitability at the end. I am looking forward to reading the one called “The Lost Salt Gift of Blood.”
Learn more and order your copy of Catherine’s debut, Rush of Shadows, here.
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