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What We’re Reading
Michelle Wildgen (Executive Editor, Tin House Magazine): I’m reading James Salter’s All That Is, and there is something about the way he manages time, with these ever-fluid dips out of narration and into scene, that feels kind of enthralling to me. The novel covers such a long span of time in the life of Philip Bowman (one-time soldier, longtime editor, frequent lover) and you get the sense that although to me the choices for scenes and direct glimpses feel just right, one could have tried out any number of other combinations of scene and summary, too. Maybe he did. Significant events occur in summary, jazzy intros to various characters that may not show up much later get actual scenes, and yet the book moves so gracefully that even when I wonder why something gets a certain emphasis, I trust it.
Heather Hartley (Paris Editor): Every now and then it’s time for a little bit of Bonjour Tristesse, particularly in late spring among afternoon picnics, naps and cool drinks with friends. Although you might not be vacationing on the French Riviera like Cécile, the seventeen-year old protagonist of Françoise Sagan’s overnight succès de scandal novel, Sagan brings the sensation of deep southern summers in sleepy coastal towns with all of their longing and sadness forward and to the front of this wistful, intense story. Raymond, Cécile’s father, is a widower and philanderer whose latest fascination is Elsa, a young woman who loves late nights and good times. When the sensible and principled Anne comes onto the scene to be with Raymond, Cécile realizes that she risks to lose her somewhat reckless lifestyle and more essentially, the attentions of her father. Lyrical and restrained, full of yearning and a certain bitter tenderness, Bonjour Tristesse is a very fine accompaniment to a long afternoon in the country or a bit later in the day at the beach, just as dusk comes on.
Shannon McDonald (Workshop Intern, Tin House Magazine): This week, I’ve been reading and loving Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs. If you heard the NPR interview with the author recently, or have read any of the reviews so far, you’ll notice that the most defining characteristic of the novel is that it features an unapologetically angry female narrator, which is relatively rare in literature (or, hell, anywhere). But I find this to be a little problematic. Yes, Nora is angry, and rightfully so, but to classify her solely by that trait strips her character of the complexity and realness that Messud has granted her. More than her anger, I find the trait I most appreciate about her is her honesty. I don’t just empathize with Nora, or identify with her—in a way, I feel like Nora is a later version of myself, acting at times as a cautionary tale, a motivating force, and sometimes even, a necessary mirror. I also think a lot of other women will feel the same way when they meet her. It’s a book worth cancelling plans for, which is what I might do for the next couple days…