Somehow when it was published, I neglected Elizabeth Hardwick’s 1979 novel SLEEPLESS NIGHTS. It’s a short book, lyrical and dense, looking back into the author’s life. It seems like a memoir, but Hardwick has stated that much of it is “made up.” No plot- other than the rise and fall of places and people as the years unfold. The narrator reports conversations and situations from which truth may be drawn. Characters emerge, as do the effects they have on the one telling the story. Details of life in the ’70s keep the reader grounded, regardless of the shifting locations. Hardwick uses memories and letters, as well as wishes and dreams to tell her story. It is a meditation on facts and memories written with style and grace.

Rachel Cusk’s new book OUTLINE is a similar sort of fiction. In ten conversations, we learn about the people met by the narrator when she goes to Athens to teach a writing workshop. Less about the narrator and more about others, the novel implies the personality of the narrator, as facts and emotions emerge in each conversation. Again, not much plot. Instead, a skillful interweaving of life stories that lead to possible conclusions. Descriptions of the surroundings, the food, the heat are vivid. Characters are distinct and also vivid. This is a novel difficult to describe. It requires patience to read, but will reward those who are willing to forego plot for psychological insight.



If you like the poems of Billy Collins, you will enjoy SLANT SIX, a new collection by Erin Belieu. Beliieu comments on everyday life with her keen observations and cogent implications. One of my favorite poems is “Poem of Philosophical and Parental Conundrums Written in an Election Year” It starts out:

“From the backseat, Jude saying, Mama, I HATE

Republicans, and the way he says HATE,

saying it the way only a seven-year-old can,

saying it like he’s very, very certain,

is plenty disturbing…”

From another poem (“Time Machine”):

Commit Random Acts of Kindness

is what the bumper sticker says

on the Volvo that cuts me off

in traffic, driven by a woman

    who then gives me the finger.”

And the conclusion of another (the title includes”…Proposing the Ban of Push-up Bras…”:

    “We must learn

to want each other

    in direct sunlight,

no more or less than

    what we really are.”

Belieu shines that direct light on our lives with sharp understanding and self-deprecating humor.   Good poems!