The Prydain Project

Thirty years after first devouring Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books, I'm rereading them to see if the magic is still there. If you've arrived at this blog because you loved Prydain as a kid, I hope you’ll enjoy the chance to revisit it along with me. To read the recaps in order, start here: "The Book of Three," Chapter 1

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween! What's for dinner?

If you’ve read my short story, “Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself (and Spiders),” you might be curious about the meal that Macy prepares for Stan: “carrot bisque with sour cream drizzled into a spider web pattern on the top – More spiders! Who wants to think about spiders when they’re eating?

It’s based on an actual recipe for Curried Carrot Soup from Rachael Ray that my husband first made for me two years ago, and it has since become a Halloween tradition in our home. (Unlike Macy, I don’t decorate the house with giant spiders, but I do like to celebrate the holiday with whimsical touches here and there!) It’s a delicious and surprisingly healthy soup – its creamy texture comes from the pureed carrots rather than actual cream – that would be great to serve kids before taking them out for a night of binging on free candy. Just watch out for how much spice you add – we like it hot, but that extra kick of cayenne might not be for everyone! And I do in fact serve it witha green salad, blessedly free of any cutesy Halloween touches,” but the homemade cookies, alas, are purely fictional, since I don’t bake.

If you’d like to give me a Halloween treat, please like my Facebook page, or if you’ve read “Nothing to Fear” and liked it, consider writing me a short review on Amazon! I hope you have a frightfully fun and deliciously decadent holiday!

Monday, October 13, 2014

What I’m Reading: The Middlesteins

More a collection of linked short stories than a novel, Jami Attenberg’s “The Middlesteins” paints a family portrait from a number of different perspectives. Each chapter is told from the POV of a different character, among them matriarch Edie, a “queen among women” whose weight is out of control at more than 300 pounds, estranged husband Richard, angry daughter Robin, resigned son Benny, and controlling daughter-in-law Rachelle (pet peeve: when authors use non-traditional spellings of names, I wish they’d clarify how to pronounce them. I was never sure whether to hear “Rachel” or “Rush-elle”).

The patchwork approach means that we don’t get to spend any great length of time in any one character’s head, so ultimately I had the same issue with The Middlesteins as with “Love Walked In” and “Belong to Me”: I wanted to spend more time with the characters whose struggles I found most compelling (Robin and Edie) and less time with the characters I didn’t like as much (Richard and Rachelle). I would have liked more of an exploration of the reasons for Edie’s destructive behavior and/or more of an arc for Robin, who wrestles with her body image, her faith and her relationship with her boyfriend in the shadow of a tragic loss during her teen years. Either of those women’s stories would have been good enough to stand on their own.

Ultimately, my favorite part of the book was the portrayal of the tight-knit Jewish community in suburban Chicago that the Middlesteins belong to. In a chapter told in first-person plural narration (reminiscent of “The Virgin Suicides”), Attenberg does a wonderful job of sharing an insider’s view of their concerns and priorities. The bonds, both within the family and between the Middlesteins and their neighbors, and how those bonds are tested by the strife and drama of Edie’s failing health and the disintegration of the Middlesteins’ marriage, feel real and poignant. I’ve always been fascinated by communities close enough to self-identify as a “we” (my novel “The Freedom Dreamers” is largely about trying to forge an independent identity while living in close proximity to other people and break away from the emotional dependence inherent in those relationships) and so I loved this glimpse into one, brief though it was.