It is true what Joan Didion said about losing a loved one: “Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.” Life changes; the loved one is gone, and with that person a trove of shared moments, conversations, questions, unfinished business, the possibility of a future together. Life changes irrevocably in the ordinary instant, and yet for the bereaved, moving into that altered life is at first an impossible task. The bereaved must change too, but it is not an instantaneous change, and the circumstances leading up to it are seldom ordinary.
The unnamed narrator in Sigrid Nunez’s much-celebrated novel, The Friend, stands at the threshold of change after losing her friend and mentor to suicide. She is joined in grief by a melancholy Great Dane named Apollo, whom she inherits unexpectedly and who waits at the door in her too-small apartment for his lost master to return. He is a good analogy for the grieving process, for in his gigantic form he embodies the kind of presence that comes uninvited, demands attention, disrupts routine, behaves inscrutably, and has the power of ferocity and tenderness at once. […]
When Margaret Atwood introduced The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985, she called it an “antiprediction,” explaining: “If this future can be described in detail, maybe it won’t happen.” The last few years have seen a slew of laws and rulings restrict women’s sexual and reproductive rights in numerous states and anti-women measures and sentiments echoed in the highest offices of the federal government—developments that seem eerily reminiscent of the world Atwood described. Two recent novels, Red Clocks and The Power, build on the genre of The Handmaid’s Tale by reimagining the fate of female agency with the urgency of our time.
More on the Ploughshares blog…
I knew it was a matter of time before we would see a novel on the sentience of trees, especially since the publication two years ago of the German forester Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees and the groundbreaking discoveries by Dr. Suzanne Simard and other scientists on tree behavior. Their findings show that trees communicate and share resources to help their offspring and neighbors and even pass on memories of trauma. There is still so much we don’t know about these majestic living creatures, but the possibilities are enough to pique one’s imagination.
Fifty years ago, Edward Abbey could already see the trampling of industry on the fragile desert country he had grown to love during his time as a ranger in what is now Arches National Park. My tribute to the iconic writer on the Ploughshares blog.
The stories in a new anthology edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen speak not only of estrangements from languages, loved ones, and countries of origin, but also of the pain of being in a new place that is not always accepting. On the Ploughshares blog
I have been most moved by writing that tells a story in fragments, often ones that are weighted with emotion and significance to the life of the narrator. Only after each fragment has been picked up, polished, and assembled in place, jagged edge to jagged edge, does the meaning reveal itself.
More on writing in fragments at the Ploughshares blog…