Book Review: The Dead Husband Project by Sarah Meehan Sirk

10.18.2017

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zaralibrary

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Category: Literary Fiction
Author: Sarah Meehan Sirk
Format: Ebook via NetGalley, 247 pages
Publisher: Anchor Canada
ISBN: 978-0-3856-8760-7
Pub Date: August 8, 2017

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Summary from Publisher:

Perfect for readers of George Saunders, Jennifer Egan and Heather O’Neill, a rich and inventive collection of exquisite short stories by a major newcomer to Canadian literature.

In this deeply felt, compulsive and edgy work, Sarah Meehan Sirk shines a distinctive light on love and death in their many incarnations, pushing against the limits of the absurd while exposing piercing emotional truths about what it means to be gloriously, maddeningly alive.

In The Dead Husband Project, an artist who has planned to make an installation out of her terminally ill husband’s dead body has to recalibrate when his diagnosis changes. In The Date, an online dating match takes an unusual turn when the man who shows up to the restaurant has no face. In Ozk, a young girl longs to connect with her socially isolated mother, a professor of mathematics who makes a radical discovery.

Uncanny, sometimes violent, achingly sad and always profound, these stories showcase a writer with skill and empathy, and draw us in with a steady, unyielding grip.

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

With a title as intriguing as The Dead Husband Project and an equally gorgeous, floral cover, this short story collection by Sarah Meehan Sirk is deceitfully dark and foreboding—and yet the 14 stories in their entirety provide a spyglass to several broken and resentful characters who find themselves navigating within some strange, almost absurd plots.

From different contexts that deal with the exhibition of death as art; to the absence of maternal love in lieu of obsessive ambition and research; adultery with life-threatening ramifications; emotional adultery and its resignation; the death of a loved one; the inevitability of aging; the submission to betrayal in friendship; the weary disconnect in relationship; to the turmoil of grief and loneliness—while these stories share burdensome contexts, the writing itself can at times, seem heavy-handed, not striving to be succinct, but rather succumbs to unnecessary explanation, which can and often does feel cliché.

What could be a collection of complicated characters with a variety of emotional landscapes in stories of obsession, pain, loss, grief, and love; instead contextualizes a narrative, which fails this intent. Otherwise, the stories themselves hold the potential of depth and retrospection.

And while the beginning of most of the stories in the collection show promise of not only interest, but depth, their endings rely on a self-conscious narrative that feels the need to “tie up loose ends” with the explanation of circumstances and/or the end result of emotions felt by its thwarted and disappointed characters—which most of them tend to be.

But, where the narrative in the book can sometimes fail, the stories’ dialogue on the other hand, can and most often does sound true. There’s also a tenderness in some details found in such stories as Ozk or The Centre.

While most of the characters are unable to incite full likeability in its readers, one can empathize with what these characters might feel considering how absurd or surprising the plots they find themselves in.

Perhaps the plots’ themes were too large or extraneous: Cancer, coma, HIV, adultery, abandonment—relying instead on the significance of their emotional magnitude and crisis, rather than focusing on truths that can be shared in more daily, simple struggles or outcomes for those who experience such dilemmas.

If not for the design of its cover, nor the intrigue of its title, and the ambition of its poorly executed imagination—The Dead Husband Project, would remain an inert collection of stories perhaps better left on the shelf.

Yet, there’s still hope. It is only a debut novel, after all.

Should Sarah Meehan Sirk hone in her creative writing skill with less explanation or a self-conscious narrative that compels itself to obvious closure, her imaginative power may then truly explore and execute the potential profoundness of what could essentially be her work.

***

Characters: 2.5 stars
Plot: 3 stars
Language/Narrative: 2.5 stars
Dialogue: 2.5 stars
Pacing: 3 stars
Cover Design: 4 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Penguin Random House Canada on behalf of Anchor Canada for providing me with an e-book of The Dead Husband Project by Sarah Meehan Sirk through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

author - sarah meehan sirk

Sarah Meehan Sirk is a writer and radio producer. Her fiction has appeared in various journals and magazines and is anthologized in The Journey Prize Stories.

At the CBC, she’s produced for national shows including Q (now q) and Day 6, and hosted the 2015 summer series Stripped. Before that, she produced a Toronto crime show, hosted sports programs, filed human rights reports with Ghanaian journalists in West Africa, and co-produced, wrote, and hosted a short TV series on minor hockey that was nominated for what was then known as a Gemini award (it lost to the Olympics.) She has also produced a son, and a daughter.

She studied math and philosophy at the University of Toronto, and was mentored by David Adams Richards at the Humber School for Writers. She lives in Toronto with her young family. The Dead Husband Project is her first book.

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You can connect with Sarah Meehan Sirk on Twitter and Goodreads.

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Zara

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Book Review: Disasters in the First World: Stories by Olivia Clare

05.28.2017

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zaralibrary

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Category: General Fiction (Adult), Short Stories

Author: Olivia Clare

Format: E-book via NetGalley, 192 pages

Publisher: Grove Atlantic

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2661-0

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

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Summary from Publisher:

Olivia Clare’s delightfully strange and tender debut traces the intersection of larger-than-life forces—natural and otherwise—in our daily lives. From siblings whose relationship is as fragile as glass, to a woman grappling with both an emotional and physical drought, to a superstitious spouse fearful of misfortune, Disasters in the First World explores the real and the fantastical, environmental and man-made calamities, and the human need to comprehend the possible, the probable, the unknown.

Deeply nimble and perceptive, Clare delves into the tumultuous depths of human emotion as well as the messiness of relationships, unmasking the most revealing moments of connection—no matter how fleeting. In “Pittsburgh in Copenhagen,” a man and a woman confront infidelity and estrangement as they share one last night together. “Pétur” tells the tale of a son who takes his mother on an Icelandic vacation only to be trapped together in close quarters by a volcanic eruption. “Rusalka’s Long Legs” follows a young girl’s treacherously long walk through the woods with her unpredictable mother. And in “The Visigoths,” an older sister finds a way to break through to her brother who struggles to fit in.

With outstanding precision and grace, the thirteen stories in this collection uncover truths beneath both actual and imagined disasters. They each exist as exquisite and mysterious universes—and through their intimate, profoundly moving worlds, Clare’s clarity of voice rises as a distinctive and masterful new talent.

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

The unfortunate demise of the short story is that it is terribly underrated as a genre. As a creative writer who studied English Literature and Creative Writing in university, I was privy to the hard-earned politic of the short story and poetry workshops inevitable to earning those degrees.

And while longer, flushed out novels are largely popular, it’s their older sister, the short story, which is not only more difficult to write for its critical voice, paced movement, and thoughtful, active plots, but essentially for its succinct and shorter form.

The short story is the foundation of every writer’s ability—and if you fail there, you fail as a writer. Period. If a writer can’t write a good 1,500-word short story, how can you expect the writer to write an even interesting 300-page novel? It’s just not done. At least not successfully.

Which is why I applaud Olivia Clare’s ambitious 13-short story collection, Disasters in the First World.

Each individual story is superb in its craft: from Pétur’s serious tone and dark, revelatory secrets; to the character, Blake’s, high-functioning intelligence in The Visigoths; to the subversive terror invoked by Cullen in the story, Olivia; or the unnerving imagination of Del in Rusalka’s Long Legs.

And those are only four stories.

It’s clear in Clare’s writing that her narrative style is adept, exactly aware that what is required to share with her readers and what is omitted is just as significant in not only moving a story along in its plot or revelations, but in also what she would like readers to be left with to imagine. In each of Clare’s stories is an underlying story, driven by real dialogue and strange and sometimes broken, yet eccentric and fascinating characters.

While the plots in the stories themselves reveal the imminent dangers of conflict, the heart of her stories, too, are the characters in relationship or tension with one another, and how they articulate themselves and their understanding. The characters, like the writing, is mature—with serious themes like sickness, mental illness, love, desire, yearning, injustice.

There’s the shift in the knowledge of Tristan’s creatinine levels in the story Creatinine; the ingratiating behaviour inevitable between a potential daughter-in-law with her boyfriend’s hermitic mother in Two Cats, the Chickens, and Trees; the battle of coping with the anxiety and depression of a loved one shown in the incessant email conversations of the story, Things that Aren’t the World; or the estranged silences, which verbalize yearning, yet repression in Pittsburgh in Copenhagen.

Memory and nostalgia play crucial roles in Clare’s stories, too, from childhood play in Quiet! Quiet!; to the desperate need for company and touch in the loneliness of the destitute in the story, For Strangers; to the distant nonchalance, yet mature awareness of Nola in Santa Lucia; to the random beauty and unlikelihood found in the travesty of Little Moon; to the self-indulgent exuberance of hope and recklessness in the Eye of Water.

If you’re unfamiliar with short stories as a genre, this strong collection will not only introduce you to the wonder of this form, but induce you into a new following. These stories are enjoyable as they are intriguing and most importantly, excellently written. It’s clear that Olivia Clare is a gifted writer with the imagination and depth that writers—and readers—aspire to read and learn from. This may be her debut collection of short stories, but she is worthy of the recognition received as such writers before her like J.D. Salinger, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Elizabeth Hay. If you appreciate literary fiction, you’ll be extremely pleased with this collection of rare, dark, yet beautiful stories.

***

Characters: 5 stars

Plot: 5 stars

Language/Narrative: 4 stars

Dialogue: 5 stars

Pacing: 5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Grove Atlantic for providing me with an e-copy of the book, Disasters of the First World by Olivia Clare through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

author - olivia clare

Olivia Clare is the author of a book of poems, THE 26-HOUR DAY (New Issues), and a book of short stories, DISASTERS IN THE FIRST WORLD (Black Cat/Grove Atlantic). In fiction, she is a recipient of a 2014 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and a 2014 O. Henry Prize. In poetry, she is a recipient of a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation and the Olive B. O’Connor Fellowship from Colgate University. Her stories have appeared in The O. Henry Prize Stories, Granta, Southern Review, n+1, Boston Review, and elsewhere. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Southern Review, London Magazine, FIELD, and other journals. She is currently an Assistant Professor in Creative Writing at Sam Houston State University.

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You can connect with Olivia Clare on her official website, on Facebook, on Twitter, and Goodreads.

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Zara

zara - kai lan frame

Welcome to Zara’s Closet

A Place Worth Rummaging Through

blue stencil door

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02.22.2016

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

A closet is a wonderfully, small, enclosed space one can rummage through—or hide in. Now, what you find there, ranges in varying styles and tastes depending on which closet you happen to fall (or sneak) into.

The closet bears for us, a place to house our clothes, our bags, our shoes, our knick-knacks, our dirty laundry, even our metaphorical “skeletons” and secrets: perhaps old photographs, the ones which exist as hardcopy prints in black and white as old testimonies to an oral past told to us by our grandmothers, and those photos yellowing with age from the vintage 70’s in which our parents listened to the Bee Gee’s on an eight-track and snapped instant pictures with a Polaroid camera.

Closets are more than a highly acclaimed storage space, but can be a place of refuge in a game of Hide and Seek, a place of solace when tears require solace, or a place where men and women decide who they will be for the day by the clothes and shoes they wear—at least to the rest of the voyeuristic world.

As a seasoned blogger, I spent some time building a book blog called, The Bibliotaphe Closet, with the intent of encouraging literacy through the review of new books, the announcement of literary events, and the support of a vibrant, enthusiastic, reading community.

But, while my lifestyle has taken a passionate change to include a number of other interests on top of literature— it was suggested to me by a friend to perhaps begin a new blog that could showcase these new interests under one umbrella, rather than attempt to host multiple blogs at one time.

Good friends are worth listening to. And so here I am…opening another door to a new closet.  And I’m excited to share its contents with you!

Family

What better way than to share some advice on my experience with young children when I have two youngin’s of my own? Anything from play dates, to crafts, to places that are not only kid-friendly, but kid-loved.

Beauty

Or showcase the latest and greatest cosmetics that I come across when I’m craving for a new lipstick that we all know we don’t really need, but would be so disappointed to live without…right, ladies?

Books

There are books, too, lining my staircase waiting to be read and reviewed; stories that not only speak to the intimacies of our own fears and challenges, but also speak to a larger consciousness in our society. I would love to talk about that with you.

Coffee

And since I’m an avid Starbucks, coffeehouse rat, there are gift cards to hunt for and collect, as well as coffee-based drinks to taste and review for the masses. Maybe you’re obsessed with Starbucks like myself? Or maybe you’d much rather drink mud-water than buy from a trendy corporation that charges a buck per coffee bean…plus the namesake of your first-born child? (I’m kidding.)

Cooking

While I confess I’m not a natural in the kitchen, I do need to eat and eat healthy—which means, like you, I’m always on the lookout for a great-tasting, uncomplicated, yet nutritious recipe to fill my tummy and impress my husband and kids—a recipe that potentially doesn’t blow my budget or take me 10 hours to make before I change my mind and run off to a fast-food restaurant just because I don’t have the time!

Fitness

This goes hand-in-hand with living an active and healthy lifestyle. For those that don’t know, I weighed more than 200 lbs.  six months ago and have successfully shed the unwanted pounds in lieu of a lean, strong body through hard work, dedication, a balanced diet, and tons of exercise.

If you’ve ever struggled with poor body image or would like to shed a few pounds in order to get a little bit healthier—no matter what state your body is in now—I’m here for you as an advocate of fitness and healthy life choices. (I’m also here when you feel like eating everything in your kitchen, plus your neighbour’s kitchen—at 11:30 p.m.—because I, too, have been there!)

Paper

But, I’m not always at the gym either. I also like to spend time penning words to paper—literally—sending correspondence to penpals across the globe. If you like all-things paper and know what washi tape is (or would like to), there’s information on that here, too.

I’m also a writer. You can get all the juicy details about that on my bio page, but aside from hosting this blog, I’ve been known to publish a few pieces here and there, as well as pull all-nighters begging my muse to give me the right words (and stamina) to finish a chapter in a prose-fiction piece, or utter the eloquence and hidden metaphors bellied into a poem that I’m compelled to pluck onto paper.

If you’re a story writer or a poet, or simply love words and language, there will be a cranny of stories and poems for you to enjoy here while you visit.

Fashion

Or perhaps you’re keen on keeping yourself well put-together? (Because, really, who doesn’t want to look good?) Or perhaps you are innately drawn to beautiful things and luxurious brands?

I love the art and style, clothing and accessories afford me in presenting myself to the world and I’m more than happy to share the latest trends (and the best deals) with friends!

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If you’ve ever rummaged through a closet, it’s always a delight to discover something you never realized was there before. Here, at Zara’s Closet, there’s going to be piles of things to look at, go through, and think about.

And you’re welcome to stay as long as you like.

I have no qualms if you find something that interests you and by browsing, reading, and commenting, you get a little joy, too–or even a little help along the way.

This is, after all, my closet—but I promise my readers to always leave the door wide open.

Welcome—and come on in!

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Zara

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