Monday, July 17, 2017

My friend Melanie wrote a book, and Penguin Teen Canada published it, I FINALLY got to read it, and now I’m getting to write about it! If you can’t tell, I’m pretty excited about it—and with good reasons. Here are the top four things I love about Melanie Fishbane’s debut, Maud: A Novel:

One: the voice. Melanie knows her subject really, really well. She has read and read and re-read Maud’s fiction and her life-writing, and that knowledge comes through in the voices of both Maud and the narrator. The protagonist’s voice echoes the Maud of her early journals, excited about friends, and boys, and possibilities, passionate about language and feelings and experiences, about conveying her world through her words. The book’s voices capture the tone of both Maud’s creative and life-writing, but Melanie brings a contemporary engagement to what could have been fusty or old-fashioned. She helps Maud speak to a new generation of readers.

Two: the homages. Melanie is a fan not just of Montgomery, but of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and some scenes (driving with Will, poring over her wardrobe) call to mind vividly favorite moments from Wilder’s Little House series. But Melanie also manages subtle homages to Montgomery’s own work. I see echoes of not just Anne, Montgomery’s most famous character, but also to Emily, the character that feels most like me—and most like my conception of Maud herself. These homages are lovely little Easter-eggs in the narrative, but readers new to Montgomery won’t be impeded at all by their lack of context.

Three: the filling in of gaps. This is a novel, and it never pretends to be anything else. Melanie has taken what we do know about young Maud and fleshed it out, created stories, conversations, context, and relationships that delve deeper into her intimate and emotional life than anything left by Maud herself. These creations are eminently respectful of her subject, and both honor Maud’s life and reach out to new readers.

Four: the writing. There is an intimacy between the author and her subject, a closeness of respect, admiration, and, yes, love; yet there’s recognition that her subject is human, flawed and imperfect. As I have mentioned, Melanie brings a contemporary intimacy that sees her character’s flaws—notably her pride and her sensitivity—but makes her accessible, likable, and understandable. She has worked to, in some ways, reflect Montgomery’s own love of nature and delight in description, and to build a true K├╝unstlerroman, a story of an artist’s coming-of-age. I love the voices of the character and the narrator, but behind those, I most of all love the voice of the author.

Okay, five things.

Five: the end matter: I am a big nerd, and I simply adore context. This book includes references, a section titled “More about Maud and Her Times,” a section on “What Happened to Maud’s Friends,” and, of course, a section on “Further Reading.” Each of these pieces offers a wealth of information and excellent resources that will start the budding Montgomery fan or scholar on the road to discovery.

Melanie J. Fishbane was given a daunting (and some might say unfulfillable) task: to bring to life, in fiction, a singularly well-beloved author. She has done it, and, in so-doing she has offered to a new generation of readers her subject’s literary bounty.
If you want to own a copy, as I'm sure you will, try your local bookseller first. To read more about it (or even to purchase a copy if you're really desperate and don't have a local bookseller nearby), click here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Musing on Laura Ingalls Wilder and L. M. Montgomery

It turns out that people who are passionate about one of my favorite authors are often passionate about another of my favorite authors. I continue to feel this is odd, so I've decided to think about it here, aloud, as it were, to see if I can work it out for myself as more than a random coincidence.

One of the first books I recall reading on my own (beyond beginning readers) is Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods. When I was in second grade, my mother helped me select it from the Scholastic Book Club order form and told me she felt I could manage it well, and to let my teacher, Miss Mittlestet, know that she had said so. When the book arrived, my mother and I read it together, and over the next few years we accumulated all eight of the books in the series (I'm not counting On the Way Home, but that's a discussion for another post) and I read them over and over and over again. In fact, I read them annually until several years after college. These books were formative in my choice of children's literature as the focus of my graduate work.

Fast-forward from second grade, and rewind from graduate work, and you have me, at age 10 or 11, hanging out with my mother, aunts, and grandmother on a Saturday afternoon. They were playing Scrabble, which I had not yet learned to appreciate, and I had finished the book I had brought with me, so I was bored, and lying under the dining room table. My grandmother went up to the attic and returned with a blue hardcover book with a barely visible title inscribed on the cover and spine: Emily of New Moon, by L. M. Montgomery. I was engrossed in a very few moments, and have remained engrossed since that moment. I expanded my Montgomery oevre, moving into the Pat books (provided by my grandmother) and the Anne books (procured at local book stores), and, when I was several years older, borrowed the fragile, treasured early edition copies of the Emily sequels. Again, I was hooked, but this time not simply on a character or series, but on an author. Again, I read and reread and reread. In the 1980s I received a complete Emily boxed set from my grandmother, and continued to read all three novels annually for over a decade. Like Wilder, Montgomery became integral to my decision to seek a Master's degree in Children's Literature. In fact, my MA thesis focused on the feminist (or anti-feminist) ending of the Emily trilogy.

So, what is it about these two authors, born just over seven years apart, but with vastly different biographies, that resonates with so many of the same readers? The language, certainly, with their vivid descriptions and potent senses of place, but also the characters: strong, engaging, imperfect, human girls, girls with goals and plans and friends and enemies. Girls who might be, who, indeed, became, my friends. But lots of authors of the time wrote similar books, and most of those authors have faded into obscurity. So what keeps people gathering to talk about these authors, their lives, their work?

Please feel free to comment on this, and check back in a week or so for more musings on the subject.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Four More Days!

Here's an academic opportunity for enrichment and participation:

L.M. Montgomery and Gender, 2016

The 2016 L.M. Montgomery Institute's Biennial conference focuses on gender, and there is a whole lot to explore with LMM and gender. From the rivalry between Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe in Anne of Green Gables to the conflicted relationships in the Emily and Pat series, to the richly-gendered text of Jane of Lantern Hill, this conference promises to plumb the depths of Montgomery's own complex ideologies about gender.

Please consider submitting!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

we were liars, by e. lockhart

Wow. I thought I knew what to expect from e. lockhart, and I do, in a very, very general way: Excellence, thought-provoking and complex narration, interesting and multi-faceted characters, unpredictable storylines, humor, footnotes.

we were liars offers all of these qualities, except the footnotes, but it offers them in a way that is not remotely typical of the flippant, quirky style for which lockhart is best-known and widely-beloved. No, we were liars instead offers that most engaging and intriguing of literary tropes, the unreliable narrator. Unreliable, but candid; unreliable, but honest. Unreliable not because she hides from us, but because she hides from herself. She tells the truth, but, as Dickinson does, tells it slant.

Privileged and perhaps spoiled, narrator and protagonist Cadence (Cady), acknowledges her privilege, recognizes the vaunted social status of her mother’s family: “We are Sinclairs. No one is needy. No one is wrong. We live, at least in the summertime, on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts,” reads the back matter, and Cadence suggests, “Perhaps that is all you need to know. Except that some of us are liars.”

The lies of the title and back matter pervade the novel substantively and thematically; the ones we see first seem part and parcel of being part of a socially prominent family: we are happy and perfect. Others are more subtle: who lies? About what? Why? I can’t really discuss the specifics of these lies without spoiling, so I won’t. Suffice it to say that we were liars puts lockhart in a subtly new category of excellence.

Read it.

Friday, February 13, 2015

L.M. Montgomery Special Issue of The Looking Glass: New Perspectives on Children's Literature

Hello readers and scholars!

The journal at which I am an editor is presenting a special issue focusing on the life and work of L.M. Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables (and so many more novels, stories, poems, and life-writings). Please consider sharing your work with one of our many sections, from the amusing to the reflective to the academic to the pedagogical. The link to the paper call is here. Take a little time and browse the journal, to get a sense of who we are and what we do.

Peace to you all, and thank you for considering us for your work!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Rainbow Rowell really rocks

I have resisted reading Rainbow Rowell, even though I had heard nothing but good things about her work. But I needed an audio book, and Fangirl was new at my library, so I picked it up. And didn't want to put it down (or leave the car, in this case). Rowell manages to take conventions and tropes and transform them into fiction that is engaging, challenging, entertaining, and so, so, SO well-written. The meta-fiction of it is skillfully done: Rowell creates the writerly voices of both Gemma T. Leslie and her protagonist, Cath, and makes them both believable and distinguishable. The dysfunction within the primary relationships emerges slowly, organically, sometimes painfully, and utterly effectively. And, miraculously, much of that dysfunction is resolved, primarily through the growth and emerging confidence of Cath, but also through various acts of bravery and faith from other characters. Watching the hot messes begin to make sense of themselves and recognize their own absurdity was immensely satisfying. Fortunately, I received two more Rowell novels for Christmas, and I'm VERY excited about seeing what they have to offer.">