Saturday, April 28, 2012

Book Review: Only the Lonely

I have meant to blog regularly about our current trip to Galicia, but two prior commitments are putting that on the back burner: 1) An agent is interested in my MG mystery if I rewrite certain portions of it, so I have been diligently doing just that each day. 2) I have two book reviews I'd promised, and so I am taking care of those, one by one. (Rest assured, I'm also writing copious journal notes, and my husband has been taking numerous pictures, so on return to California, I'll do several posts about Galicia and some new discoveries on this trip.)

And now to the review of Richard Hughes' intriguing novel, Only the Lonely.

It isn’t often one encounters a family saga written by a man and from a man’s point of view. Much as I love to read traditional family sagas, this was a refreshing book for that very reason.The book takes the protagonist, Winston Hamilton from 1917 to 1945, and thus, through two world wars, fought by two different generations.

In 1917, Winston delivers coal to homes in a horse-drawn wagon, lives with his parents, and enjoys a good mug of beer with his friends at Louis’s Irish Pub. Then he accepts an invitation to Abby Cherniky’s house for a lesson in cursive handwriting. To the contemporary era this may seem a rather tame encounter. But Winston’s been delivering coal to her family for some time, and he and Abby have noticing each other. The handwriting lessons are a ploy on both sides for Winston to start courting in an era when a young man had to have a reason to come to a young woman’s house while the family checked him over.
But Mrs. Cherniky disapproves of alcohol, and when Winston realizes he’s deeply in love with Abby and wants to marry her, he gives up alcohol and the pub life. The author layers the difficulty for Winston very nicely, laying the seeds for his later problem, which mushrooms after their marriage and Abby’s death in childbirth. 
Devastated, Winston returns to drinking and gives his daughter to his in-laws to raise, since he can’t bear the reminder of Abby and doesn’t think he can be a good father. He also enlists in the “Great War” going on in Europe at that time, and his self-destructive urge leads him to fight valiantly, if recklessly, ironically making him  hero. On return to civilian live, he drinks to forget everything he saw in the war. He also starts his own business, but the alcohol has taken hold, and it deeply impacts his second marriage and his second family.
I wouldn’t want this to suggest that the book becomes a tract against drinking. The strength of this aspect of the story is the way in which the author gives a sympathetic understanding of the tragic turns of Winston’s life, events that are often beyond his control and only made worse by his dependence on alcohol. The book is about much more than his drinking. Winston was a lonely man to begin with, and alcohol helps him to preserve loneliness despite work and family life. He is truly one of “the lonely” of the title until a later turn in the road gives him a glimpse of a possible change before it’s too late. 
Particularly strong were the war scenes and their details that brought war to a reader in all its impact. But one of the author’s main strengths is the ability to render scenes in general with simple brushstrokes. Some samples:

“The trees looked dead, but Winston knew it was just a ruse to trick the bitter winter out of its biting sting. The trees had merely withdrawn into themselves as if meditating on their dreams.”
“The trees had changed to different shades of yellow and red. The sun was just above the tree line, backlighting the large white clouds with glowing borders.”
“He went back downstairs, decided to look in the basement, and walked down the rough-hewn stairs. The cold musty cellar was dimly lit from light coming through small windows near the tops of the stone foundation walls.”
Following a storm that devastated neighborhoods: 
“Mrs. Logan knelt in the middle of her wooden living room floor— practically all that was left of her house, that and the broken brick fireplace, the top half of the chimney strewn across her yard. Old and frail, with tousled gray hair, she clutched a picture frame to her chest and cried mournfully.”
Told mainly in third person singular point of view, with Winston being the point of view character, the story at times enters other points of view. But the story is firmly Winston’s.
One small nitpick is a I noticed in paragraphing: Sometimes paragraphs are indented, and sometimes not. Sometimes there are line breaks between paragraphs and sometimes not. I have noticed this in other e-books, so it seems to be a common formatting problem. After the first few pages, it didn’t particularly bump me, although I do think it’s something that could be addressed in future books. 

Only the Lonely
can be purchased at Barnes and Noble and various locations listed on Goodreads, as well as his story collection, Battles and Other Stories.   

He also can be contacted at his blog, Living and Writing by Richard P. Hughes or at R. Patick Hughes's Blog on Goodreads, as well as Facebook 

Friday, April 20, 2012

1st Week in Galicia

On the way to our village

Our first week has flown by. Eight days, to be exact. That is, eight days after the evening of our arrival. We've been socializing, entertaining with Indian food, and we've had overnight guests. And still we've managed to squeeze in a bit of Spanish study each day and, in my case, work on a rewrite. The rewrite is still in the research phase for new information I need to work into the story.

Mornings begin with hot chocolate, and then coffee, at our little table in the galeria, an indoor hallway lined with windows) staring out at the small pasture across the sheep path, with its little apple tree. (It looks like this when it isn't pouring rain. Since we've arrived, though, it's rained quite a bit with only intermittent sunshine.)  
The field beyond our gate

The apple tree
Then my husband showers while I write in my journal, and then it's my turn to shower. After that, we usually go into a nearby small town called Escairon. It's really more a large, village than a small town -- a town only in relation to the area villages, especially ours, which has only 8 continuous inhabitants during the year, and a sprinkle more during summer months.

In Escairon we stock up on most of our daily groceries at a little market called Alipro, and it's also where we refill our butano (butane) tanks for heating water and cooking. Then we go to a small café called Circulo do Saviñao (where I'm sitting now) and have a second cup of café con leche and do our work. (My husband is a design engineer and often has Skype conferences here in this café.) The wifi here is free, and everyone seems to come to use it. We often see regulars seated at other tables, online with their computers or Skyping. The proprietors are quite happy with this arrangement. And this is not the only place where this is true. A number of café/bars in Monforte have a similar set up. 

Then we usually go home for lunch, though sometimes we drive into Monforte and do some shopping or meet friends for lunch or simply snack at one of the café/bars. We are not big eaters, so for us, lunch usually consists of two raciones and wine at about 2:00 p.m. (which is lunchtime in these parts). A ración is a portion that is bigger than a tapa but smaller than a meal. We're vegetarians, but we eat fish and seafood, so we always find something we like. One of my favorite raciones is pimientos de Padrón, tasty little green peppers fried in olive oil and salt, and they are just coming into season. 

All the stores close down for about two hours so that all the workers can either go home for lunch or to one of the cafés. If you think that's late, suppertime starts at 9:00 p.m. We thought we would never adjust to this on our first visit, but it's amazing. One or two days after our arrival we are totally into it as if we've eaten such late suppers all our lives. 

After our lunch, we usually take a walk on one of the country roads, even on a rainy day.  This area is lovely in any weather, and if you are bundled up right, the fresh, wet air is just invigorating. During the afternoon we may drive around the area, or read, and in the evenings, if we aren't entertaining or meeting friends, we also read. Being a writer, I read all the time, whether traveling or at home in Sacramento. My husband loves to read, but he often doesn't have time at home, since he is busy designing during the day, then reading the newspaper in the evening. Here, he can just kick back and read, since we can't understand any of the newspapers or even the newscasts. (Well, soccer, yes, because he grew up with soccer in India, and can tell everything that's happening, but that's about it.) In warmer weather (usually on our fall trip, but some years on our spring trip as well) we meet our neighbors at the village bench and just talk until sunset.

So that's our day, and the time just seems to drift by. Already eight of them are gone. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Almost Off to Spain

The Puente Roman in Monforte de Lemos
A view from our galería window in Trasulfe

Nightfall in Tasulfe
     Wednesday we will be on our way to Galicia, Spain, for four weeks. Four weeks that will be almost entirely in Spanish, except when we are with our British friends. Does this mean that we are fluent in Spanish? No. It means our Spanish friends are supportive and kind as we thumb madly through our pocket dictionaries to figure out what they just said.
     But we love the experience. And our Spanish is getting better. 

     So, I probably will not be blogging before Sunday. But please check back, because I have lots to share:

     A review of Richard Hughes' story collection, Only the Lonely. (And my apologies, Richard, for putting your last name as Hansen in my last post when I passed out the Lucky 7 Meme. I have another friend named Hansen, and that just leaps out every time. I've made the correction in the post. And anyone reading this today, go check out his cool blog here. . . .)

     A review of a book by Lewis Buzbee (title withheld to keep you wondering.)

     A sprinkle of posts about Galicia.

     I also will be working on my MG while we're there: the one I quoted from in the last post. My goal is to finish this particular rewrite, which is entirely probable, as it's a great place to write, and I'm in the last third of this rewrite.
     And then, it looks like another rewrite. Which may be the final one. (Of course, you know how that goes. . . .)

     For now, it's house cleaning time so that I can leave the domicile in great shape for our fabulous house sitter, whom Cezar adores. (It's the only reason we can leave him for four weeks following his March misery when he had the ear infection.) She lives here while we are gone takes wonderful care of both house and dog.

     I also have a few submissions to get out before we leave, so adios and ciao for now. (Okay, so caio is Italian, but for some reason they say that a lot in Galicia.)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Before I get to some book reviews and interviews that have been on the back burner, It's "catch up" time for some tagging. In March I was tagged by two cool bloggers, Rachna Chhabria and Linda Jackson with The Lucky 7 Meme tag.  
Here's how tagging works 
(although some of you already know this):

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS, WIP.
2. Go to line 7.
3. Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences or paragraphs and 
post them as they are written.
4. Tag 7 authors.
5. Let them know.

Soooooo, here are my 7 sentences: (The car in question is a Model-T)

     All at once everything returned to me--Father's struggles to keep the top up; rain pouring down; all of us pushing to free the wheels from the mire.
     A wave of dizziness washed over me, and I leaned against the doorjamb. Something inside me gave way, and tears gushed out, drenching my face. A long moan broke loose from me, hanging in the air before it turned into racking sobs.
     Michael was nowhere to be seen, but I heard the clatter of his steps and the back porch's door bang as if he had flown up the stairs.
     I wiped my eyes and blew my nose. If I went inside now, everyone would see my face.

And now for the next 7 "tagees": 

Rosi Hollenbeck
Richard Hughes
Lydia Kang
Joanna Marple
Alleged Author
Theresa Milstein
Kurt Chambers

I am looking forward to their 7 sentences, as I know you are. Go check them out, as they have good posts to read.

Meanwhile, any feedback you have for my 7 sentences I'll certainly appreciate.