Title: Three Flames by Alan Lightman
Published by Counterpoint LLC
Published: September 3rd 2019
From the international bestselling author of Einstein’s Dreams comes a deeply compelling story about the lives of a Cambodian family—set between 1973, just before the Cambodian Genocide by the Khmer Rouge—to 2015.
The stories of one Cambodian family are intricately braided together in Alan Lightman’s haunting Three Flames, his first work of fiction in six years.
Three Flames portrays the struggles of a Cambodian farming family against the extreme patriarchal attitudes of their society and the cruel and dictatorial father, set against a rural community that is slowly being exposed to the modern world and its values. A mother must fight against memories of her father’s death at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, and her powerful desire for revenge. A daughter is married off at sixteen to a wandering husband and his domineering aunt; another daughter is sent to the city to work in the factories to settle her father’s gambling debt. A son dreams of marrying the most beautiful girl of the village and escaping the life of a farmer. And the youngest daughter bravely challenges her father so she can stay in school and strive for a better future.
A vivid story of revenge and forgiveness, of a culture smothering the dreams of freedom, and of tradition against courage, Three Flames grows directly from Lightman’s work as the founder of the Harpswell Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to advance a new generation of female leaders in Cambodia and all of Southeast Asia.
Alan Lightman’s Three Flames
follows the story of a Cambodian family throughout the years told through interwoven chapters from each family member’s point of view. I love family stories that are told throughout the decades, illuminating the secret pains and joys each member of the family harbors. Even though it’s a short book, I found myself thoroughly engaged and involved with the story, and I couldn’t put it down. It’s easy to read in a single sitting or two, and the lives of the characters and the struggles they faced will stick with you and make you think as they did for me.
Three Flames explores the costs and consequences of living in a deeply patriarchal society and the affects that has on both men and women and the roles each are expected to perform. It’s difficult sometimes to reconcile that some of this story is set in the last decade because I, as a white woman living in America, am incredibly privileged and have many more freedoms than the women have in Cambodia today. Lightman’s work and passion with his foundation to assist women in Cambodia shines in this novel, giving a voice to people that many may not have heard about or thought of without having read this. It’s a reminder to us all that oppression against women and others thought of as “lesser” still exists to such extremes (and what we might call outdated ways) today.
Lightman’s use of language and theme is precise, rich, compassionate, and fitting for a novel that delves into difficult realities. It’s well worth looking into, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I finished it.
Many thanks to Counterpoint LLC for sending me a complimentary copy to review! All opinions are my own.
Title: A Job You Mostly Won't Know How to Do by Pete Fromm
Published by Counterpoint LLC
Published: May 7th 2019
Format: Trade Paper
Five-time winner of the Pacific Northwest Bookseller Award Pete Fromm joins Counterpoint with his big-hearted new novel, a love story about family full of hope and resiliency and second chances
A taciturn carpenter has been too busy putting the final details on others' homes to pay much attention to his own fixer-upper. But when his wife becomes pregnant with their first child, he realizes he'll need to apply his art closer to home. For Taz and Marnie, their dreams are coming into focus, sustained by their deep sense of love and now family.
The blueprint for the perfect life eludes Taz, plummeting him head first in the new strange world of fatherhood, of responsibility and late nights and unexpected joy and sorrow. It is a deceptively small novel with a very big heart.
Over eleven books and over twenty years, Pete Fromm has become one of the west's literary legends. A Job You Mostly Won't Know How To Do beautifully captures people who, isolated by land and by their actions, end up building a life that is both expected and brave.
Pete Fromm’s A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How To Do
examines the aftermath of a man’s experience with fatherhood after his wife dies in childbirth. It’s a quiet yet emotionally wrought novel that wavers between fiction and a dream. Taz must now learn how to navigate being a father and regaining his sense of self once his plans have suddenly been shattered.
Taz is understandably overwhelmed with parenthood, a job mostly nobody knows how to do, and Fromm weaves the ins and outs and ups and downs of Taz’s new life with his daughter. We see first hand the ways in which Taz makes it through the day, simply and sometimes only with his wife’s voice in his head to keep him going.
Throughout the novel, imagery of rebuilding a house ties in with Taz rebuilding his life in a way that feels fresh and engaging. I didn’t want to stop reading it once I picked it up. It’s unflinchingly honest in its revelations of Taz’s journey, but it’s full of heart and understanding, and you seem to grow right along with Taz.
Read this if you want some quiet fiction with a lot of depth and enjoy stories of what it means to be a parent.
Thank you to Counterpoint LLC for sending me a complimentary copy for review! All opinions are my own.
Title: Improvement by Joan Silber
Published by Counterpoint LLC
Published: November 14th 2017
One of our most gifted writers of fiction returns with a bold and piercing novel about a young single mother living in Harlem, her eccentric aunt, and the decisions they make that have unexpected implications for the world around them.
Reyna knows her relationship with Boyd isn't perfect, yet she sees him through a three-month stint at Riker's Island, their bond growing tighter. Kiki, now settled in the East Village after a youth that took her to Turkey and other far off places--and loves--around the world, admires her niece's spirit but worries that motherhood to four-year old Oliver might complicate a difficult situation. Little does she know that Boyd is pulling Reyna into a smuggling scheme, across state lines, violating his probation. When Reyna takes a step back, her small act of resistance sets into motion a tapestry of events that affect the lives of loved ones and strangers around them.
A novel that examines conviction, connection, repayment, and the possibility of generosity in the face of loss, Improvement is as intricately woven together as Kiki's beloved Turkish rugs, as colorful as the tattoos decorating Reyna's body, with narrative twists and turns as surprising and unexpected as the lives all around us. The Boston Globe said -No other writer can make a few small decisions ripple across the globe, and across time, with more subtlety and power, - and Improvement is Silber's most shining achievement.
The cover of Joan Silber’s Improvement
features a carpet that is woven into the connective stories. The novel is written in sparse, well-crafted prose, and connects the stories of six characters through strong, thin threads. I loved the butterfly effect explored in these pages, and Silber seems to know just what to reveal and just what to led the reader consider for themselves in the connected narratives.
I love how the novel itself is structured with an overarching narrative that is split into smaller sections in first- and third-person narration. The stories read almost like standalone stories, and I appreciated that format because each section felt immediate and personal. These stories, including the overarching story, show the masterwork of a literary butterfly effect. Each of the decisions the characters make affect their own lives and the lives of those around them, and we as readers are invited to consider those decisions in tandem with the decisions and the effects those choices have on our own lives.
Joan Silber’s Improvement explores the connective power of love and the changes — no matter how large or small — love brings into our lives. Love improves us if we only let it in.
Thank you to Counterpoint Press for sending me a free copy in exchange for a review!