Finding Dora Maar: An Artist, An Address Book, A Life

By Brigitte Benkemoun

Review by Sage Webb

Getty Publications

2020

5 To-Be-Read Stacks!

For those interested in art, history, creative women and the issues they have faced and continue to face, and the woman who inspired Picasso's Weeping Woman, Benkemoun delivers with this true story of happening upon Maar's address book and using it to "find" this enigmatic, complicated artist. 

When Benkemoun's husband needs a new day planner, he turns to eBay, finding there, and purchasing, a vintage leather diary. Inside the leather cover, however, Benkemoun ultimately finds more than old day-planner pages to replace: she finds twenty pages of notes, phone numbers, and addresses penned by the Surrealist Dora Maar, the woman who inspired Picasso, photographed the creation of Guernica, and left a legacy of mystery and conjecture. 

 

Over the course of two years, Benkemoun uses the aged (and not always easy to read) pages to piece together Maar's life, meet with people connected to her life in some way, visit places she had visited, and even end up at her grave. In the story that results from this journey, Benkemoun raises hard questions about gender, mental health, principles, art, control, and human frailty. At times "nauseated" by Maar, at times tender toward her, Benkemoun gives readers an intimate glimpse into the world of a woman who truly "suffered for her art," who suffered at the hands of men, who arguably suffered by her own hand. 

 

I've read Francoise Gilot's Life With Picasso, the memoir of the woman (herself an artist as well) who replaced Maar as Picasso's mistress. Benkemoun's work gives another perspective from which to study the women who supported Picasso and his work---and bore his caprice and hostility. But more importantly, it provides a look at Maar herself, at this haunted, talented woman who seems obscured by so many shades of gray.  

The Lost Power

By Avanti Centrae

Sage Webb Discusses the Start of This Thriller

Black Opal Books

2019

So I'm just starting this one. . . .

Liz and I had fun breaking down our "enviro-thriller" discussion last month, so I thought I'd do something similar this month with Centrae's The Lost Power. Centrae and I belong to International Thriller Writers, and I came across the book through an ITW Facebook group.

 

With a feel perhaps similar to a Dan Brown novel, the book doesn't fall into my usual "genre sphere," but so far, it's fun: we've got a mysterious ancient weapon, a Russian sniper, a savvy Aikido instructor, and a sweet foster kid. Excerpts of praise at the start of the book give a quote from Steve Berry: "a good ole' fashioned rip-roaring adventure." I'm guessing that may sum it up!

 

We'll see. . . .     

Wolfe and Other Poems

By Donald Mace Williams

Review by Red Velvette

Wundor Editions

2018

4+ To-Be-Read Stacks!

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I read a lot of poetry . . .  it was kind of my thing. But in recent times, I have moved away from poetry and toward non-fiction. Donald Mace Williams’s collection of poems reminds me why I love poetry and why it has been so important to me.

 

This slim volume holds verse that will touch any reader. The themes are deeply personal yet universal. Williams writes in a descriptive, yet concise, style that fits his particular model of poetry. In the shorter poems, he doesn’t waste adjectives, yet he is able to describe feelings that have hitherto been nameless. His epic poem, Wolfe, is the modern, Americanized version of Beowulf. Williams took the best tradition of Old English lore and unexpectedly made it into an American Western, including cowboys, horses, skinwalkers, and the Painted Desert.

 

While Williams does not necessarily call out his monsters as skinwalkers, I filled in that blank myself. I love the way a good author will sometimes leave enough open to interpretation that the reader can bring their own frame of reference to a story and it suddenly becomes more personal. Although classified as poetry, Wolfe is a great adventure story just as Beowulf is. If you want a tale in the vein of Viking tradition or Greek lore, give Wolfe a read. 

 

This is worthy of more than four to-be-read stacks!     

The Wildlands

By Abby Geni

Liz Continues the Discussion

Counterpoint

2018

So in November, when I was only about a third into The Wildlands, Sage and I started a little discussion, putting Geni's book beside T.C. Boyle's When the Killing's Done. I also decided to "dissect" my reading "process" a little as I went through Geni's book. 

As I mentioned before, Counterpoint has provided me with good reading in the past, and Geni's The Wildlands received good reviews, so I grabbed a copy. The novel focuses on an Oklahoma family devastated by a tornado that leaves the four children orphaned. Fighting poverty, a bit of something perhaps akin to survivor's guilt, and the challenges of growing up, the foursome runs into problems when the boy of the group becomes an environmental crusader and kind of kidnaps the nine-year-old baby girl of the family, pushing her to join him as he terrorizes those who harm animals. 

Now that I've finished the book, I'll break down some more pros and cons, and discuss how this book from a non-Big Five publisher out of Berkeley offers prose outside of the big-press model. 

Pros:

I mentioned before that I'm a big fan of books that really develop their locales and settings. Geni does a good job of that here (though sometimes things do feel a little off; one isn't going to find a naturally occurring saguaro cactus on the streets of East Texas). Geni also gets creative with the narrative point of view, having much of the story come from Cora, a nine-year-old girl. (Cora's much older sister tells the rest of the story.) The mix works well, though it does actually involve Cora looking back, much later in her life, at the events.

Cons:

As I've said in the past, I'm not a reader who needs a ton of action or speed, but for those who like to move along, this book takes its time in places.  

Boiling It Down:

The thing with The Wildlands is it has a sort of passion, a bit of abandon, that a reader may be less likely to find in a big-press or more commercial book. Geni has clearly given her audience a story about which she is (pardon the repetition) passionate. She's tried to craft something a little different: the youthful narrator, the domestic terrorist with a heart for animals, the settings, the narrative within a narrative (I won't give it away, but there's almost an echo of some Vonnegut and Billy Pilgrim, and a dash of tall-tale story within the story). The book has a raw feel.

I'm not going to rate this one (okay, it would likely get FOUR to-be-read stacks) because I'm feeling like I may want to start moving away from ratings. In many ways, to me, they don't ring authentic. But I would recommend the book for someone who enjoys family drama, environmental stories, roadtrip tales, a pinch of Southern Gothic, and more complicated endings. 

Read Local, L.L.C., is a small (we hope to grow!) community of book lovers. We review books published by independent/university/small presses and post our reviews and thoughts in an effort to raise awareness of independent-press books. The Read Local, L.L.C., entity is owned by the parent company of Stoneman House Press, L.L.C., and that publisher's work appears on this website (we make money when Stoneman House sells books), but not everyone who writes content for us or participates in our community works for Stoneman House. Aside from Stoneman House, we also have relationships (personal and/or professional) with some of the authors whose books appear here. Some (like Sage Webb) write reviews for us and help lead us (and they make money when their books sell). We note when we have a relationship with a book, publisher, or author. Otherwise, we do not have relationships with the authors and publishers listed here. They appear here only because we liked their books and we like reviewing books. (We will be as transparent as possible when we post here about things in which we have a financial stake. Not just because of regulations like those in Part 255 of Title 16 of the Code of Federal Regulations, but because we really are here just to have some literary fun.) If you are an author or publisher of a book that appears here, feel free to reach out to us! We'd love to hear from you. We are at readlocalbooks@hotmail.com. And if you are an author or publisher and you would like us to remove your book from our site, just let us know. We are here to serve the literary community. If you have questions, reach out.

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