Summer reads bring complexity of style and theme – Empty Nest, by Curt Swarm


I’m going to recommended a slew of books for this summer’s reading, starting with “Varina,” by Charles Frazier; “The Nix,” by Nathan Hill; and “Mrs. Fletcher,” by Tom Perrotta. All three of these books were reviewed on NPR, and all three employ a suspect writing technique that I find questionable—shifting point-of-views back and forth between first person (“I”), to third person (“he” or “she”), and even to second person (“you”). It seems to be a fad that I find confusing, but contemporary writers call “creative” and a convenient segue to flashbacks or flash-forwards. Humpf. Where I come from, changing point-of-view was a sure-fire slap on the typewriter fingers. Can’t a writer just tell a story anymore without jumping around like a Mexican jumping bean? But such is the state of literature today. Like all fads (ax throwing, for example), maybe it will burn out over time. Or get worse.
Charles Frazier, author of “Cold Mountain” has a new book, “Varina.” Not only does Charles Frazier shift narration in “Varina,” but he doesn’t use quotation marks around dialogue. “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” as Snagglepuss would say. What purpose this serves, I have no idea, except that it may lend a feeling of surrealism to the story. Just a guess. If Frazier hadn’t written “Cold Mountain,” I probably wouldn’t have tolerated such a prose infraction. But “Varina” is quite an intriguing, intricate story set in post Civil War America. Told from the view point of an ex-child slave attached to Jefferson Davis’ household, Varina is the teenage bride of Jefferson Davis, who, as you know, was the President of the Confederate States. Following the war, Jefferson Davis flees in one direction, chased by the U.S. Army, and Varina in another, hounded by bloodthirsty mobs looking for Confederate gold. Jefferson Davis winds up captured and ready to defend the Confederate States’ constitutional right, as he sees it, to secede—a challenge the U.S. Government doesn’t particularly want to face. Varina lives to tell her story—a titillating work of historical fiction. Question: Why were Confederate soldiers, such as Lee, not prosecuted for treason, but Davis was?
If you like sentence length that lasts for a page-and-a-half, then “The Nix,” by Nathan Hill is for you. It’s a madcap story with a sixties backdrop of a boy who becomes a man in search of his hippie, war-protester mother, a coming-of-age novel with a lot of internet gaming and fast turns and twists. Take shelter from the summer heat with this native Iowan’s debut tragicomic, unputdownable tall tale.
“Mrs. Fletcher,” by Tom Perrotta is not so much about the woman (third person narration) as it is about the son (first person narration). So why isn’t the son’s name used for the title? I haven’t the foggiest idea. No matter. “Mrs. Fletcher” is about the choices we make, who we are, and where we belong. I even learned a new acronym—MILF. “50 Shades of Gray Lite” might be another title for “Mrs. Fletcher.” Fasten your seat belts.
Any book by Jim Harrison, and there are a bunch of them, are worth reading. Harrison is best known for “Legends of the Fall.” Any book by John Gierach is also a lot of fun. Gierach writes about trout fishing, which is really about life. Richard Russo (“Nobody’s Fool”) and Michael Chabon (Pulitzer Prize Winner in 2001) have new book titles out.
Andrew Sean Greer, winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for his book, “Less.” Speaking of the Pulitzer Prize, the winner in fiction for 2018 is Andrew Sean Greer for his book, “Less.” I just started reading it and can’t put it down.
BTW, many of the new books nowadays deal with LGBTQ issues. These very talented writers are coming out of the closet in droves and writing with passion and sensitivity. It’s the dawning of a new era in literature. Stay cool this summer.

Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 39-217-0526, email him at or find him on Facebook. Curt’s stories are also read at 106.3 FM in Farmington.

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