As Kathryn Dow
“Dow’s ambitiously imaginative debut novel questions the very nature of reality… [a] diverting exploration of metaphysical concepts. Winsome and smartly playful.” —Kirkus Reviews
When her father bumps his head and collapses, in Linwood, Iowa; June, 2006, Alma doesn't know what to do. And then she does.
Mouse Wendler's account of her father's disappearance in Linwood, Iowa, June 2006.
"Chehak's prose provides a seamless, calm flow to a novel whose elements of love and murder ripple enticingly, fully surfacing only gently, only eventually, in the most satisfying kind of storytelling." -Booklist
"Haunting . . . Clodine Wheeler is the bemused narrator who strings together brilliant beads of descriptive phrases as she sorts through her memories . . . Chehak skillfully depicts small-town meanness and ironic generosity . . . . Her mesmerizing tale has classic resonances." – Publishers Weekly
"A dark tale of obsession among the posh ranks of a midwestern town... Chehak's poetic style exposes the passionate longings beneath the mannered sterling-and-crystal patina of Cedar Hill life; she renders both violence and love with an unflinching eye and casts a mournful spell." -Vogue
"Chehak is a very accomplished storyteller, always in control of her narrative, which moves ahead with grace and speed. But it's not only the plot that matters to this writer. It's the telling little details, particularly of teenage angst and of domestic life that makes the novel rich... SMITHEREENS is a novel fully worthy of the title thriller. It's hard to put down. It has a kind of dark allure." - The Los Angeles Times
“In Susan Taylor Chehak’s skilled hands, Iowa becomes the seething, steamy setting for a tale of pure evil… This is a marvelous, creepy story.” -The Kansas City Star
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May 28, 2010
I'm walking around in the forest, listening to Daniel J. Siegel narrate his own book, "Mindsight" and toward the end of Part One of the audiobook, he has been telling us about an old man named Stuart who could not get in touch with his emotions, because his right brain was not functioning as well as his left, and it has become an issue of translating images and feelings (right brain stuff) into words (left brain stuff) -- "finding the words to accurately depict our wordless internal world." Ah, how often have I suggested to my students that people don't think in sentences, or even words... images, feelings, senses come first and then we translate them into words, language, sentences. We use our left brain to give name to what is going on in our right brain. (Of course, it's more complicated than that, but...)
And when we write (and read), especially when we write (and read) fiction, it gets even more complicated.
Here's what Siegel says: "We use the left hemisphere's packets to ask another person's left hemisphere a question about his experiences or feelings or to ask ourselves the same question. That person must decode those signals and send a message across the corpus collosum to activate the right hemisphere, which comes up with the nonverbal, somatic, sensory images that are the stuff of feelings. He then has to reverse the process, translating the right hemisphere's internal music back into the digital neural processors of the left hemisphere's language centers. Then, a sentence is spoken. Amazing!"
He goes on: "This was why it was important for Stuart to write in his journal and make it not only a record of his thoughts, but also the sensations, imagery and feelings that were entering his awareness.
"Using words to describe and label this internal world can actually be useful, not just for those like Stuart who have trouble accessing their emotions, but for those who need to find a way to bring balance to overactive feelings. Such people have an excess of right mode flow, without enough linkage to the left, versus Stuart's excess of left mode activity w/out enough linkage to the right, and may suffer from emotional disregulation and chaotic outbursts."
"They can become overwhelmed by fragmented and biographical images filled with bodily sensations, awash in emotions that overwhelm and confuse. For these people balance entails gaining some mental distance in the sanctuary of the left mode. Since the right hemisphere is more intimately linked to the emotion-generating subcortical areas, we can see why raw, spontaneous feeling is more fully and immediately felt in the right mode. And why it makes sense that linking the right and left modes through the left hemisphere function of language might bring about the necessary balance.
"And indeed studies done by my colleagues at UCLA have actually shown that naming an affect soothes limbic firing. Sometimes we need to name it to tame it. We can use the left language centers to calm the excessively firing right emotional areas."
The sanctuary of the left mode. The sanctuary of language. The sanctuary of fiction...
May 24, 2010
Richard Rhodes, in his How To Write: Advice and Reflections, gives a new (and better?) name to nonfiction: Verity. And this is what he has to say about the difference between fiction and verity...
"Considered as a craft, technically, the writing of fiction and the writing of verity are identical processes but for one significant difference: we expect information conveyed in verity to conform to verifiable external references, while the information conveyed in fiction need be only internally consistent...
"But there's a deeper sense than the technical in which the two kinds of writing, fiction and verity, are closer than we like to acknowledge: facts are always only provisional, subject to further verification and revision. Facts are constructed, in verity as in other forms of discourse, and their authority is based on conventions to which a greater or lesser number of people voluntarily agree. Readers assess works of verity by rules of credibility and internal consistency similar to implicit rules they use to assess works of fiction; in the case of works of verity, however, they expect confirmation from external references as well."
So, what happens if we take these expectations for the difference between fiction and verity and we deliberately thwart them? As, for example, Nabokov does in Ada: Or Ardor, where the internal consistency of the fiction is purposefully subverted in order to show the unconscious at work (c.f. William Boyd in Nabokov's Ada). Same goes for Aleksandar Hemon's The Lazarus Project and W.G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn, where fictional photographs are used as external documentation, although they aren't "external" at all.
Rhodes also has this to say about writing:
"Imagination is compassionate. Writing is a form of making, and making humanizes the world."
More on empathy and fiction, coming soon...