Book Reviews

Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen (1934)

Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen (1885 – 1962) is a masterful collection of short stories by the Danish author best known for Out of Africa (1937), a now-controversial memoir of her life as a coffee plantation owner in the colonized Kenya of the 1920s.

In 1931, the plantation’s fortunes collapsed, and she returned to her family home in Denmark from Kenya. Karen Christenze Dinesen was the author’s original name, and she was known as Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke, or simply Karen Blixen, during her disastrous marriage.

Upon her return to her home country, she began writing in earnest. In 1934, Seven Gothic Tales, a collection of stories she had written in English, was published. Read More→

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Drinking from the Spring: On Rereading Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

The last day of October marks Samhain, the end of harvest season and the beginning of winter. This Gaelic festival opens the door to the darker part of the year, and it’s also the anniversary of author Natalie Babbitt’s death in 2016. What better time to consider Babbitt’s remarkable novel about mortality, Tuck Everlasting (1975), a story that rewards young and adult readers alike.

When I first reread Tuck, I was in my thirties. It was never one of my school texts: when I was a girl, it hadn’t yet achieved its iconic status. But the timing for me to rediscover this story, about how “dying’s part of the wheel, right there next to being born” was perfect. Read More→

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Jonah’s Gourd Vine by Zora Neale Hurston (1934)

Jonah’s Gourd Vine was the first novel by  Zora Neale Hurston (1891 – 1960), published in 1934. The central character is John Buddy Pearson, a Black plantation worker who aspires to be a preacher. Once he achieves his goal, he gives powerful sermons on Sundays, and the rest of the week indulges in extramarital dallying with the women of his congregation.

While studying with the noted anthropologist Franz Boas, Zora was recognized for her talent for storytelling and abiding interest in black cultures of the American South and Caribbean. Her background as an anthropologist and folklorist was one of her great gifts, and what made her work, both fiction and nonfiction, so unique. She was already established in the field when this novel came out, as well as having published a number of short stories and nonfiction works.

After decades out of print, HarperCollins reissued Jonah’s Gourd Vine in 2008. From the publisher’s description:

Jonah’s Gourd Vine tells the story of John Buddy Pearson, ‘a living exultation’ of a young man who loves too many women for his own good. Lucy Potts, his long-suffering wife, is his true love, but there’s also Mehaley and Big ‘Oman, as well as the scheming Hattie, who conjures hoodoo spells to ensure his attentions. Read More→

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The Sundial by Shirley Jackson (1958)

The Sundial by Shirley Jackson (1916 – 1965) was this prolific American author’s fourth novel, published in 1958. It was generally well received, though she had yet to reached her peak as a novelist. Jackson was already famous for her iconic short story, “The Lottery,” and her amusing memoirs of prettied-up domestic life.

After the publication of her masterpiece novels, The Haunting of Hill House (1959) and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) Jackson struggled with writer’s block and agoraphobia, as well as a host of physical ailments. She died at age 48, a victim of poor health and habits.

For some decades after her death, her work faded from the reading public’s consciousness (other than the widely anthologized “The Lottery”), but after a renewed interest in her place in the American literary canon, several of her novels, including The Sundial, were reissued. Read More→

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Come Along with Me by Shirley Jackson (1968)

Come Along with Me is the novel Shirley Jackson (1919 – 1965) was working on at the time of her untimely death in 1965 at the age of forty-eight. This unfinished novel was collected in the book of the same title: Come Along with Me: Part of a novel, sixteen stories, and three lectures, and edited by Stanley Edgar Hyman, her husband at the time of her death.

Known for her stories and novels of psychological terror, including The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Jackson didn’t leave behind a huge body of work but what she did produce was hugely influential. Read More→

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