Saturday, January 28, 2017


The Little Red Chairs
Edna O’Brien
Back Bay Books/ Little Brown and Company

Ms. Hen came to read this book because she had read another book by Edna O’Brien, and she looked at her pile of to-read books, and she discovered that they were all by men. She went on a book-buying spree of women authors and happened to come upon this novel. She was intrigued by the story about a woman who falls for a perpetrator of genocide.

This is a novel about a small village in Ireland where a stranger comes to town. It has been said there are only two plots: a stranger comes to town, and someone goes on a journey. This novel consists of both those plots. Vlad arrives in Cloonoila, and announces that he is a sex therapist and a healer. The people are intrigued, especially Fidelma, who is married and childless, and wants a baby desperately.

Fidelma and Vlad come together and he helps her. But he is not who he claims to be. He is a war criminal from Bosnia in charge of murdering thousands of innocent people. Ms. Hen knew this when she was reading the book that the man was vicious, but she did not believe it, because he appears so kind in the beginning, since it seems as if he wants to help Fidelma.

Edna O’Brien does not hold back on the barbarity in this novel. Ms. Hen was shocked by the gruesomeness of it, which reminded her of the gritty brutality of Toni Morrison’s work. Vlad is a brute, and those people have enemies. What those enemies did to Fidelma will burn in Ms. Hen’s mind for a long time.

After that, Fidelma went on a journey, thus the other plot. She travels to London and leaves her husband and the village behind. She tries to get work in a boutique, but she does not succeed. She arrives at a shelter, and makes new friends. She does not tell anyone what happened to her. She is ashamed of her love affair with Vlad, because he was arrested and is going to be on trial.

Ms. Hen loved this novel because it was not what she expected it to be. The village is a peaceful place, and the people live their own lives, and get by, but their lives are shattered, and the story turns in ways that Ms. Hen did not expect. Fidelma meets many characters along her journey, and survives. She is strong the way a woman who has had to put up with hell can be.

There are a handful of hens in this novel, as there are in many novels that take place in rural areas. Vlad rents a room from a woman named Fifi, “They settled on a price of one hundred Euros per week, and as fortune had it, he could now look after Bibi and her six hens while she kept her promise to go over to Mickey in Leenane.” Ms. Hen is unsettled by a murderer watching hens, but she knows he has done worse things than hurt animals.

There’s something about this novel that draws Ms. Hen in and keeps her wondering what will happen. Ms. Hen loved living in this world, though the characters suffered. She realized that getting through and surviving is what makes life beautiful and worthwhile, for decent people to live and to learn not to look back and stew too much in what came before.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews CINNAMON GIRL

Cinnamon Girl
Lawrence Kessenich
North Star Press

Ms. Hen decided to read this novel because she heard the author read from it, and was intrigued by the story of a young man who falls in love with his friend’s wife. She didn’t know that the title, CINNAMON GIRL, is the name of a Neil Young song. Ms. Hen is not a big Neil Young fan, but she listened to the song, and it makes her think of the summertime haze of years past.

This novel is about nineteen year old John Meyer, during the late Sixties, who meets Tony, then his wife Claire, and their son Jonah, and becomes friends with them. John is smitten with Claire at first sight, even though she is married. They hang out in their apartment, smoke pot and get to know each other over a few months.

John is caught stealing an 89-cent book from the college bookstore. He has a hearing and is sentenced to community service. He doesn’t get along well with his family: his father and he differ on political issues, such as Vietnam. They have a generation gap, the father thinks that he knows more about the way things are in the world than the son, but the son understands that everything is changing, and wants to have a say about the way the world is going to be.

Eventually John moves in with his friends, Tony and Claire, and another man, Jonathan. The group drinks a lot and smokes a lot of pot during the first few months they lived together. But the Kent State murder happens. And everything changes for John. He decides that he wants to get involved with the student strike at his college, and helped organize the protest, and led discussion groups about the war in Vietnam. John’s relationship with Claire comes to life when the strike is happening; two worlds come crashing together. He doesn’t want to get arrested again, because he is still on parole, so he is careful.

Ms. Hen admired the characters in this novel. It seems to her as if the youth in the 1960s had conviction, that they wanted to change things, and they were mad as hell that they didn’t have control of their own destinies, such as the draft. Ms. Hen wishes that young people, and everyone today would be as angry and provoked as the people in the Sixties. She thinks that the tipping point has come in this country, and everyone with intelligence is going to start making waves again, and doing things to make the world a better place.

Ms. Hen thinks that right now is a perfect time to read a novel like this, one that’s about fighting the people in power, and trying to make our voices heard. The hippies in the Sixties had great ideas, but they didn’t take their ideas far enough. Ms. Hen wants to take her ideas farther than any hen has.

Ms. Hen found a couple of chickens in this novel. John and Claire make dinner together, “…stood at her elbow as we fried chicken, tossed salad, and mashed potatoes, sat across from her at the table, so I could stare into her deep green eyes while we ate.” Also when Claire gets angry at John, “ ‘It’s not what you say, but how you say it. You puff up your chest like a rooster. You really think you’re the cock of the walk since you fucked me, don’t you?’” Ms. Hen admires Claire for saying what she feels.

Ms. Hen enjoyed this novel. She was engrossed by the story of a man living in a different time, but with the same kind of problems that all young people face. Ms. Hen couldn’t help but think that the Sixties were a raucous age, when nobody knew what the future held, but we never know what will come. We still live in a precarious era, but Ms. Hen thinks the world will survive, or she at least hopes it will.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews SHELTER IN PLACE

Shelter in Place
Alexander Maksik
Europa Editions           

Ms. Hen read about the best books of last year, and this was on the list, so she decided to read it. She loves reading novels about mental illness, since that is what she usually writes about. She wants to see what is out there in the same category, but she thinks this novel is in a category of its own.

This novel is about Joseph March, a young man who has just graduated from college, whose mother has beaten a stranger to death with a hammer because she saw him hitting his wife. Joe meets a woman during the summer before his mother became a murderer. Joe starts drowning in his mind: he believes there is a bird inside him trapped in tar, and his mother has always been a little off kilter.

Joe’s father moves to the prison town where his wife is incarcerated, and rents a house and makes a life for himself. Joe follows and his girlfriend, Tess, eventually comes to join Joe in the town. Anne-Mare, his mother, becomes a cult hero for abused women; people write to her to tell her of their own problems, and want to know if they should kill their husbands and perpetrators.

The style of this novel is startlingly beautiful. The words are crisp and dance on the page. Ms. Hen does not remember the last time she read such an electrically written book. Most of the time, Ms. Hen takes her time when she reads a novel, but she flew through this one, because the writing is so liquid, and also because she wanted to know what happened.

SHELTER IN PLACE is written in a nonlinear fashion, bouncing between the early nineties when Joe is in his twenties, to the present day, with Joe in his forties. The reader keeps getting drawn back to the time in the nineties when Joe is young, and the characters have ideas and principles and live on the edge.

Ms. Hen thinks that this novel is strange, since it is about mental illness, but it never mentions the name of the illness the characters have. Ms. Hen wondered why Joe never sought treatment for his affliction, which on the inside flap of the novel says is bipolar disorder. Ms. Hen thinks the author did not want Joe or his mother to seek a doctor for their illness because that would make a boring novel. But Ms. Hen felt sorry for the characters. She knows they’re not real people, but she doesn’t think they should suffer through mental illness and not get help. She knows that many people do not receive medical treatment for conditions they have, and not everyone has a support system, but she thinks that life is better for people when they do seek help.

Ms. Hen couldn’t find any chickens or hens in this novel, but it didn’t matter, because the novel was so ecstatically written that she forgives it, and thanks it for having been written. She just wishes that people, fictional and otherwise, would get help for their mental illnesses, even if it would make a dull novel, and some people would think, an uninspired world. A world full of healthy people is one that would please Ms. Hen, because she wants everyone to learn to swim and hold their heads above water.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE

Ms. Hen can't stand fascism

It Can’t Happen Here
Sinclair Lewis
Signet Classics

Ms. Hen decided to read this novel because she bought THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA, and this is a similar book. Both books are about a fictitious rise of fascism in America, but the former was written many years after it took place, while IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE was written in the time it actually did take place, the 1930s, which makes the novel more immediate, and more frightening, to think that it can’t happen here, that a fascist dictator could never happen in America, no absolutely not.

IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE was written during the time of Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin. The full atrocities of World War II were not known yet, and the author hints at what could happen if a dictator took over America.

It would make sense that fascism would rise in America in the 1930s, during The Great Depression, when there was no work, and scarce amounts of food, and not enough of anything to go around. In this novel, Buzz Windrip, the presidential candidate promises to give every family 5,000 dollars a year. He also says he will take the vote away from women and “Negroes” will lose their property and status. Does this sound familiar?

The story surrounds Doremus Jessup, a newspaper owner and editor in Vermont, and how the election of Buzz Windrip affects him and the people around him. In Buzz Windrip’s America, the lower, uneducated people rise up and become the bullies of the educated revolutionaries. Doremus hates this and attempt to fight it, but in this America, anything is possible.

Ms. Hen noticed in the novel that the characters seemed to be a result of their recent history. The Great War is fresh in their memories, and Doremus, about sixty at the time, is shaped by his Victorian upbringing. A parade marches through the town, and a few straggling Civil War veterans participate. Ms. Hen didn’t realize there could have been Civil War survivors at that time, the way there are some from World War II now. But when this novel was written, there had been no World War II. History weaves its web, the past chases us, tries to catch up, and we try to outrun it, and sometimes we do, when it escapes, sometimes we don’t realize who could have been alive in 1935.

Chickens popped up in this novel several times. Ms. Hen’s favorite is when Doremus is talking to his hired hand Shad Ledue about the chickens Shad is going to buy when he gets his money from Buzz Windrip. Buzz says, “ 'I’m not going to waste my time with a couple dozen chickens. When I get five-six thousand of ‘em to make it worth my while, then I’ll show you! You bet.’ And, most patronizingly, ‘Buzz Windrip is O.K.’”

Even though Ms. Hen enjoyed this novel, and thinks it is important, she found it difficult to read. The dialogue is snappy in the way that films from the 1930s are,  with wise cracking women, and smart aleck men, which she found entertaining and different, but the density of the writing made it difficult for her to concentrate fully on the narrative. Also, she read it during the holiday season, which is distracting, and may not have been the proper time to read such a novel.

However, she thinks that this is a book that everyone should read, because what is happening now is similar to what happens in this novel. People are afraid, and they don’t know what’s going to happen. Ms. Hen is hoping that life in America never gets as bad as it does in IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE, because if it does, we are utterly doomed.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Ms. Hen's Top Ten

Frankenstein is one of Ms. Hen's most read books of all time

Ms. Hen's Top Ten Books (she read) in 2016

Ms. Hen is jumping on the bandwagon, yet again, to let you know which books were her favorite in 2016. These are the books she read last year, which not necessarily were released last year. She did not count books she had read previously, because she thinks that doesn't count. The books are in chronological order backwards, not numerical order.

The Plot Against America.

The Motion of Puppets

Water for Elephants

Stones from the River

The Bastard

Sacred Country

God Bless the Child

Sputnik Sweetheart

Miss Emily

The Long Night of White Chickens

Ms. Hen would like to wish you a Happy New Year! This coming year is the year of the Rooster, and Ms. Hen is so excited about that!

Yours truly,
Ms. Hen (SO)