A Terrible Accident
on Pineda is a Norfolk author who can’t make up his mind what type of book to write. His first two books (Birthmark and The Translator’s Diary) were poetry collections, his third (Sleep in Me) was a memoir, and his fourth (Apology) is a novel. Regardless of what form they take, his books all share one thing in common: each has received critical acclaim and won a prestigious national literary award. His poetry has received the Crab Orchard Award and the Green Rose Prize, and his memoir made an even bigger splash when Barnes & Noble named it a “Discover New Writers” selection in 2010 and moved it to the front shelves in stores nationwide. In February, Pineda’s publisher announced that his debut novel had won the Milkweed National Fiction Prize. The story in Apology is built upon an incident that happens to 9-year-old Teagan Serafino. She and a boy, Mario, play near a construction site. When Teagan tries to jump over a deep pit, Mario throws a football at her and causes her to fall down into it, hitting a shovel at the bottom of the pit. Mario, fearing that she is dead, leaves her there and runs away. Earlier in the day, Teagan’s twin brother Tom had yelled at Teagan, “Get out of my life!” He’d never regret any words he’d spoken more, for the shovel winds up gashing Teagan’s head and leaving her with a severe brain injury. “The story began with this idea that a girl was trapped,” says Pineda. “I had this idea of her looking up out of a pit and being unable to climb out, unable to reach the sky. The earth opens up, and this pit is a wound. And all the events of the novel kind of spiral out of this wound.” At this point, it seems as if we all know where the story is headed. But Teagan does not regain her faculties, so Tom is unable to beg
What My Mother Gave Me edited by Elizabeth Benedict Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $15.95
Thirty-one original pieces by Pulitzer Prize winners, bestselling novelists and well-known NPR commentators. Joyce Carol Oates writes about quilts her mother sewed that comforted her when her husband died; Rita Dove remembers a box of nail polish and learning to paint her nails in stripes and polka dots; Cecilia Muñoz remembers the wok her mother gave her. In each of these stirring stories, every gift, no matter how modest, tells of the powerful bond between mothers and daughters. A perfect gift for Mother’s Day.
forgiveness. Instead, Tom goes off to college, telling anyone who asks that he is an only child. Just as Tom seems to be erasing his connections to his sister, so too is his character almost erased from the novel. The shift from main character to minor is subtle, but slowly a Filipino construction worker named Shoe takes center stage. Shoe, an immigrant with a severe limp, is the first to arrive at the construction site in the morning and the first to discover Teagan in the pit. But he is also Mario’s uncle, and when he discovers his nephew’s football in the pit as well, he decides to retrieve the ball instead of the girl, knowing that blame for something like this can follow a person around for life. What follows from that decision is truly the defining moment around which the book revolves. The reader might be surprised by this change in main character, but not as surprised as Pineda was. “The Shoe character was very minor in early versions,” he says, “but then I took these hard looks at the manuscript and realized that the places where the story felt like it jumped off the page were these moments with Shoe. It’s almost like I needed someone to hit me over the head and say, ‘Hey, dummy, if you’re engaged with it, then that’s the part the reader will care about too.’ So then I had to go back in and start cutting. I cut so much that it then became a different version.” Incessant editing is something that comes from Pineda’s poetry background. So, too, is the way he tells the story: in a long line of tiny, imagistic scenes that often focus attention on small things going on in the background. The resultant prose is tight and stretched over the lean frame of a book weighing in at just under 200 pages. But those pages pack a punch.
by Jon Pineda Milkweed Editions, $16.00
Passages featuring Teagan in her debilitated form are freighted with a mixture of love and guilt. And anyone who has read Pineda’s memoir will quickly understand why. Teagan’s situation parallels that of his sister, Rica, who was severely injured in a car crash as a teenager. After the crash she only lived for another five years, unable to talk and bound to a wheelchair. Writing about Teagan “was really difficult,” Pineda says, “knowing that could have been my sister if she had been able to talk after the accident, not hindered by the silence that had held her down all those years ... The more I write the more I realize that I have been given this gift. Because it drives home the notion that I’m able to communicate, whereas for those five years that my sister lived after the accident, she just barely communicated. Not with voice, but with sign language, and even then it was a struggle. So any book that I write going forward will always be an homage to her in that way.” And regardless of what form that book may take—poetry, memoir, novel—we all know what to expect. Beautifully written scenes. Powerful images. And, of course, more national awards.
by David Abrams Black Cat, $15.00
In the satirical tradition of Catch-22, Fobbit takes us into the chaotic world of Baghdad’s Forward Operating Base (FOB) Triumph. The FOB is like the back-office of the battlefield, where people eat and sleep and where soldiers work desk jobs instead of getting shot at. Male and female soldiers get acquainted in an empty Porta Potty, grunts play Xbox and watch NASCAR between missions, and the senior staff worries more about the chow hall’s all-you-can-eat seafood special than military strategy. Darkly humorous, Fobbit is a fantastic debut that will skewer the reader with its caustic wit.
Laden with the same sense of panic as the 1954 cult classic Them, Colucci’s story gives an updated version of ants trying to take over the world. A new genetically engineered breed of ants has been loosed on Manhattan, and after devouring all the smaller animals and insects they turn their attentions on the human inhabitants. As the body count rises, scientists race to find a way to kill them before the military is forced to nuke New York City to contain the insect plague. A quick-paced read that is creepy, terrifying and impossible to put down.
by A. J. Colucci St. Martin’s Press, $24.99
| by bill glose
When a prank goes wrong, everyone wonders what might have been had they acted differently.
The Betrayal of the American Dream by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele Public Affairs, $26.99
The Pulitzer Prizewinning reporting duo, Barlett and Steele, look at the crumbling economic foundation of America’s middle class. Each chapter showcases individual stories across the country through reportorial investigation. As one former factory manager says: “If we keep up as we are now, within 20 to 30 years will there even be a middle class?” Barlett and Steele warn that greater economic pain lies ahead unless we make fundamental changes now, which they outline in the final chapter. A captivating read.
4/16/13 3:12 PM